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Venom Inc. live at Somerville, MA’s ONCE Ballroom

All photos by Ben Stas
All photos by Ben Stas

One could call Venom heavy metal’s answer to the Misfits. The contemporaneous early output of both the Jersey horror-punks and the British black metal progenitors was characterized by gleeful shock value, catchy songs with comically dark themes and a general disregard for musicianship. Until Danzig and Jerry Only’s recent armistice, the bands also shared the unfortunate distinction of existing in iterations most fans consider incomplete. Only and a rotating cast of associates has toured and recorded as the Misfits for years, and today the band officially known as Venom consists of original vocalist/bassist Conrad “Cronos” Lant and a pair of hired hands brought on in the mid-2000s. But while the original Misfits have finally agreed to put up with each other again for at least the duration of two Riot Fest sets, the classic Venom lineup has taken the less conventional route (The Queensryche stratagem) of diverging into separate bands playing the same songs.

Enter Venom Inc., the trio composed of original guitarist Jeffrey “Mantas” Dunn, original drummer Anthony “Abaddon” Bray and 1989-1992 Venom vocalist Tony “Demolition Man” Dolan. Mathematically, Venom Inc. is more Venom than Cronos’ version by a long shot–50% more Venom for your dollar. Based on recent interviews, the band would argue the same in a more spiritual sense. On June 2, the third night of a 2016 North American tour, they stopped off in Somerville, Massachusetts, to prove it.

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Celebrating their 10th anniversary, PanzerBastard Opened the night on a very greater-Boston note. Fronted by Keith Bennett, a mainstay of Boston’s hardcore scene, the quartet ripped through a thoroughly earsplitting and ass-kicking set. Bennett punctuated the hammer-down thrash-punk tunes with expletive-laden shots at unenthusiastic audience members and declarations of allegiance to the Venom Inc. camp before closing with a faithful Motörhead cover and leaving the figurative smoke to clear.

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New York City’s Sunlord already had a tough act to follow, and a lineup that clearly didn’t have a ton of rehearsal time under its belt didn’t help. Vocalist/guitarist Alfonso Ferrazza shredded his hardest, and the band occasionally locked into a satisfying groove, but it wasn’t quite enough to get their set off the ground.

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Ohio death metal vets Necrophagia fared better in the direct support slot, with vocalist and sole founding member Frank Pucci rallying through a painful back injury to lead a strong set with his current cohorts. Pucci’s animated stage presence, which included acrobatic flailing of his mic stand, cavorting with a Halloween prop severed head, and getting in the audience’s collective face as much as possible, elevated the band’s old-school death metal approach to true spectacle. They drew in a number of diehards who started a small but spirited pit and proudly joined in on growled singalongs.

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Mantas, Abaddon and The Demolition Man finally took the stage just after 11, and quickly erased any doubts about the validity of their claim to the throne. From “Welcome to Hell” onward, the set was an onslaught of classic Venom delivered with attitude and spark. Dolan is an immensely capable frontman, but Dunn did just as much of the band-leading, directing crowd participation and periodically reminding us how many of these songs he did in fact write. All leather-clad and sinister swagger, the pair had a clear camaraderie with the crowd and performed about as close to them as they could physically get. Bray, meanwhile, hammered away at his kit with a smile on his face from a more conventional distance.

Venom were certainly never renowned as a particularly technical band, and this set offered the songs you’d want to hear in exactly the style you’d want to hear them: fast, loose and loud. The setlist briefly dipped into material from Dolan’s original tenure in the band, but mostly stuck to their exalted early years. After closing the main set with “Witching Hour” – just after midnight of course – the trio saved top-tier favorites “In League With Satan,” “Black Metal” and “Countess Bathory” for last. The floor was a raging mass of bodies and flying beer cans right up to the last note.

By the night’s end, a very good rock show had undoubtedly taken place, but one was still left to ponder the matter of Inc. v. Venom. The official, Cronos-fronted version has its loyalists, and the Dunn/Dolan/Bray lineup is certainly accumulating some. It’s not exactly easy for many of us to even draw a direct comparison – Cronos is proudly averse to “little club tours,” which amounts to a scarcity of U.S. appearances outside of major festivals. But ultimately, maybe it doesn’t matter which is the One True Venom. “The songs are yours,” Dolan told the crowd, commenting on the issue toward the end of the set. Whether they’re the true and superior version of the band or not, Venom Inc. are doing a damn fine job of actually bringing them to us.

PanzerBastard

Sunlord

Necrophagia

Venom Inc.

This article has been edited to more accurately reflect quotes made by Tony Dolan.

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