In Venom Inc.’s Future, “There’s Only Black” (Interview w/ Tony Dolan)
Legendary Newcastle upon Tyne metal band Venom has had a storied history that has endured as many accolades as they have hardships and have become one of the most influential metal bands to ever form. Formed in 1979, its original members — consisting of bassist/vocalist Conrad “Cronos” Lant, guitarist Jeff “Mantas” Dunn and drummer Anthony “Abaddon” Bray — single handedly created the black metal moniker with their 1982 titular album title.
However, the iconic Venom band name has been split into two factions; Cronos tours and records under the original name Venom, while the classic 1989 Prime Evil album lineup of Mantas, vocalist/bassist Tony "Demolition Man" Dolan, and new drummer Jeramie 'Warmachine' Kling (Inhuman Condition, The Absence, ex-Massacre) — original drummer Abaddon has moved on — have played under the name of Venom Inc since 2015. On their newest album, There’s Only Black, the hellish trio have returned with a massive-sounding follow-up to their acclaimed 2017 debut, Avé. Dolan spoke with us during a recent Zoom chat about first joining Venom, the creation of Venom Inc, the band’s newest album, its future plans, and more.
Hailing from Newcastle, was it a close musical community between everyone in Venom?
We all go way back. We’re obviously from Newcastle and the surrounding area; Conrad’s from North Shields and Jeff was from Walker, which was not far from me. And Tony “Abaddon” was from south of the river, the Jarrow area. It's kind of an isolated city, as you know. We kind of all go to the same places, the same pubs, the same clubs. And certainly at that point in time the music was just rock and metal, that was what the city lived and breathed. So we saw each other all the time. The place where I was from, Wallsend, there was two churches that had clubs there for younger people. And I actually saw Venom with Clive Archer and their first couple of shows in two of those church halls. We've always been around each other. Of course, we were both on Neat Records with my band Atomkraft. So we were all friends, and we were associates. I was around their recordings. Of course, I moved back to Canada and then came back, so there was a slight gap. But we've always been around each other. I loved what they were doing. I loved their music, of course. It spoke to me, and I loved it.
Switching singers at any time in an established band is always a bone of contention amongst its fans. Describe your feelings of first stepping into Venom in 1989.
When it came to the point of me finishing a tour with Atomkraft, Abaddon and the manager of Venom, Eric Cook, who's since died, they called me up and said, did I want to go to a pub for a pint of beer and a chat. So I went and I thought it was about my Atomkraft band because the guitarist had left and we can change the shape around. We had just done a very successful tour in ’88, and I thought it was going to be about that and what I want to do next. But it wasn’t, it was to inform me that they had been offered a record deal with Music For Nations, they finished Calm Before The Storm and Cronos had decided to take some time out and go and make it in America. And he didn't want to do the dark satanic stuff anymore. He wanted to do more of a Van Halen type of thing with the two guitarists he had. So they said, “We need to find a bassist/vocalist” and of course they knew me and said, “They only know one person who knows us well enough, is one of the biggest fans of the band, but knows where we went wrong and knows the music. So we thought you would be the person to ask.” But I misunderstood, I thought they were asking me if I could. I think of someone who could do the job for them. So we chatted for about an hour, and I had some ideas, some suggestions and they just kept laughing at me. And I asked why they kept laughing and they said they wanted me to do it because I could play the bass, sing all the songs, and I knew all this material and they couldn’t think of a better person to do it.
How did you get Mantas to agree with the reformation, as he was pretty soured on the band at that point?
I said okay, this is a great idea. But of course we need Mantas, because I couldn't envisage any kind of form of Venom with just one of them. I could see an Abaddon and a Cronos, a Cronos and a Mantas, a Mantas and Abaddon. But just an Abaddon? I told them I didn’t know how that's going to be Venom. So I said it would be key for me that Jeff came back. Of course, they had already approached Jeff and he said fuck off. So they said he's one of your best friends if not your best friend, so why don't you talk to him? So I did. Me and Jeff had a discussion; he wasn't interested. I told him that they'd offered me the position and he said, “If you say yes, then I'll do it.” And I said, “I’m gonna say yes on one condition that you say yes. If you don't say yes, I'm not doing it.” He said yes. I said, “Okay, let's do it.” And then that was it, we were off and running. And I already had prepped some songs for Prime Evil; “Parasite,” “Blackened Are the Priests,” “Carnivorous.” I was working on them just in case.
Did you feel that you had to fill Cronos’ shoes or were you just bringing your own identity into the band?
I didn't consider it until later when people said, “What was it like to fill another man's boots?” I said, “I didn't put anybody else's boots on.” I never fucking have, I put my own fucking boots on. So I took that into that situation. And as a friend, I got to play with my friends. I got to record a new album with them under the name of Venom. And then I would go out and play I would be able to play your tour with my friends record with my friends, play some new material but also play some classic material. I got to play “Witching Hour,” “Welcome to Hell” and “Black Metal.” I never honestly once stopped to consider I was replacing anybody. I just thought in my mind, the way I thought was a world without Venom was not a world I wanted to have. I wanted to keep the Venom in the world because I think we needed a Venom. We needed a Motörhead, we needed the Sex Pistols; these alternate bands who didn't buy into the commercial process who just screamed and shouted and kicked up noise and did their own thing. And I thought if I don't do this, we're not gonna have Venom anymore. So I was like, I don't want to not have Venom, and neither did the fans. So I took the position, and we made a success of it. That was how I went into it and I think I'd been out maybe five or six years before anybody doing an interview said, “What did you feel like replacing (Cronos)?” And I never actually thought of myself as replacing anybody. I just thought of joining was a great thing. So, it never crossed my mind to tell you the truth.
In the late ’70s/early ’80s, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal explosion was happening in the UK. Were you following this scene or were you involved in it? Because Raven, Satan, and Tygers of Pan Tang were all from your area.
I don't know if following was the right word because I emigrated to Canada. When I came back to the UK around ’77/’78, the punk scene had exploded. And I thought that the world had gone upside down. That freedom of expression, not arena polished, produced bands like Led Zeppelin and all of that, but this new culture just impacted me massively. So I wanted to be playing music and I started a punk band, and that was about ’78/’79. And that's how I formed Atomkraft. Because I was in the Northeast, one of my favorite bands was Raven. I loved Raven, the first album was killer. It seemed to be I could see a Lone Wolf or I could actually watch Satan. I could go and see these bands, and they were all just people like me. And so I don't suppose I was following the scene, I was in the scene very quickly. Because the guy you were drinking with on this side in a pub, he was in a band and the guy on this side was in a band, so everybody I knew at the clubs was doing bands. Bands like Tygers got signed to RCA and then Raven went to America and got signed with Atlantic and so there was a big thing moving, and Venom became the biggest thing on Neat Records. All of a sudden it was real. It had gone from guys you knew playing in bands to actually becoming very real, very quickly. It wasn't like watching it from the outside as a boy, I was actually very much in the scene as a musician and as a peer.
Speaking of Prime Evil, I think you refined the band in a different way. What type of challenge was it to come up with the songs for that album? Did you discuss what direction you wanted to head in?
No, I think for my part because I knew that they felt that At War With Satan wasn't as strong as the first two albums. I liked it, but they didn't feel it was as strong. They certainly felt that Possessed was weaker than the ones before. Of course Mantas left in that period. And then Calm Before The Storm, they really felt they made a mistake with. There was some cool material on there, but it wasn't like the previous albums. I think they felt they lost their way a little bit there. And so my remit basically was to go back to point one and try and recapture that aggression, that anger, that spirit of youth, and the glorious feeling that what was it about those first two albums in particular that felt good. So we approached it in that way. They were missing the punk attitude. So I had to try and think how do we get back to that? So it was kind of stripping things back and it worked. But it wasn’t contrived, it was all natural. And that was the key. And I think we managed to achieve that on Prime Evil.
When you formed Venom In and released Avé, I think you found a new audience and then diehards began to accept it. Maybe some fans were skeptical at first, but were you concerned about winning them over or perhaps competing with Cronos’ Venom? Was there any kind of discussion about that?
There was always a whole thing about we're trying to cash in on the Venom name and that we’re a cover band and all that bollocks. That's just political bullshit of course. People want to try and put people off you, but none of that was a consideration. In fact, I didn't want to do an album in the first place. We did five songs in a festival in Germany, tagged on to the end of an M:Pire of Evil set, which was what me and Mantas were doing. We were ready to do the third album of M:Pire of Evil. And the next day, it had gone viral, and we started getting offers for myself, Mantas and Abaddon to play shows. Cronos was out there doing the whole Venom thing, but they wanted to see us three during that period. So, we had a discussion and said we'll do it. And then very soon, I needed to construct the set. And basically I put it out to the fans. If we played, what would you like us to play and they made the setlist up. My intention was to give the music back to the fans. It wasn't our music anymore, it was their music. There was fans who never got to see Venom. I said to someone before, which side would you choose between Venom and Venom Inc? And I say in defense, there's no side to choose. All Venom is Venom. And that's what's brilliant about it. So to give fans every aspect of a band is amazing. And if you can't see the three original guys playing your songs, but you can go to two separate shows and see all the original guys playing those songs in different ways, what's wrong with that?
Venom Inc has returned with There’s Only Black, it’s an awesome follow-up to first album Avé. How did you approach this new album compared to your debut?
Comparatively, it's very different. It's still us, of course, but we have the addition of Jeramie Kling on drums now. Which is quite a different, younger approach, or more progressive approach; more frantic, more energy. Avé was a particular period where we began and that's where we were, and There’s Only Black is where we are now. I think periods in time changes what we feel. When we didAvé, it’s not what we were feeling when we did There’s Only Black. The whole emphasis is on what's happening around us right now. You're influenced by how you feel, by your age, by your opinion, by how you look at it. And even the title, originally, the title was Nine. And then Jeff sent me a track one day and said he had written the lyrics. He said, “When I had my heart attack and died, I didn't see any light. There was no tunnel, there was nobody holding hands… I just saw a vortex and there was only black.” So he called it “There's Only Black.” And the moment he said that, it just made sense for the whole thing. It's such a personal experience, and that's the difference between this album and the other one. Avé was a salute to the fans who have been fans of Venom from day one. And so that's why it's incorporated. It doesn't mean just Venom, it's everything we've done incorporated into one thing. We were thanking everybody and thanking the music that inspired us. But on this album, it's more of a personal experience. We want to connect with people. It's about your personal experience and about where we are in our lives right now.
Speaking of Jeramie Kling on drums, I recently saw his other band Inhuman Condition live. I really think he's solidified Venom Inc’s rhythm section. How do you and him lock in as musicians?
I love Jeremy's playing. It's just so natural. He plays from his soul, from his heart. And basically, when he got given these tracks, he wanted to know the approach. And I just said, “You play how you feel it, that's the key to this. You don't play how I want you to play a particular way. You feel it and just play it.” And that's what he did. Because it was so natural, and because we've done so many shows with Jeramie together, it was almost instinctive. I knew where he was going. He would accent me, I would accent him, and it was just such a pleasure. We really just locked in together on the stuff, much like we do live. It’s not forced. It's not something I have to concentrate on. We're in tandem with each other in a very natural way. So it was an absolute pleasure. And I think his energy level just pushed us even further. It made a 60 year old and a 50 year old both 20 year olds. That's how we felt.
What's next for Venom Inc? I see the band going even further and please discuss upcoming touring plans and hopefully there's some US dates.
We literally have just had to cancel part one of the US tour. To do the US, you have to follow a process and you have to get your visa and P1 application as a recognized alien. It can be very expensive and it takes several months up to six months. So we started the process early, we had all the dates for it lined up, but because Mantas now lives in Portugal, there's a process in Portugal if you're a citizen or resident, which he now is, that you was to attend an interview. For Mantas , they said there's a backlog because of COVID so he has to wait. So we waited, and eventually they said he couldn't have an interview until November/mid November, which was after the tour was supposed to be starting. So we were fucked. By the time of 2023, we'll have our visas then we'll just start on the West Coast like we planned and we'll do the east coast a bit later. And then we'll pop up into Canada. And in between that we'll do the EU. We’ll be playing as much of the new album and obvious encores will be classic Venom songs. The shows we've done of late have been crazy good. So, let's hope that we keep going. And I think what I'd like to say to everybody reading this is that you don't have to make a distinction. If you prefer Cronos’ voice on the Venom stuff, then you can listen to it. And if you prefer mine on certain stuff, then you can listen to that. But you don't have to pick one over the other, you can listen to it all if you want. So you can support everything. That's the whole point is supporting it all. You don't have to make any distinctions, and nobody's trying to get rid of anybody else. So just embrace as much as you want. It's totally up to you.
There’s Only Black was released on September 23rd via Nuclear Blast.