Black metal should have stopped here. Welcome to Hell is nasty, vituperative, and evil, but lots of bands have copied its tricks over the years, usually without adding anything to them, and the result is one of metal’s more annoying subgenres. Welcome to Hell is a comedian delivering a punch-line. Modern black metal is that same comedian rambling on uselessly after he’s gotten his big laugh.
It has overdistorted guitars, a bass tone that sounds like a metal bat being destroyed by an angle grinder, and lyrics about satanism etc delivered in a self-conscious, humorous way. Venom don’t take themselves very seriously, unlike most of the bands they’ve inspired. All they do here is rock out and have fun.
Some bands have songwriting, but Venom has something more akin to songscribbling or songdoodling. None of them know a single damn thing about music, they’re all just making it up as they go along. As a result, they ignore a lot of common sense songwriting tricks. The title track begins with That Omnipresent Metal Riff (“Flash Rocking Man” by Accept, “Overnight Sensation” by Motorhead, “Fly to the Rainbow” by At Vance, “2 Minutes to Midnight” by Iron Maiden, “Midnight Chaser” by White Spirit, hundreds of others) and it sounds groovy and catchy rather than agitated, which makes the sudden resolution of the chorus feel a bit unearned. This kind of chorus is meant to dissipate tension, only here there’s no tension to dissipate – and it strikes the ear as odd. Yet, it’s an interesting effect. The way Conrad Lant and friends ignore the rulebook is part of the album’s appeal.
Most of the songs are constructed like punk rock: blisteringly fast, with as few riffs as possible, and a vocal performance that has energy and power to commend it. “One Thousand Days in Sodom” and “In League With Satan” break up the speed with an excruciating mid-tempo burn, but they are equally destructive and chaotic. Some of the songs don’t sound particularly memorable, but the impression Welcome to Hell leaves is of 39 minutes of unstoppable momentum. This album’s an irresistible force, so where’s an immovable object?
Welcome to Hell’s raw aesthetic might not have been intentional. The album was recorded in just three days, ostensibly as a demo, but the label made the decision to release it as an album, using a drawing of Conrad’s that had been used as a previous single cover.
But that too might be more power to Venom’s elbow, that they got an album out as quickly as they did. Venom’s 1981 release date is powerful cachet. A 1982 or 1983 release date would take them uncomfortably close to Slayer, and Sodom, to say nothing of Bathory (what would those bands have sounded like without Venom’s influence, though?)
Black metal is a self-loathing genre filled with people who take pride in making shitty music nobody likes and nobody listens to, but it wasn’t always this way, and Venom proves it.