It’s a conflicting thing to look back on a past legend and see the changes the years have wrought; a wrinkle here, an expression line there, a divorcing of two-thirds of their classic lineup that have since gone on to form a clearly superior incarnation… Jeff “Mantas” Dunn (guitars) and once Venom vocalist, Tony “Demolition Man” Dolan, Venom Inc. are back to attack with ‘There’s Only Black’ – a suggestive yet fitting album name – and sure enough in a crusade to prove in whose veins the real venom courses. Having surprised the metal world with a good debut record, do these boys still have what it takes to make a case of carrying such an iconic torch?
The addition of drummer Jeramie “War Machine” Kling was spot on to continue this quest, as the American provides brutal and dirty takes on the kit and fits perfectly with the almost-analog 1990’s atmosphere that the record presents to the listener. Songs like “Don’t Feed Me Your Lies” and “Man As God” recalls the members’ bold beginnings with typical speed metal riffs and gang-shouted choruses; while these passages are enjoyable, ‘There’s Only Black’ true strengths lie in its more nuanced songwriting. Pieces like “Burn Liar Burn” have the restraint required to be truly effective, offering up an appealing malcontent that keeps things interesting and with good amounts of personality. Although tracks like “Come To Me” channel good thrash verses and frenzied willpower and are more than welcome, the album’s more focused and darker moments are those that bring it to an above-average level.
The revamped sound allied to great execution – plus what I assume is just sheer desire to destroy its counterpart – seen since their debut ‘Avé’ back in 2017 makes us feel that the last thirty years of Venom and its members’ mediocrity and disappointment never happened. “Rampant” and “Nine” are more powerful than most bands influenced by these guys achieving in their sound, and the self-referencing heavy-metal-heydays worship of “black ‘n’ roll” is something that they managed to capture with ease.
I’m not a big fan of Venom’s Demolition Man era so I still wasn’t expecting much from this album even knowing that ‘Avé’ is a good record, and I’d say the first couple of listens didn’t really do it for me. A couple of more listens, though, and I was hooked. While the album is not particularly original, the sound packs a lot of punch and it’s pretty much impossible not to headbang or at least tap that foot while listening to it. And unlike its predecessor, I don’t really find any track to be lackluster or boring so it actually feels and sounds better than the debut.
Venom Inc. is by far the best its modern namesake has to offer. ‘There’s Only Black’ is a better successor to the band’s first material and provides a good example of how good a band can be if they put their minds to it, be it new or old. It’s not without flaws and can become repetitive due to the lack of heterogeneity (but hey, it’s old-school metal, so who needs virtuosity and layered songwriting?) but nevertheless a banger. All in all, I would recommend this to Venom fans and those seeking no-frills metal with plenty of attitude and speed without sounding cheesy or generic.