Beyond Shock & Satanism: Venom’s Role in the Birth of Black Metal

Before corpse paint and church burnings, there was Venom - a band that laid the groundwork for metal's most extreme subgenre, whether they intended to or not.

Beyond Shock & Satanism: Venom's Role in the Birth of Black Metal
Key Takeaways
  • Venom established the basic elements of Black Metal. Their raw, distortion-heavy sound, rebellious image, and fascination with dark, occult themes formed a blueprint for this extreme metal subgenre.
  • Norway’s Black Metal scene amplified Venom’s elements with chilling intensity. Venom’s playful Satanism became a deadly serious philosophy. The imagery and anti-Christian sentiment evolved into acts of violence and hatred, marking a sharp transition from provocation to extremism.
  • Venom inadvertently named Black Metal with their seminal album. Though not Black Metal themselves, their 1982 album “Black Metal” became a key point of transition, influencing and defining the sound and ethos of what would come to be known as Black Metal.

Seeds of Darkness

The basement hummed with distortion. Cracked posters of horned beasts and barely dressed women plastered the damp concrete walls. Three figures, guitars slung low, pounded out a guttural rhythm that pulsed with a raw, infectious energy. It wasn’t quite thrash metal, not quite punk – it was something darker, angrier. This was Venom.

The upside-down cross, hastily spray-painted on the drumhead, seemed to throb with rebellious power. Pentagrams adorned their amps, rough and defiant symbols against a world they despised. Cronos, Mantas, Abaddon – their names weren’t mere stage personas; they were invocations of the underworld, declarations of an allegiance that went far deeper than shock value.

Venom’s influence wasn’t just musical; it was a blueprint for the very essence of Black Metal.

Years later, within the frigid fjords of Norway, a new generation of misfits was stirring. They’d stumbled upon Venom’s records like forbidden grimoires, the unholy energy electrifying their souls. The inverted crosses, the pentagrams, the demonic bravado – it was a revelation. They’d take it further, make it more visceral and unyielding.

Faces smeared with black and white greasepaint morphed them into nightmarish apparitions, forever marked as ‘corpse paint.’ This transformation was about more than makeup; it was a rejection of humanity, an embrace of something feral and untamed. Spikes and leather adorned their forms, studded gauntlets, and inverted crosses hung heavy from chains like twisted amulets.

Venom’s Satanism might have had a hint of theatrics, but in these grim Norwegians, it found a chilling sincerity. Anti-Christian sentiment turned into something darker, an all-encompassing contempt for societal norms. The imagery wasn’t playful anymore; it was a manifesto, a war cry, a promise of transgression that would change the face of music forever.

Venom’s Playful Provocation

While Venom reveled in their demonic image, there was often a knowing wink behind the pentagrams and inverted crosses. Their Satanism was about rebellion, pushing boundaries, and creating a spectacle. Lyrics dripped with blasphemy, but the words felt more like a rebellious teenager trying to shock the neighbors than a genuine treatise on the occult.

Cronos, in interviews, would often downplay the whole Satanic angle. It was more about the image, the thrill of challenging the norm, than any deep-seated spiritual belief. Venom borrowed liberally from horror movies, their aesthetic a gleeful mix of B-movie monsters and exploitation film gore.

Venom’s Satanism was theatrical, but for some in the Black Metal scene, it became a deadly serious philosophy.

There’s even a streak of dark humor running through some of their work – the absurdity of the imagery was part of the point. Their music was the priority; loud, fast, and deliberately offensive, it was a sonic battering ram, not a philosophical manifesto.

But something far more sinister was brewing in Norway. Bands like Mayhem and Burzum weren’t interested in mere theatrics. Euronymous, Mayhem’s infamous leader, saw Black Metal as a weapon, a war waged against Christianity itself. The imagery Venom used as a stage prop became a deadly serious symbol of defiance within this scene.

As this new wave of Scandinavian darkness spread, the anti-religious sentiment escalated beyond artistic expression. Historic churches burned, casting an eerie glow across the icy landscape. Black Metal was no longer just a musical style; it became linked to shocking acts of violence and hatred, a stark and disturbing contrast to Venom’s initial provocation.

DIY Distortion

Venom’s guitars snarled with a raw, unfiltered distortion, a precursor to the furious buzzing riffs that would define metal’s more extreme subgenres. The pace was relentless, a frantic sonic assault that pushed the limits of what had been considered heavy just a few years before. “Welcome to Hell,” “Black Metal” – the very titles were manifestos of a darker, heavier vision.

A punk-infused rawness permeated their songs. Vocals spat and snarled, less about technical singing and more about channeling aggression. There was no pretense of virtuosity in their playing, just a defiant, primal energy. And the lyrics… Satanic, blasphemous, gleefully pushing the boundaries of what was acceptable, contributing to their overall aura of rebellion.

Venom wasn’t about polish or precision; they were a sonic sledgehammer, laying the foundation for both Thrash and Black Metal’s brutality.

Inspired by Venom’s sonic onslaught, the thrash metal scene exploded across California in the early ’80s. Exodus, Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth – these bands took the speed and intensity of Venom and dialed it up even further. Technical complexity surged while still retaining that vital, unpolished edge.

But where thrash often turned its gaze towards societal ills, Black Metal’s origins remained steeped in the imagery and themes laid down by Venom. Bands like Bathory and Hellhammer heard those early Venom records and cranked up the distortion, the blast beats, the shrieks. It wasn’t just about the speed – it was the atmosphere.

The production style of those first Venom albums was a stark departure from the slick, radio-friendly sounds of the 80s. It was rough, muddy, and in your face. Recorded fast, often in less-than-ideal studio settings, those records captured a raw, live energy that was impossible to fake.

Many in the nascent Black Metal scene saw this rawness as the ideal. Polished productions represented the mainstream, commercialization – everything they were against. Low-fi, murky recordings became a badge of honor, a sign of their allegiance to the underground. They built their own makeshift studios, mirroring Venom’s DIY ethos.

Beyond the music, it was Venom’s embrace of darkness that resonated. Sure, it had its playful elements, but the occult imagery, the violent themes – they planted a seed in bands who took it far beyond shock value. This was the sinister atmosphere the foundation of Black Metal was laid in, a sound and ethos built on the groundwork of Venom’s legacy.

Dark Lyrics

The lyrics scratched out on tattered notebooks weren’t just teenage provocations. “Witching Hour,” “In League With Satan,” “Possessed” – these titles were an invocation, a channeling of darker lore. Venom’s flirtation with witchcraft and demonology hinted at themes that Black Metal would plunge into headfirst.

With tracks like “Sons of Satan” or the titular “Black Metal,” the gloves were off. Direct attacks on Christianity, a mockery of its sacred symbols – this was more than youthful rebellion. This was a template for blasphemy, a blueprint for the anti-religious venom that would become a hallmark of the genre.

Venom cracked the door to the occult; Black Metal kicked it wide open, exploring its darkest corners.

Venom’s Countess Bathory, a figure steeped in legends of cruelty, cast a long shadow. The graphic violence, the gore, the relish in the macabre – Black Metal took these elements and magnified them tenfold. Fallen angels, apocalyptic visions, a fascination with the darkest corners of human existence became lyrical staples.

Where Venom dabbled, Black Metal went all-in. Bands immersed themselves in the occult, drawing upon Norse mythology, Satanism, various forms of paganism. Theirs was often more than mere window dressing; they wore these beliefs like armor.

Anti-Christianity, for some, transcended shock value and became a core piece of their worldview. Death, decay, and the bleakest aspects of existence became thematic obsessions in Black Metal, pushed far beyond anything Venom ever dared.

It’s a mistake to think Black Metal is defined by a single lyrical focus. Yet, Venom established a crucial point: this was music meant to delve into the shadows, to explore the taboo. They pried open the door, and what marched through it was often far grimmer, far more nihilistic, and sometimes, far more dangerous.

Naming the Genre

It was just an album title: “Black Metal.” Yet, those two words would christen an entire genre, a movement destined to push the boundaries of extreme metal far beyond what Venom themselves had ever envisioned.

The strange irony is that Venom wasn’t truly Black Metal. They lacked the tremolo-picked guitars, the relentless blast beats, the shrieks that seemed to claw their way up from the abyss. Venom was born from the speed and energy of thrash, a bastard child of punk rock and the New Wave of British Heavy Metal.

The album ‘Black Metal’ proved more influential for what it named than for its exact sound.

Yet, early Black Metal pioneers like Bathory, Hellhammer, Mayhem… they heard echoes of their future in those raw Venom recordings. The album “Black Metal” became a bridge between the fury of thrash and something far darker taking shape. The influence Venom carried into this nascent genre wasn’t just sonic; it was a matter of naming.

Black Metal, more than a mere musical style, became a declaration. The genre was forged in those icy Scandinavian landscapes, its sound drawing from Venom’s initial provocation. The term itself, spawned from a Venom album, would forever define something they’d only hinted at themselves. A strange twist of legacy, but an undeniable one.

Twisted Opinion

Mr. Ísfjörð, how did that whole upside-down cross and corpse paint thing get started in Black Metal? Seems a tad derivative, doesn’t it?

Derivative? My dear, that’s like saying a viking funeral is derivative of a backyard barbecue! The corpse paint is a layering of the deepest shadows upon our mortal coil, a rejection of the fleshy prison that binds us! And the upside-down cross? Well, haven’t you ever tried to hang a picture and accidentally put the hook in wrong? It’s all about perspective, darling. Besides, where’s the fun in using a regular cross? It’s just so… boring. Like beige sweatpants and a tax audit. No, no, in the majestic realm of Black Metal, we like our symbolism a tad spicier, wouldn’t you agree?

Friðr Ísfjörð (age 55),
Lead Vocalist and Instrument of Chaos for “Nattverd av Ondskap”