There's Only Black

Nuclear Blast
rating icon 7 / 10

Track listing:

01. How Many Can Die
02. Infinitum
03. Come To Me
04. There's Only Black
05. Tyrant
06. Don't Feed Me Your Lies
07. Man As God
08. Burn Liar Burn
09. Nine
10. Rampant
11. The Dance Macabre
12. Inferno

With the wild chemistry that once informed the original VENOM line-up long since throttled by time, fans of the black metal pioneers have had to come to terms with two bands for the price of one. VENOM INC. began as a spontaneous reunion of the line-up that made 1989's "Prime Evil",  but has since evolved into its own, feral beast. Only guitarist Mantas survives from the "In League With Satan" days, but with Tony "Demolition Man" Dolan reprising his role as Cronos's replacement, and drummer Jeramie Kling (INHUMAN CONDITION / EX DEO) holding things together from the back, VENOM INC. have coalesced into a serious proposition that seems to have been cautiously embraced by the venomous faithful.

Debut album "Avé" was a solid starting point, with plenty of Mantas's trademark riffs to keep the purists happy, but with an undercurrent of something darker and more contemporary to allay fears that this was merely an exercise in nostalgia. Five years on, "There's Only Black" is more focused and yet more relaxed than its predecessor. Dominated by heads-down, speed metal bangers that revel in brutish simplicity, it is supremely ugly and instinctively jugular-bound. In fact, opener and recent single "How Many Can Die" is almost too straightforward and seems like a rather prosaic way to begin. VENOM INC.'s default position is a gnarly take on primitive thrash, and while there is plenty to commend such a notion, "Come To Me" and "Infinitum" offer little in the way of surprises or dynamics.

Nonetheless, "There's Only Black" does eventually cast a spell or two, while boasting plenty of moments that hit the blackened spot. The title track is a grim, dramatic, mid-paced tirade that oozes '80s grit, while also connecting with plenty of 21st century punch. The combination of Mantas's subtly nasty riffs and Dolan's coruscating roar is the key to these songs' dark secrets, and the breakneck, schizophrenic battery of "Don't Feed Me Your Lies" and the ghoulish revenge fantasy of "Burn Liar Burn" are a glittering showcase for both. Meanwhile, "Man As God" is a hellish thrash hammer attack that is far too precise and destructive to survive comparisons with early VENOM, but in terms of mad-eyed, marauding spirit, the connection between old and new is still intact. The closing "Inferno" is punishing and panzer-paced: a defiant and anthemic hymn to the flames of Hell, with a particularly majestic Mantas solo.

At its best, "There's Only Black" is exactly the kind of murderous filth that we want from any incarnation of this legendary band. At its worst, it still sounds rowdy enough to raise the dead. Some things never change.

Author: Dom Lawson
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