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Interviews Venom Inc.

Interview with bassist and vocalist Tony "Demolition Man" Dolan, guitarist Jeffrey "Mantas" Dunn and drummer Jeramie "War Machine" Kling

Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen

Date online: November 3, 2022


Live pictures by Luxi Lahtinen

Venom Inc., formed in 2015 by Tony "Demolition Man" Dolan (ex-M:pire of Evil, ex-Atomkraft), Jeffrey "Mantas" Dunn (ex-M:pire of Evil, ex-Venom), and Antony "Abaddon" Bray, released their debut album Avé on Nuclear Blast in 2017. It caught peoples' attention, not only because the album exceeded many skeptics' expectations with how good it was, but also the hassle of there being two versions of Venom (original bassist/vocalist Cronos is still active under the Venom banner).

Venom Inc. has been become a highly popular institution and the band's second album, There's Only Black, followed on September 23, 2022, with Jeramie "War Machine" Kling (Inhuman Condition, The Absence) behind the drum kit, replacing Abaddon. This album proved the band had become even tighter and angrier since the debut saw the light of darkness.

The band arrived at the Steelchaos Festival in Hyvinkää, Finland, on October 22, 2022, and was the headlining act, performing the Black Metal album in its entirety (plus, some Venom Inc. stuff as well) as that album is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. For many (including yours truly), it was a special opportunity to hear Black Metal performed from start to finish, and possibly the only chance for many to hear the album played live.

The Metal Crypt sat down with the whole band prior to showtime at the festival and they were more than eager to talk about the new album, touring, Venom's heritage, Mantas' near-death experience and life and death in general.

First off, welcome to Finland and Steelchaos Festival here in Hyvinkää, Finland, guys!

Tony: Thank you.

Have you had time to walk around and check out the festival area?

Tony: No, we literally just came from the airport because we played Nordtfest in Sweden yesterday. We had a very early flight, train, and plane and we just arrived here. We haven't had a chance to look around, but our tour manager did, and he said it's fantastic. It's Finland, so we know it's good. We did a festival in Pori, Finland, before and actually, the last time we were here was the first year we played after Jeff had his heart attack. He had a heart attack, he died, they brought him back to life and the first show we did, which was 11 weeks later, was Porispere in Pori. It's nice to be back.

Would you say Finland is a special place for you?

Tony: Yes, definitely.

THERE'S ONLY... BLACK!

Before we start discussing about the 40th anniversary of the Black Metal album, which is why you guys were invited to this Steelchaos Festival, let's talk about Venom Inc.'s follow-up album, titled There's Only Black, which came out on September 23rd. First off, my sincere congratulations on that album. To me, as expected, it is a very strong follow-up, and I couldn't help noticing the songs have a thrashier, if you will, vibe to them. Where does that come from?

Jeff: It's who we are.

Tony: It's just our identity really.

Jeff: In the early days, even Lars Ulrich came out and called us "Black death thrash." Venom started it all with Welcome to Hell. It's ingrained in us. I'm still old school. I'm still a Judas Priest die-hard and all that kind of stuff. It's just who we are, and that's the way it came out. It's as simple as that.

Tony: That's it. In those days, there were no genres, there was no distinction between death metal, thrash metal, hardcore, grindcore, blah, blah, blah. We had punk rock and then we had heavy metal, new wave or whatever, but it was all just heavy metal. That's where we came from. The fusion of those elements that people took and created something else.

People took the elements that they enjoyed, and they built genres from there. I think this is a purist album. It wasn't constructed with a purpose to be something after the last one. It was just, "who are we? What do we do?" We wrote some songs, and we just played them. It's an honest record. If all those elements are in there, that's because we love elephants. We love elephants, and that's why we put elephants on the record, because you need to have elephants.

Jeramie: There are only black elephants.

Tony: Like Jeff just said, it's just the identity of who we are doing what we do. If they're all in there, that's because we took the covers off and just let it just happen.

What about you, Jeramie? Do you consider yourself a thrash guy as well?

Jeramie: Not Bay Area thrash per se, but--

Are you more into a harsher sounding, German type of thrash?

Jeramie: Yes, I guess so. I really liked a lot of Swedish stuff as a kid growing up and they played a lot of thrash beats, obviously. Also, punk rock. I listened to a lot of skate punk from the California scene. From the early '90s, I was a big fan of Pennywise, Bad Religion, No Effects and all that stuff. When the guys presented this new material (they had written 24 songs and they sent them over) and it was, "Oh my God." Some of these songs are 250 BPMs. I was thinking, "Jeff, you realize this is fucking death metal, right?"

I just played whatever felt natural, so whatever the riff called for is the direction I went in. "Inferno" is a mid-tempo, slower banger and actually one of my favorite songs on the record because it's so just driving and constant. I think it's great. I didn't think, "oh, I have to play a thrash beat on this" or, "it has to have double-bass." None of that. It was, "What does it need? What direction are the riffs pulling me in?"

But yeah, I played a lot of death metal, a lot of thrash metal growing up. I already knew what to do.

Tony: I think what Jeff said is integral to this. We did not want to force the next person into a way of thinking, into a way of performing, just realize, "this is what it is. Here you go. Now, what do you see?" You limit yourself if you say, "I see it like this." You can look at that later on in the production and say, "okay, maybe it works a bit better like this." If you just allow the other person the freedom to do, "whatever you feel, go with it," then you're going to get the best out of that, and certainly, that's exactly what happened with Jeramie. He just let himself go and he felt everything. That's very much what I did with Jeff's material and what he did with mine. Just let ourselves explore it. There's no limit to what it becomes. This is an indicative album of who we are as a band live, and we're just in the studio doing it. It feels real in every way, not contrived, not directed, just real. The songs are real performances.

It's been five years since Avé. Did your touring commitments and the lineup change prevent you from releasing the follow-up album?

Tony: Simply touring. Abaddon left with the idea of possibly coming back. Jeramie stepped in and stayed on the stool, and we just were playing live. We hadn't considered the first album, that was John Zazula (R.I.P.) and Chuck Billy who pushed us towards doing an album. We were just happy doing live shows and playing the catalogue, plus Jeff solo stuff and stuff I had done. We had a great library to play for fans that they hadn't heard. After we did the album, we didn't think it was time to do the next album. We knew at some point we would. After the 2019 season and once we finished Wacken, I had an operation. I was going to have to recuperate for 12 weeks. That was when I said, "Jeff, why don't I come to your studio in Portugal? We can just hang out and just mess around with stuff and see what happens." We went into lockdown, it was like, "Oh, okay." 24 tracks came out and we took our time playing around with them because we thought, "Well, there's no point rushing the album out in 2021 if we can't go and play them live. By the time we get out to play, it's an old album." We took our time, and we had fun with it, and it became very real. Again, not intentional, the gap. We were just playing live every year, so many shows all over the planet.

You just mentioned that you wrote 24 tracks in all. Are you going to use some of that material for the band's third album, perhaps?

Tony: Yes. We liked all the material and felt some would work on better on EPs. The rest of the tracks are sitting there. We'll probably write some more, but the idea is to have the singles that we put out digitally have some new songs, so each one has a different B-side that is in the same vein as the album. Maybe we'll do some collectors' pieces with that and then we'll be ready to go on the next album. It shouldn't take five years for the next one.

KNOCKING AT DEATH'S DOOR

With the album cover are you saying that when we humans die, there's only black, or is there some deeper meaning behind the artwork?

Jeff: That was my experience. On April 30, 2018, I had a massive heart attack, and I was clinically dead for just over five minutes. I don't recall any of it. I didn't know I had died. I had no idea. It was only when I came around in the back of an ambulance and I had a Portuguese doctor standing over me saying, "Calm, calm. You died. You died."

The line "Cold as you die, see the light fade to black in your eyes," was inspired when my girlfriend came to the side of the ambulance and she said to me, "How are you feeling?" At that point, I turned to her and I said, "Actually, the pain's gone," and then I just went. That was it. She saw me die. The doctor kicked the door shut and then the ambulance started rocking and two Portuguese women dragged my girlfriend away. The weird stuff happened when I came back. Mentally, that experience to this day has fucked me up.

Holy shit, so basically, you were knocking at death's door in 2018?

Jeff: Yes, yes, I was there.

Jeramie: 11 weeks later we played at Porispere in Pori, Finland. It was unreal. We were standing on stage and I fist-bumped him. I said, "I'm so glad you're here." He was like, "I'm so glad I'm here."

[*laughter*]

Jeff: The consultants, the surgeons, gave me the go-ahead if I felt good enough to go and do these shows. They said, "Well, you should be okay. You should be relatively recovered by then." I had 50 staples taken out of my chest because they had opened me right up, broke my rib cage and everything to get in and do the double bypass.

There is a line on the album, "Fight, don't give in." I was taken straight to the hospital and then transferred to another hospital. For about two to two and a half weeks, they kept me alive between these two hospitals until I was transferred to Lisbon. I didn't realize the amount of medication I was on. I was on so many blood thinners, I was pissing blood every day. I was wired up. Tony came to see me. He was on the first plane out after my girlfriend called him. Then when I went down to Lisbon and had the operation, and it was only after that when my girlfriend said everything I'd said to her didn't happen. She was like, "Babe, that didn't happen. You never said that." I said, "What the fuck...?" But I heard my own voice saying, "Fight, don't give in. Don't you dare give up. Fucking fight this." It was my angry voice screaming. I said, "I must have been shouting," and she said, "Nothing. You didn't say a word."

Then Tony sent me the image of the vortex on the front of the album, the black hole. The first line is "Cold as you die," because when I came round, I was absolutely freezing cold and they wrapped me in one of these silver blankets, and I looked down at my lap. I was lying down and there was just this thing, just spinning, and spinning, and spinning and spinning and it got faster and faster, and then it just went and it was gone.

I could see the outline of my hands in the ambulance, and everything was just glowing. It was so strange. What felt like seconds for me was a full day because my girlfriend, when she got to the hospital, found there was no record of me being there. They didn't even register me at reception. They took me straight into the operating theater. It was four hours before a doctor came out and called her name to say they had stabilized me. That's what the song's about.

Wow, that's quite a story. I have to take a deep breath before continuing with my questions. I have read similar stories about near-death experiences and they're always kind of spooky, from my point of view anyway. If you haven't experienced anything like this, then you, of course, don't know how it's going to be like to come back from the other side so to speak.

Tony: Hence the album cover, hence the title. Originally, the title was Beards on Dante's Inferno, and then it was going to be A Journeyman From Birth to Death. Then Jeff throws a track to me and says, "have a listen to this." I listened to it and said, "yes, that's really good. Have you got any ideas?" He said, "yes, well I've kind of written the lyrics for it. It's about my near-death experience." He said, "I called it There's Only Black and the minute he said that, to use an obscure analogy, the light went on in my head, and I said, "That's it. That's the meaning," because we don't know what's at the end of the universe. You don't know what's inside a black hole. You don't know what happens after death and when you do, you can't come back and tell me. It's your experience, and mine will be different from his, yours will be different from mine, we'll all experience something. In a way, it feels very dark, very ominous but it's about your journey, hence the hole on the album. In order for you to experience this album, you have to go in. You have to go. You have to commit to it. You might find some light in there, you might find nothing in there, you might find something in there. It will be your experience, and yours will not be the same as the next person. That's the meaning of Jeff's experience. Why are we here? We don't know. What happens after? We don't know. We each experience it.

We are just like little particles in the universe; particles of dust if you think of how the whole universe started...

Tony: Very true indeed.

Jeff: I've got no religious beliefs, north, south, east, west, none whatsoever. I don't give a shit about any of it, but I do believe in universal creation, law of attraction, destiny, fit and I think I'm still searching for my plan. I think there's a plan for everybody. I believe life is cyclic. It comes round. It just repeats.

When we were on the European tour, we got the news about the passing of Killjoy from Necrophagia. He passed away from a heart attack. Then the photographer James Robert Law died of a heart attack. For whatever reason, me and Killjoy clicked, and we had a great relationship. But I came back, and that fucked with my head. I was like, "Why? What the fuck am I doing here? There's got to be a reason that I have been allowed to stay on this planet. What is the fucking reason?" My dad was taken at the age of 49 by a massive heart attack. Bang, he didn't have a second chance. I'm thinking to myself, "There's got to be some reason that I've been brought back." I'm trying not to get too esoteric about it, but it's like even today, there are still fucking strange things at home. I was driving to see friends. My girlfriend was in the car, we're driving up the highway, and then all of a sudden, a voice in my head says, "you shouldn't be here." I'm like, "Where the fuck did that come from?" There isn't a day that goes by that my subconscious doesn't catapult me back into that ambulance to relive the thing, like a flashback. I think for Tony, for you, for Jeremy, for Daniel, for everybody in there, there's a plan, there's a structure. There's something. I don't know who's put it there, but there is definitely something.

Tony: When he went on vacation in southern Portugal because he lives in the north. I installed a pole in his studio, because I thought maybe he's supposed to pole dance, that's why he came back. Maybe just in his underwear, but learn to pole dance, but so far, he's not going for it. He hasn't mentioned the pole, but we both know it's there.

[*laughter*]

Then you have the song called "Tyrant" and while I was reading the lyrics for it, it brought just one name to my mind: Vlad the Slaughterer, aka the dictator of the Russian Federation. Is that song about him?

Tony: That's a Jeff-penned song.

Jeff: Both names are in there. Assad and Putin. "A sad denial put into plan."

Now that's clever indeed.

Jeff: There you go. Do you know where I got the idea for that song? We speak of human darkness, fucking devils and angels bullshit on this album. We all have our crack. Man is responsible for everything on this planet. I remember watching the News Channel one night, and it was when they were bombing in Syria. There were women and children screaming and crying in holes in the ground, and it's their own people and government who were doing this to them. I would say, "Holy fucking shit, this is unbelievable." There's another track on the album called "Man as God," and that's what that song speaks about.

The thing is, I've said for so long, God, devils, fuck. Bullshit! Absolutely! It belongs in the movies. After somebody pushes the button and in the years to come they're doing an archeological dig when the planet is reinhabited with humans, somebody will pull out an old text from an archeological dig. There'll be no religion, there will be nothing, but they'll go, "We've found the messiah and his name is Harry Potter." It's the same fucking shit!

Man is the god, man is the demon. We are capable of the most benevolent love. We've created some incredible things. We can help our fellow man in unbelievable ways. We can cure disease. We can also be the most despicable pieces of fucking shit on this planet. It's man-made, everything you see happening today. You turn the news channel on, some fucking serial killer, somebody walking into a fucking school in America, blowing kids away, that's not a devil.

When the pandemic was on, Tony sent me "How Many Can Die," and I went, "that's fucking appropriate, isn't it?" That's what the album speaks of. It's world fucking darkness.

People can really be wolves to each other. When we start hating each other so much, we can do some ugly and heinous things...

Jeff: Man, as a species, never fucking learns. Look what happened in the past. We are still doing it to this fucking day. When will we learn?

THE 40TH ANNIVERSARY OF BLACK METAL

OK, let's move on to talk about your live set here at the Steelchaos Festival. What's special about it is that you will perform the whole Black Metal album in its entirety, which celebrates its 40th anniversary on November 1, 2022. My question is where did you originally get the idea to celebrate the album this way?

Tony: It's the anniversary, and Oliver Weinsheimer from Keep It True asked me if we would do something special for it. I spoke to Jeff and he said, "yes, I really want to do it." It's quite clear that one of the other members is not doing music per se, and the other isn't interested in going backwards. Jeff wrote the majority of that album, if not most of it. In fact, some of the songs on that album are on the very first demo with Clive Archer, like "Raise the Dead" and stuff. It was good.

Yes, we should celebrate this. It's not so much about the personalities. I'm not Cronos and Jeramie is not Abaddon, but it's like, hang on, 40 years ago, it was a band's slice of musical history. Forty years later, it doesn't belong to them. These songs belong to fans, because there are some fans who listen to it every day, every week, every month of their life. Jeff just had an image sent by someone who has, how many versions of Welcome to Hell?

Jeff: It was 33.

Tony: 33 copies of Welcome to Hell. There you go, and how many times have you listened to Welcome to Hell other than us playing it? We need to give this to the fans. The album was never done in its entirety. There are bits of it that nobody has ever heard live even when the band played. We've never played them. Cronos has never played them. The band never played them. It deserves this big salute. To be able to play it in its entirety and in order is amazing. We close the songs with "Black Metal," "Countess Bathory," etc. because they are huge numbers.

It's a celebration of the band and the legacy of what happened. To be able to share that with fans who would never hear it, old fans and new fans because you get a 50-year-old guy going, "oh my God, you're playing the whole album," which has meant something his whole life, but equally you get an 18-year-old girl or 17-year-old girl who was at Keep It True losing her mind because she never, ever thought she'd get a chance to see the band doing this. It bridges that gap.

BLACK METAL – ONE OF THE MOST CLASSIC METAL ALBUMS OF ALL TIMES?

How would you personally rate the Black Metal album among the many metal albums out there that people consider classics these days?

Jeff: It still blows my mind to think that the album had such an impact because back then it was youthful arrogance and naivety. They were first attempts, and I never rewrote anything. I never rearranged anything. We didn't have the luxury of ProTools or Logic or anything like that. You just recorded it and that was it. To think that it's had that effect and it's had that influence, I never know what to say to be perfectly honest.

What about you, Jeramie? As you are the young gun in the band, so to speak, what's your own take on this subject?

Jeramie: Handsome is what you're trying to say.

[*laughter*]

Jeramie: I think it's great for exactly what Tony said, that people get to experience it. I may not be Abaddon, he may not be Cronos. It doesn't matter, because the music, the spirit is there, and the intent is there. It's not like a cash grab or anything like that. None of us have Rolls Royces because of this. Nobody even has a Porsche. Not even one of us has a Porsche. That's way lower than a Rolls Royce. Maybe a Toyota Camry. None of us even have a Toyota Camry.

Jeff: I've got a 25-year-old Audi. You see what I'm saying?

Jeramie: It's not about money. It's about giving that experience to the fans like Tony said. We've watched a lot of fellows cry at events. We played "Teacher's Pet" and this guy came unglued. You could see that he was 50 and jumped into the mosh pit. He was crying and he was singing all the lyrics. After the gig, he was shaking. He said, "I have never mosh pitted in 20 years and I just went in." I'm paraphrasing here about what exactly he said, but it moved him. He never fucking thought he'd ever hear that song in his life. We said, "cool, man." That's the point. It's not about buying our new record. It doesn't matter. It's a celebration of the legacy of what it is and giving it to fans who want to hear it, because people do want to hear it. Just like these Death things that are going on now.

You have "Left to Die," and then Death to All. Chuck would hate that, period. He would have hated it. It doesn't matter. The music is bigger than Chuck. There are plenty of people who would love to see a Death concert and they get to. They get to see it with surviving members and guys who do a bang-up job of carrying the torch and not really for a big paycheck either. It's really just to deliver that music to people. I think it's just really an honor. It's an honor to do that.

Tony: Underlining what Jeremy said, we have shirts out there. We are not making money off the shirts. The money that is made from the shirts is paying for the shirts, but it's so you can take that away with you, that moment in time. Maybe the first time you heard it was 40 years later, maybe it was three or four years after first hearing it, maybe it was 10 years, whenever you got to hear it and never thought you could be part of it, that's what we want you to take away. The memory of us being there, the memory of you being there and something to take away with you. That's the idea of the whole thing.

OK, I think my time is up, so thanks a lot to all of you for this very pleasant chat, and all the best for tonight's show as well.

Tony: Thank you for having us. It was good to see you.

Other information about Venom Inc. on this site
Review: Avé
Review: Avé
Review: There's Only Black
Interview with vocalist and bassist Tony "The Demolition Man" Dolan on November 6, 2016 (Interviewed by Luxi Lahtinen)
Interview with Venom Inc. on November 24, 2017 (Interviewed by Luxi Lahtinen)


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