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"Possibly the heaviest record ever allowed in the shops for public consumption," said Geoff Barton in Sounds upon the release of 'Welcome To Hell' in the black winter of 1981. And Venom's debut is terrifying, still.

In the first half of the Eighties, Venom cut their three greatest albums - 'Welcome To Hell', 'Black Metal' and 'At War With Satan' - as a power trio in the Motorhead mould.

Songwriting is credited to Conrad Lant, Jeff Dunn and Tony Bray, but the Geordie boys are better known as Cronos (bulldozer bass and vocals), Mantas (chainsaw guitar dives) and Abaddon (drums and nuclear warheads).

Mantas and Abaddon met at a Judas Priest gig and formed Venom as a four-piece with a bass player who later quit to wed and a singer who quickly grew disgruntled when his back garden was used as a testing ground for the band's stage pyrotechnics.

Enter Cronos, whose sepulchral bass - "the pumping black heart of Venom" - and ogrish road transformed Venom into "the musical equivalent to the Earth splitting asunder and revealing a filthy, gaping maw to the Kingdom Below." This image, and from the Soun review, is an apt one: 'Welcome To Hell' is heavy with diabolism, albeit as crude as Venom's brutal speed metal. Cronos is no Aleister Crowley.

Explaning the band's satanic bent, Cronos said in '81, "Satan is power and Venom is power so we write about Satan."

'In league With Satan' - incredibly, a single - is the darkest of these eleven songs, it's chorus a thunderous incantation of the damned. As a prelude to this track, Cronos' voice is run backwards, echoing the demon within little Linda Blair in The Exorcist. Elsewhere, Cronos feeds on unsafe sex ('Poison') and drugs ('Angel Dust'). The latter tune features on the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal compilation put together by Lars Ulrich, drummer with Metallica, who frequently opened for Venom in their early days. Both as a part of the NWOBHM and as precursors of thrash, Venom were as influential as any British metal band of their era, Diamond Head and Iron Maiden included.

Welcome To Hell. Welcome to Venom's nightmare.

by Paul Elliott, Kerrang!