Venom Metal Black

Stupid album title aside (a daft play on the band’s classic Black Metal album title, I guess), this new disc from England’s legendary Venom is shockingly good. Of the classic line-up of Cronos, Mantas and Abbadon, only bassist/vocalist (a compromised term, sure) Cronos remains, along with two other guys (uh, Antton and Mykvs) who have assisted him in various capacities over the decadent decades. But damn, they deliver the goods here. First thing that must be said is this is the best production sound I’ve heard in years — raw, ugly and dirty, but still sonically pleasing and very, very heavy. Quite the achievement, one that only finds an aural peer in the new Cathedral, but even that falls short. So the ears are pleased with that, and the songs themselves are excellent too. With a punk rock vibe and hook, and an old school thrash/death/proto-black sound, tunes like "Death & Dying” and "A Good Day to Die” are as memorable as they are brutal. Rest assured they still can’t play their instruments all that well, the vocals are still outrageous, and, taking away the comforting glow of nostalgia, this is easily up there in the Venom catalogue, if not occupying the top spot. (Sanctuary)