Venom is a band whose contributions to metal are so powerful that it is difficult to accept that they are also guilty of releasing “Cast In Stone.” The year was 1997, and with worm Castings on Stone the band released their first full-length album to showcase the Cronos-Abaddon-Mantas lineup since “Possessed” back in 1985. Reuniting with the same intensity, chemistry, and passion displayed by a divorced couple chatting while picking up their children from a neutral location, Venom offers definitive proof that an all star lineup can mean absolutely nothing. Sometimes people wonder how bad music can really be when everything is produced fine and everyone pretty much knows how to play their instruments - this is the answer. While production and performance traits are typically regarded as strengths, they only make things worse here by allowing Venom to more clearly convey how awful the album is. Don’t waste your time listening to this. Each one of the 14 songs is awful, each riff is awful, and each syllable gargling or growling out of Cronos’s mouth is awful. Ideas like “passion” and “feel” can be really intangible with music until you hear an album like this that is completely lacking in both. As the band goes through the motions of making music, everything becomes so predictable that you essentially suffer through the entire faux-Venom album just by hearing the first note. Similar to post-traumatic stress syndrome.
Venom probably reunited for around one hour and simply recorded the meeting because there couldn’t have been any premeditated thought behind writing these songs. This process would have meant that everyone was on the same page musically, so the band had to devolve into predictable, pathetic, and poppy song structures and rock pastiches. Now, no one can accuse Venom of having ever been a technical band. But, when you have endless pop-rock styled “hooks” in your songs and pandering choruses, it is a depressingly far cry from the band’s influential and edgier past. Compare the gang chants on the infantile song “Infectious” that stupidly spurt out each of the word’s syllables “In” “fec” “tous” every fifteen seconds, with the classic “Teacher’s Pet” where gang chants of drunken revelry create the sense of genuine juvenile lust and ribaldry. This album is a shamefully bald attempt to go in a more commercial route to become popular again. On each song you can tell which small bit of crap you are supposed to remember and shout to your headbanger friends. Interviews from around the time even show Abaddon citing Marilyn Manson as an influence. If that doesn’t make you reach for the nearest antacid to counteract the vomit in the back of your throat, then maybe this album is for you. But when you have shit like the two notes that make up half of “Domus Mundi” farting around until the sun explodes, it is hard to imagine anyone liking this. (That particular song also has an appearance of “shitty 90’s robot voice,” which for those too young to know, was a megaphone type vocal effect used to ruin songs before musical criminals adopted autotune.)
There is a rocky path for a band once on the extreme end of metal trying to become relevant again as quickly and effortlessly as possible. First, Venom starts ripping unrelated pages out of books like “stock rock riffs that people who hate metal think are heavy” and “song structure for the cognitively impaired” then throws these page into an ugly hat to write the next song. I challenge anyone not to become irritated after the 500th time that: Cronos says “You’re All Gonna Die,” Mantas plays the same pentatonic guitar solo again, or the band uses an obviously stock song idea. For examples of the default-setting nature of the album you don’t even need to look further than the song intros. Clean intro? Check, “Destroyed & Damned.” Drumroll intro? Check, “All Devils Eve.” Breathing intro? Check, some other shitty song. And there’s more to hate! Each one of these intros is completely uninspired and could have been taken from a small cheap sound library and pasted before the songs that also might themselves be compiled from a rotten sound library. This sense of automation is so strong in the songwriting that it would seem like the band was engaging in self-parody - that is if it weren’t so obviously poppy mainstream pandering. One interesting thing is how parts of the album manage to stick out as particularly musically repulsive in an album that has so little musical merit. In fact, the especially awful parts are the only thing clearly showing that the rest of the album is a step above worthlessness.
Even the cliched Eastern mood of the final outro serves as another wink to the listener that says “look at us, we are safe, please buy our album.” Imputing these kinds of selfish motivations onto a series of notes is completely justified here because of how enjoyably filthy Venom used to be. For those who haven’t suffered enough and need more proof, there is also a bonus CD metastization of re-recorded songs that really help to show how a band can destroy songs without playing any notes incorrectly or making productions mistakes. The intro to the second CD is also helpful as an obvious sign of the band’s attitude when they have a spooky voice announce “Ladies and Gentlemen, from the very depths of Hell, Venom!” A window into the band’s thoughtprocess “we are still relevant, look how 90’s tough we are, pay attention” and a stark contrast from the moody monologues from the band’s past. To be clear though, the band’s past doesn’t make this album any worse or better, Castings on Castings would still be an awful abomination of pop ethos imposed onto formulaic metal if an unknown band had released it. That would be fitting too, because this release deserves to be unknown. I’m going to bury this album at the bottom of a 10-pound vat of hemorrhoid cream. That way, if I ever get a hemorrhoid so severe that I need to use ten pounds of cream, I can make myself feel better by seeing Castings at the bottom, all creamy, and thinking: “hey, things could be worse.”