Out of all the Black Stage headliners this year at Fun Fun Fun Fest, only Venom felt like a true headliner, like a destination you had to see. Coheed and Cambria might be the most popular and NOFX certainly rang true to FFF’s punk heritage, but when it came to commanding a festival crowd, Venom slayed them all. Like Judas Priest and King Diamond last year, they were committed to putting on an actual show, one that took advantage of a large stage. They wanted to bring pyro to recreate some of their classic gigs, and while they weren’t able to, their over-the-top exuberance provided all the fireworks they needed. And they had good reason to give it their all – this was their first show ever in Texas!
To commemorate the occasion, during “Welcome to Hell,” Cronos would occasionally yell “Welcome to Texas” in the chorus. Despite the cool temperatures, perfect for battle jackets with huge patches of the Welcome to Hell cover, the crowd ate it up. While two of Venom’s original members, guitarist Mantas and drummer Abaddon, have long been out of the band, current guitarist Rage and drummer Dante kept Venom raging like Satan figured out how to stop the aging process. Dante in particular was a joy to watch, moving flamboyantly not unlike Motorhead’s Mikkey Dee. Those who’ve listened “Bloodlust” enough times to memorize Cronos yelling “Mantas!” before the first lead break must have freaked when he yelled “Rage!” instead, but Venom are professionals and he didn’t pause. And Rage can rip, nailing Mantas’ lines with a crisp, heavy tone. Cronos heckled him for his shaved head; that didn’t stop Rage from going full force on “Long Haired Punks,” Venom’s tribute to their punk influences that brought the speed to their heaviness. Still, Cronos was the center of attention, never missing an opportunity to wield his bass like a victorious sword on the catwalk. His snarl hasn’t gone out, and he never sounded as evil as he did on this rendition of “Black Metal.” That song gave birth to the genre of the same name, and most of its adherents are still trying to live up to it. Cronos, more than anyone in the band, knew how important this show was. You can tell it in his face, excited and ready to kill with a touch of joy.
Venom stuck to the faster classics for the most part, with the exception of “Buried Alive” and “Warhead,” two of their slower songs. “Buried” still retains its hallucinatory, nightmarish power years after it was first released on Black Metal. They made “Warhead” more thunderous by extending the pauses of silence between attacks and having Dante bring the band back in with booming toms. Dante was also the backbone behind “In League With Satan,” the first song of Venom’s encore, making Cronos’ chant of “EVIL! IN LEAGUE WITH SATAN” hypnotic and far from subliminal. “Witching Hour” closed the night, and when Cronos yelled “all hell breaks loose,” the crowd was one step ahead of him. This is the show metalheads wanted from FFF, and Venom gave it to them. A ten year anniversary crowned by a legendary band’s first trip to Texas – how could it get better?