I've been an obsessed hard rock/heavy metal fan and collector since the early 1980s. If it's got a good guitar riff and attitude, I'm in.
Venom, "Cast in Stone"
Original Release: SPV/Steamhammer, 1997
"Expanded Edition" Reissue: Sanctuary Records, 2006
Ahhh, Venom. Whether you loved them or hated them, you can't deny the impact that this demonic trio of Brits had on the early '80s metal scene. The original triad of Conrad "Cronos" Lant (bass/vox), Jeffrey "Mantas" Dunn (guitar) and Anthony "Abaddon" Bray (drums) left some serious skid marks on the NWOBHM and early thrash metal movements via such noisy landmark LPs as Welcome to Hell (1981), Black Metal (1982) and At War With Satan (1983).
By the late '80s, however, the Venom flame was in danger of dying out. Cronos split to forge ahead as a solo artist, while Mantas and Abaddon did their best to keep the band afloat with a rotating cast of replacement members. After several underwhelming Cronos-less albums, Venom called it quits after 1992's The Waste Lands ... but the beast would not stay asleep for long.
"The Evil One"
Venom's influence in extreme metal circles continued to grow while they were on ice, particularly among bands in the Scandinavian "black metal" scene, which took Venom's ultra-Satanic, fire-and-brimstone, metal-as-f*ck vibe to heart. By the mid '90s, Cronos, Mantas, and Abaddon were ready to give Venom another go. Their reunion run began in 1995 at the Dutch "Waldrock" Festival and was followed by the self-released Venom '96 EP, consisting of five re-recorded Venom oldies and one new song ("The Evil One"). The band signed with the veteran German label SPV Records and the refreshed Venom recorded and released their ninth studio album, Cast in Stone, in 1997.
Cast in Stone was supposed to signify Venom's rebirth, but the triumphant return began falling apart shortly after the album's release. Old disagreements between the notoriously volatile band members began rearing their heads again, and the reunion imploded after the Cast in Stone tour.
The Cast in Stone album disappeared from view until Sanctuary Records rescued it from out-of-print, used-bin obscurity in 2006 by reissuing a spiffy new 2-CD "Expanded Edition." Cronos himself oversaw the disc's remastering, and the reissue came with a bonus disc of ten re-recorded Venom classics (which were initially offered with a limited quantity of the original Cast in Stone pressing) plus the additional five songs from the Venom '96 EP. The band's infernal legions welcomed this package with devil horns raised.
"Raised in Hell"
After numerous spins of this Venomous offering, I have to say that it's a shame the O.G. lineup couldn't keep their you-know-what together beyond this album, because the boys were definitely firing on all cylinders. This may be the band's most musically accomplished offering -- Cronos' acid-tinged, reptilian snarl has aged well, and Mantas and Abaddon are still whipping up a seriously gnarly 'n' evil racket on the strings and skins.
Cast in Stone is evenly balanced between hit-and-run, heart-attack thrash blasts like "Raised in Hell" (a classic Venom title if I've ever heard one), "Flight of the Hydra," and "You're All Gonna Die," and seriously greasy, grimy, slower-paced skull crushers like the opening track "The Evil One" (which may just be my favorite Venom song ever), "Judgment Day," and "Destroyed and Damned."
All in all, the 1997 version of Venom was just as abrasive and eeeee-vil as ever, sounding like a Satanic, seriously hung-over Motorhead. Listening to Cast in Stone feels like you're standing in front of a speeding locomotive that's lost its brakes ... you either jump on, or you get the hell out of the way!
The Cast in Stone bonus disc is a tasty, blackened treat as well. The updated takes on Satanic speed burners like "Black Metal," "Bursting Out," and "Rip Ride" actually feel heavier than the originals due to the upgraded production values. I was a little disappointed that the smutty "Teachers' Pet," a personal fave, didn't make the cut for the re-do's, but that's a minor complaint. The Expanded Edition also features a booklet filled with plenty of vintage photos and very entertaining, informative liner notes from former Metal Forces journalist Malcolm Dome. This is a quality package all around!
"Rip Ride" (re-recording)
Since the breakup of the Cast in Stone lineup, Cronos has kept the Venom machine rolling with new players. They have released six studio albums since Cast in Stone, with the most recent (Storm the Gates) crawling from the infernal abyss in 2018.
Meanwhile, ex-members Mantas and Abaddon have also returned to active duty under the name "Venom Inc.", which features Tony "Demolition Man" Dolan (Cronos' early '90s replacement) on bass and vocals. Venom Inc. has released several singles and one full length album (Avé, from 2017) to date.
Summing It Up
Classic metal was all but dead in the mid 1990s, as far as the mainstream was concerned ... until Venom said "F*ck that!" and came roaring back out of the abyss, fangs bared and middle fingers held high, with Cast in Stone. Anyone who wonders where all of those church-burnin', Satan-lovin', forest-dwellin' Scandinavian weirdo bands took their inspiration from, look no further.
For longtime Venom fans, the Cast in Stone Expanded Edition is a treasure trove of hard to find goodies, and for casual fans who are just beginning to dip their toes in the band's red-hot lava pool, it may be the only Venom CD they'll ever need. There's nothing left to say except "Lay down your soul to the Gods rock and roll ... (gasp, pant, pant) ... BLACK METAL!"
© 2021 Keith Abt