Once a week I'll turn the blog over to Dan Marsicano for his Retro Recommendation, giving you a chance to learn about underrated and overlooked gems from metal's past. This week, Venom is in the spotlight.
At War With Satan is unlike any other album in Venom's career. Highly ambitious and as bloated as a fat man after an all-you-can-eat buffet, the third album from the blasphemous Brits defies all logic and reason. Nobody expected the same raw and loose band that put out Welcome To Hell and Black Metal to do a 20-minute opus. Yet, Venom proved the critics wrong, and put out a song that is so over-the-top and so dramatic that it somehow worked. There are six other track as well, none of which can stand up to the behemoth title track, but still help to make At War With Satan an overlooked metal gem.
A whole term paper could be dedicated to the massive title track. Quite simply, "At War With Satan" is Venom's answer to Rush's masterpiece "2112." Describing the ultimate battle between good and evil, the lyrics from bassist/vocalist Cronos are sharp and vivid in their visual details of Hell. This is not the same juvenile songwriting from the past; it's apparent a lot of work was put into the story. The music shows progression in the form of acoustic flourishes and female vocals, while the song changes direction enough times to keep the length from being a distraction.
Venom was always criticized for being a sloppy band on a musical front, but there is no denying how memorable the riffs and bass work are on "At War With Satan." The opening bass line on the title track is superb, easily standing the test of time. The band also experiments with various guitar effects and sampling, showing brief maturity that would be nowhere to be found on the rest of the album. It's like the star aligned for 20 minutes of recorded material, only to never come back together for the next three decades.
The rest of the album ranges from good to hilariously awful. "Rip Ride" and "Genocide" are straightforward speed metal numbers that sound like something from the early days. "Stand Up (And Be Counted)" is a cheesy anthem that could have been written by AC/DC on an alcohol binge. The band even spells their name out with a nice random obscenity in there for good measure. The worse is saved for last with "Aaaaaaarrghh." Its two minutes of asinine yelling and un-tuned guitars; pretty much like every other Venom song, but more of a joke track.
This was the last great release from Venom before the lineup started to fall apart. 1985's Possessed was a weak follow-up to At War With Satan and things were fuzzy after that. The band would never again take the risk of composing something on the level of "At War With Satan," but even if they made the attempt, it would not be as momentous as that track was. For taking a gargantuan chance and creating an epic that makes "2112" look ordinary by comparison, At War With Satan gets the nod for this week's Retro Recommendation.