By Carl Begai
The real old-schoolers out there are aware of the impact Venom had on the thrash metal scene when they clawed their way out of the UK muck in 1981 with Welcome To Hell and put out Black Metal a year later. Diehard Venom fans also remember when frontman Cronos left and was replaced by Tony “Demolition Man” Dolan for three albums and an EP from ’89 – ’92, a move that went over surprisingly well at the start. Fast forward through years of attempted reunions and aborted projects to 2010, where Dolan teamed up once again with Venom guitarist Jeff “Mantas” Dunn to form Mpire Of Evil. It’s a venture that could have gone to hell after the release of the Creatures Of The Black EP in 2011 – and not in appreciated Venom fashion – but instead the band buckled down for a full album (Hell To The Holy) and a North American tour with Onslaught to help get the word out. It’s a move that seems to have worked.
This year will see the release of Crucified, an album featuring re-magined versions of Venom songs from the Dolan era. Some folks will dismiss the move as a cash grab, of course, but those that have been paying attention and / or were lucky enough to see Mpire Of Evil live will give the band their due. As one of a handful of people that heard the album well in advance of the release, I can tell you Crucified is a jaw-dropper for anyone that knows the original tracks.
Dolan recently discussed where the idea for Crucified came from and why the Mpire decided to follow through at this early stage of the game.
“When we were on tour going through California, Marc (Jackson / drums) asked if I had any Venom stuff on me. I did in fact have a compilation CD with me, so we pulled that out and he commented that some of the material was great and that we should do something with it. That planted the seed for Crucified in a way. I’d spoken to Jeff about it, and there are certain songs that we quite like, but I thought it would be wrong for us to pick the tracks to be re-recorded. I thought we should ask the fans who like that material to choose the tracks they’d like to hear. The three of us went and made our own lists of the songs we personally would like to re-do, then we got the lists from the fans on Facebook, and made a master list of all the songs chosen. Whenever a song came up more than five or six times, we marked that one down for the album. Basically, we had the tracklist selected for us by the fans.”
Asked if he was at all surprised by some of the fan selections, Dolan admits he did a few double-takes as the band was compiling the list.
“I suppose I was, yeah. There were tracks that I thought were on the weaker side that everyone else seemed to pick, including Jeff (laughs). And some of the songs that I thought would definitely be picked weren’t, which was a bit odd. Then, of course, we had to listen to the old recordings because we’re critical of ourselves and can hear all the bad stuff going on in those songs as far as the production and mis-timed playing. Basically, we decided to approach those songs as Mpire Of Evil and see what happened. One of the first tracks we did was ‘Temples Of Ice’ and the minute we started recording it, the song changed completely. We realized these songs were going to sound completely revitalized.”
Crucified isn’t a mere album of covers. Venom fans will recognize the songs, absolutely, but the new Mpire Of Evil renditions are the difference between getting slammed by a freight train and kiddie-smacked by a go-kart.
“That was what got us,” says Dolan. “You’ve said in a very basic way exactly what I’d stumble along trying to find the words to describe (laughs). Jeff and I were totally surprised. One of the songs I could never get into back in the day was ‘Kissing The Beast’. What I had in my head when I composed it isn’t what came out in the end because there were a lot of elements we just didn’t have at our disposal. When we finished it this time and I went to put vocals on, we were practically standing there in shock because it was as if we’d been able to realize the full potential of the song.”
“Dealing with these tracks before, I think there was a lot more pressure,” he adds. “The Prime Evil album did so well and I got some great reviews, the Tear Your Soul Apart EP came out after that and the same thing happened. And then we started to go downhill. We had to take care of the production ourselves, everything was done in-house because it became about keeping as much money as possible. We’d record our parts separately and at the end the product was just handed to us, which weakened the game completely. We weren’t a band.”
The band dynamic was solidified with Jackson’s entrance and the North American tour with Onslaught. The energy on Crucified is living, slavering proof the trio shared the same frame mind going in to do the album.
“A big advantage for us in doing this was Marc,” Dolan admits. “He’s not just old school, he’s Bill Ward old school. Marc is a 24-year-old kid but he plays like he means it. He can do all the modern stuff and use triggers, but he recorded Crucified totally analog. He took his drum kit into the studio and had an idea of the tracks, but he told me afterwards he’d have to go back and relearn the songs to play them live because he ended up playing them spontaneously in the studio. I’ve always been a big believer in that. Writing lyrics, it’s usually the same; I might have an idea or maybe just a title, but I have a tendency to do them in the studio when I’m standing at the microphone because I think ultimately the song is going to tell me what it wants to say.”
“Doing Crucified, there was no pressure. We did this purely because we wanted to and I could do whatever I wanted vocally. I could let loose and I could talk through songs… I work in a very visual medium so that’s how I see things. I let the stories occur this time and it was so much nicer to be able to do that rather than feel the song had to be something else, because as soon as you try to step into matching a song with something else, you’re always going to lose some of yourself along the way.”
“Jeff flips every time he hears our new versions of ‘Temples Of Ice’ and ‘Need To Kill’. I originally wrote ‘Need To Kill’ as a throwaway Terminator song, and now a rewrote the lyrics in places where I thought they were weaker than they should have been. I didn’t even realize Jeff liked the song that much, and I always thought it could have been better. Now I listen to it and, my God, it has balls now. ‘Black Legions’ was a song I quite liked, and now I love it (laughs).”
“Crucified feels like a band recorded it, we did it analog – it’s not digitally controlled and there’s no trigger bollocks going on – and with a really heavy sound.”
As mentioned, at the time of this interview only a select few people outside the band had heard Crucified, and reactions amounted to high praise across the board. Long-suffering Venom fans that have been put off by the band’s current Cronos-led formation since resurfacing in 2006 have something to look forward to. That includes the ones that slagged Dolan when he was fronting Venom.
“Someone who has been close to Venom for many years saw the promo that Jeff put up for the new album, and he basically dropped his dinner on the floor and lost his mind when he heard it,” Dolan laughs. “He said it sounded like Venom is supposed to sound, and I told him that maybe we’re Venom in spirit. I’m not Cronos and Marc isn’t Abaddon so we’re not Venom, obviously, but I think Venom is a spirit that was born and happens to be bigger than the individuals. I’m not saying we’re Venom or that we’re challenging them, but we are that spirit.”
“You’re a bit different when you’re screaming at your Dad at 17-years-old to when you’re sitting having a conversation with him in the garden at 37,” he continues. “It’s hard to recapture that fire, and writing new stuff when you’re older, there’s a different drive and a bit more maturity. What’s been interesting is taking who we are with that excitement and that feeling, going back and grabbing some songs from that period and revisiting them with that fire again. Those songs came to life again right in front of us.”
Tony Dolan photo by Trevor Lamas. Used with kind permission.
Live photo yanked from the Mpire Of Evil official Facebook page, found here. Also a great place to check out the band’s music and see what they’re up to.