By Carl Begai
It’s fair to say that M:Pire Of Evil – featuring former Venom members Tony “Demolition Man” Dolan (vocals/bass) and Jeff “Mantas” Dunn (guitars) with Marc “JXN” Jackson (drums) – gave 2013 a solid ass-kicking. Between a new album, festival dates, one-off club shows and a European tour with Onslaught the trio were busy from March through December, bent on building up momentum for an even busier 2014. There were a few setbacks along the way, of course, the biggest one of the bunch seeing Dunn sidelined for the first week of the Onslaught tour due to a back injury. That didn’t stop the M:Pire from delivering, however, with Dolan and Jackson hitting the stage as a duo supported by temporary Onslaught guitarist Leigh Chambers (ex-Collapse); a mark of real integrity and all out balls if there ever was one.
Chambers, it turns out, was the only guitarist on a four band bill that dared to step into Dunn’s shoes, learning a Venom song a day over a matter of hours to offer M:Pire Of Evil fans more than just a rhythm section bludgeoning. A nerve-wracking experience for the three musicians but their efforts were well appreciated all around.
“I told Leigh not to try and play like Jeff, just to play like himself playing that music,” says Dolan. “When he plays with Onslaught it’s very precise, there are lot of twists and turns and stops and accents. He has to really be on it. He didn’t have time to do that with us, so we kept it as loose as we could so it sounded like Venom. The idea was that if he wandered, he wandered, and if he couldn’t remember a lick or whatever Leigh just did what he felt like. He just had to put his heart into it and that’s what the kid did.”
“The one thing I didn’t want to do, which was difficult, was compromise ourselves,” he adds. “We just said ‘Fuck it!’ and got up there and just did it. Having Leigh on stage with us made things a little less stressful. Mikey from Onslaught asked us if we were going to get rid of Jeff as Leigh learned more of the songs (laughs).”
The band’s latest album Crucified – featuring re-recorded versions of Venom songs from the Dolan years (’88 – ’92) – has sold a respectable number of units given the reduced album sales across the board for everyone in the industry. It’s easier and probably wiser to rate M:Pire Of Evil’s success on the amount of touring they’ve done.
“Labels these days can’t account for everything as fast as you want them to, so all we can gauge it on is fan turnout,” Dolan agrees. “It’s weird because we did Headbanger’s Open Air and it was packed. We went on just before Overkill, and Peter Hobbs from Hobbs’ Angel Of Death came out, the organizer of the Keep It True Festival came out, and they told us that every band in the place was watching us. It seems they thought we were great, so thank you (laughs).”
Dolan and Dunn have the benefit of their Venom history to draw attention to themselves, putting Jackson in the presumably difficult position of doing his bandmates’ legacy justice. Having replaced Antton Lant – also a Venom legend – in 2012, Jackson has put the naysayers in their place and is loving every minute of it as he continues to do so.
“I’ve learned a lot,” says Jackson. “I’ve played with other bands, but not to this extent. You realize when you’re playing with professionals and that there are people out there as creative as you are. I don’t just call myself a drummer, I’m a musician. There’s a big difference. Tony and Jeff are both musicians, they’re not just people in a band. We can play any style of music that we want so we’re not boxed in.”
“When we did the North American tour last year, we did a show in Laredo, Texas,” Dolan offers.”We played the set and the fans wouldn’t let us off the stage. They wanted us to keep going but we’d done our set; all we could say was that we’d be back. They said ‘No you won’t. Nobody comes back to Laredo…’ (laughs). Jeff said ‘Let’s do ‘In League With Satan’ but Marc had never played it. He didn’t even know the song. Jeff explained the basic 4/4 pattern and we played the song through to the end, and Marc had never even heard the song before (laughs).”
“It was bizarre,” laughs Jackson. “At first all I could think was ‘Are we really going to do this?’ But, I just got on with it and it worked. The same thing happened in Italy when we did ‘Welcome To Hell’. I’d only heard the song once at that point but I was like ‘Let’s just fucking do it.'”
Which is Jackson’s usual M:Pire Of Evil mindset, something he credits to Dolan and Dunn giving him creative freedom rather than expecting him to perform according to a playbook.
“There are a lot of bands out there that, when a new member comes in, he or she is told that have to play a song a certain way,” says Jackson. “Jeff and Tony just told me when I came in to just play things in my style. They understand that if you tell someone ‘Play it like that guy’ it’s not going to be the same.”
Dolan gives the best possible example of how letting Jackson be himself paid off in the studio…
“Marc did the whole Crucified album in seven hours, one take. All analog, no editing. Everything you hear on the album is Marc going in after counting it off, all played through. No drop-ins, nothing. That’s a testament to why it sounds so vibrant, because when we were putting our parts down on top of his drum tracks that energy pushed up our performances a notch as well. When we first recorded it back in 1991, ‘Temples Of Ice’ should have been a really cool track, but it was a letdown for me because it didn’t quite work. When I wrote the track I knew what the potential was, and when we got Marc in the band I knew we could realize that potential. Jeff was in the frame with his playing as well, and now I listen to it and think ‘This is how it should have sounded.'”
Dolan and Dunn have a long history, both through Venom and a brief stint in the band Mantas in 2004. Although they parted ways when both acts fell apart, Dolan believes he and Dunn were always destined to work together again. M:Pire Of Evil has been a reality since 2010 and ranks as their strongest collaboration to date.
“I always knew that me and Jeff had something different from what he had with Conrad (Cronos) or Venom or anything else, and it’s always been really enjoyable to do. It’s always been outside forces – a label, a manager – that had an influence on us. When we started M:Pire Of Evil we agreed that it had to be about the music. We be be having fun with this. If we decide to stop, that’s our decision. This is about the fans and us, and that’s what I’ve always wanted this to be. We do this on a base level. If we want to play a club and there are 10 people in the audience, we’ll play. If we can do festival dates we will, so that’s why shows are constantly being added to our schedule. If the promoters can pay for our flights, supply some backline and some food, we’ll come in and play and then go. If they’re happy with that we’ll meet the fans and sign everything, and some of the promoters are surprised. For us, though, we’re building our foundation.”
If all goes according to plan – and the noise here says things are going just fine, thanks – M:Pire Of Evil will be back in 2014 with an album of all original material entitled Unleashed and gunning for more tour opportunities to keep their in-your-face tank rolling
“The new album when it comes out, we’ll print it ourselves on our own label so it goes straight to distribution. No middlemen; the band, the fans, and that’s it,” says Dolan. “We’ve got the new cover art and it’s fucking blinding (laughs). Jeff’s almost got the title track for the album done and it’s epic. There are a couple of great thrashers, and we’ve also got a song on the album that Molly Hatchet could have done. We’re just going with whatever we feel like doing. The album twists and turns more than Hell To The Holy did. People will be bludgeoned, but they probably won’t figure out where we’re going (laughs). The thing is, if we go in thinking ‘Venom’ or ‘thrash’ or whatever that’s genre specific, we’re going to limit ourselves. We’ve just mixed things up and we like how it feels.”
For information and updates on M:Pire Of Evil go to this location.