Let’s start this interview out by giving you a quick history lesson!
The year is 1981;
The Who recorded Face Dances; their first album without Keith Moon, Phil Collins decided to launch his very successful solo career skyward by releasing Face Value, Iron Maiden released their second album Killers and a trio consisting of Jeffrey “Mantas” Dunn (Guitar), Anthony “Abaddon” Bray (Drums) and Conrad “Cronos” Lant (Bass/Vocals), who under the name Venom released their first album Welcome To Hell. Venom’s follow up album Black Metal (1982) went on to forever change the face of music; giving birth to a new music sub-genre of the same name!
Jump forward to 1989 and the revolving door that is Venom has settled with a line-up that has grown to a foursome: Abaddon still on the drums, Mantas re-joining the band on guitar alongside Al Barnes, not to forget the newly appointed front man Tony “Demolition Man” Dolan. In the upcoming four years (1989-1992), the already well-established Venom went on to release their sixth studio album Prime Evil (1989), seventh studio album Temples of Ice (1991) and eighth studio album The Waste Lands (1992), which featured Steve White on guitar instead of Barnes. This is where we will draw the chapter on Venom to a close, as there were a few on goings behind the scenes which not only had the band taking a hiatus for a few years, but also ultimately resulted in a cease of communication between Abaddon and Mantas that lasted twenty years!
Let’s fast forward to 2015;
M-Pire of Evil which consists of both Dolan and Mantas working together again alongside Marc “JXN” Jackson (Drums) have been approached by co-founder Oliver Weinsheimer with an offer to play the Keep It True festival in Germany; however that spot came with the request that Dolan/Mantas agreed to get Abaddon (who happened to be in attendance at the festival) out on stage to play some classic Venom songs for the fans. After Dolan was left to make the phone calls to get the wheels in motion, Mantas and Abaddon both agreed to put their differences aside, the past behind them and get out there and give the fans what they want to see! After videos of the performance went onto YouTube, promoters starting knocking at the door and hoping to get the chance to book the newly “formed” Venom Inc.; named as such because they wanted to make it clear they were incorporating the legacy of their time in Venom instead of attempting to be a Venom 2.0. The wheels on the interest machine kept gaining traction and before too long, the trio had to sit down and face the fact that maybe they would have to produce a new album together to satisfy the hunger that had grown all thanks to that one show all the way back in 2015….
That is what brings us to the present day; Venom Inc. released their debut album Avé available from August 11th via Nuclear Blast; OVERDRIVE got the opportunity to speak to not just Mantas and Dunn of M:Pire of Evil but Abaddon, too! That’s right; this interviewer got to speak all to all three band members separately (Mantas July 27th, Dunn July 28th and Abaddon August 10th) and ask them the exact same questions. Because the interview is so long, it’s going to be broken up into three parts, so let’s get straight into part one without any more delay, shall we?
What was it like first hearing that M:Pire of Evil were asked to get Abaddon out on stage at some point to play some classic Venom at Keep It True 2015?
M: “It all came around when Tony Dolan played a festival in Newcastle in England, he did an Atomkraft set; I was still living in Newcastle at the time so Tony came to my house, I then went down to rehearsals with him and I joined in for a couple of Atomkraft songs that we played on the night. There was another band there called Cauldron (from Canada) and they were playing ‘Die Hard’ in their set and they asked me to get up and play that, so I did. We knew that Abaddon was there but Abaddon and myself hadn’t spoken since 1998, so we didn’t speak at all; we really didn’t see each other at this festival. Then Tony received a call from Oliver Weinsheimer who was also at that festival and he said “Hey, did you realize that Abaddon was there?” and we said “well, yes…” and he goes ”well I was hoping that you know, maybe he could get up on stage and play a couple of Venom songs with you guys?” and it was that point Oliver offered M:Pire of Evil a slot at the Keep It True festival which is a great festival; you know, it’s an old school metal festival so Tony and I said “Yeah, no problem we’ll do that”. That’s when Oliver said “Well, if Abaddon was there would you get up and play some Venom songs?”. That’s when Tony called me and I have to admit that my first reaction was “No”; we spoke again and Tony said “well you know, it’s only going to be five or six songs. We don’t need to get together to rehearse.” Because at this time I was in Portugal and those two guys were still at the opposite ends of England, we swapped a few songs and said “okay, we’ll see you there.” Honestly it was meant to be just a one-off thing, a few songs for the fans and that was it; thank you, good night and see you later! The reaction was incredible though, it was amazing. After that, Tony started getting calls from agents and promotors, plus we still had more M:Pire shows to do so we did them too. Then we ended up in China with Venom Inc., we went to Japan then Heavy Montreal in Canada, then a full European tour and onto America…it all seemed to happen in spite of us! We were just getting these offers, so we’d call each other going “should we do these offers?” which were usually replied to with “yeah, why not, why not?” so we just rolled with it, but we never expected any of this! Now we’re just sitting here with a new album going out in a couple of weeks time or whatever it is, it’s just amazing! It wasn’t until Jon Zazula got on board as management that he came around and said “one great album can change a lot for you guys, so have you thought about new music?” At that point, I started writing; it was difficult because we had so many shows to play/dates to do, but we took some time over Christmas/January/February and got the album completed. Like I say, none of it was planned or expected, it’s all been driven by the fans; the fans want to see it so we’ve just been going out there and doing it! Totally unexpected, but very happy with the results at the moment; we’re on a rollercoaster and we’re just going for it, who knows what’s next! We’ve got a couple of festivals to do; I leave for Italy tomorrow, then a festival in France, then I think 30 shows across America starting September 1st. It’s going to be a busy time and I can’t wait for the album to go out; at the end of the day it’s going to be the fans who ultimately decide so fingers crossed they love it as much as we do.”
D: “It was quite strange, because we hadn’t planned anything like that. When the idea was first pitched to me by Oliver Weinsheimer who runs Keep It True, I thought it was interesting but I didn’t think it was possible because I didn’t know what Abaddon was doing, I hadn’t seen him for twenty five years and Mantas hadn’t spoken to him for twenty years. I just asked Mantas about the idea and he said “no no, I don’t want to do it,” then I spoke to Abaddon and he said “sure, why not?”. So I went back to Mantas and said “let’s just have some fun, there’s no pressure.” The nice thing about the way we did it, we didn’t have a label and there was no pressure, so it was a nice opportunity to pick maybe four or five songs, go out on stage and play them to 3000 die hard metal fans who just wanted to have some fun, so that’s what we did. We don’t live near each other; Abaddon lives in Newcastle, I live in London and Mantas lives in Portugal. Mantas and I were on tour so Abaddon flew in, we said hi and we went through what we were going to do, then we went out on stage and played. But what was incredible, from the first four count and the high hat we realised there was something quite different happening. By the time we finished, the world had changed its colour; all that happened was this stuff went up on the internet and people were asking us to do more shows and go on tour, or to manage and promote us. The first reaction from me was to tell them that “we’re not a band, we’re just came together as we just did it as a favour for a friend”. But then we thought “well hold on, we’re musicians and we’re a band; people want to hear us play so why not? We don’t have a label, we’re not trying to make money, we’re not trying to jump on any bandwagons and we can just be us; that’s what we’ve been doing into year three now! The fans drove us around the world, the fans drove us to keep going and the fans drove us to make an album. It’s a very special thing to be a part of as it wasn’t driven by us; it’s been driven by the fans wanting us to do it and we feel right privileged!”
A: “It was really cool you know, it was a bit of fun which I’m always up for. It was a bit of tongue in cheek but there was a lot of friends there; people who were old Venom fans from the past and a long time ago had shown up, so it was an opportunity to have a big party really! If I hadn’t had been asked to play and had been invited to go, I would have gone along anyway.
To Mantas/Abaddon: What were your first thoughts once you hung up the phone after receiving that first phone call from Dolan?
M: “I’ve got to admit that for me it was pretty clear cut, it was a no as I didn’t to do it; we had to put SO much work into M:Pire. We were doing a lot of shows and playing everywhere, we had no record label, no management, no support from anyone; we were doing it ourselves and we worked very very hard on it. I mean, M:Pire is still in existence; we’ve got a new album in the can as we speak, it just needs bass and vocals put down. Hopefully we’ll be finished that January next year; M:Pire hasn’t finished, it’s just been put on hold because of the demand of this project. I think because of the original members of Venom, there’s the usual band thing with so much water under so many bridges; plus as I said Abaddon and myself hadn’t spoken since 1998, I really sort of dismissed it. But it was after talking to Tony and him saying “it was only going to be a one off thing really’, but like I say it has turned into the beast that it is and we’re having a great time doing it! We all agreed that we’re never going to talk about the past; we’re just going to get out there and do what we do as simple as that, because the fans wanted to see it. They are the most important part; hopefully we’re giving the fans what they want and by all accounts and all reports, we’re doing a good job.
Upon the mentioning of it possibly being a sign from a higher being that it was time to close that gap with Abaddon, Mantas had this to say:
“I’m a firm believer in the law of attraction and that life is a cycle; whether it is fashion, music or something else, whatever was popular years ago comes back into fashion at some point. I’m not going to speak about the things because some of them are personal, but it’s strange that what’s happened since the inception of this band is that there’s been a lot of incidents that have happened to us as a band and as individuals happened way back in 1998; the same thing, different time zones but the same thing happening again. We’ve spoken about this as a band and it’s like “wow this is really weird!” The one thing we did in the early days is that we never forced anything, we were who we were and we did what we did; that’s exactly what we’re doing now but as I said, there’s been strange coincidences if you like…I prefer to call them opportunities you know, it depends on how you want to take that opportunity, whether it be in a positive or negative way. We’re just looking at all the positives and whatever rears its head, we’re just taking it on, hitting it square on the chin and we’re going for it! There have been a few things where we’ve looked at each other; obviously in the early days of Venom it happened really quick. I thought that was the right time and the right place; the world was ready for something different and we were different, with everyone being into the shock value and everything like that. But you’ve got to remember that that was 36 years ago; we always joke that “we’re a lot older but none the wiser” because we’re still doing this (laughs) but it’s what we do, it’s what we signed up for and it’s what we enjoy.”
A: “I think we talked about it at Keep It True and it was always going to be something that we wanted to take further; I don’t think Jeff was too sure about it, but the response from everybody wanting us to do it was just so overwhelming. It was incredible to have so many people ringing, we just kept saying yes; we didn’t really say “yes let’s make this a career, yes let’s make an album from this”, we really didn’t make proper plans as the rest was done for us! We had people saying “come to Japan” and “come to China”; they were booking tickets and hotels for us, so we just said “let’s do this”. The same thing happened with South America, same thing with Europe and North America; it just this rolling feeling that hasn’t stopped yet. Yes we’ve tried to put into perspective by doing the album and booking Jon Zazula as management, but we’ve just gone with the flow; that’s how Venom happened in circa-1980 and it’s just happening again the same way.”
When this interviewer mentioned how he spoke to Mantas first and that he said the same thing about how it’s just blown up to extreme heights; Abaddon continued:
“That’s exactly right. It’s just something that could have happened. My dad used to have this saying; “Life always happens to you when you’re making other plans” and that’s what it is; this is two or three years down the line and it’s just crazy; it’s a longer lifespan than most bands have!”
To Dolan: How nervous were you making the phone call to both Mantas and Abaddon to ask them to speak again?
“Well you know, I wasn’t really; I’m kind of a bit of a brash person so I don’t worry about things too much (laughs). Mantas is like my brother; we’ve been together forever and we’ve been growing M:Pire so it was just a matter of asking him and saying “what if we got Abaddon up to play a bunch of songs?” and he just said “no”, so I didn’t push it. Then I thought “alright, I’ll ask Abaddon because he might say no too” and I did; but Abaddon said “sure, why not?”, so I thought about it for a bit before going back to Jeff and saying what I did. But I think he was concerned, as was Abaddon; they were both nervous because they hadn’t spoken for twenty years and about how it was going to be. But I think because they had me there, I have a kind of relaxed way of dealing so I was able to excite them both about the idea. When we met, it was like a regular chill out; there were no politics and no hassles. The last time we saw each other it wasn’t a big fight where we all said “fuck you and fuck you, I hate you” and smashed things up, we just went “see you later”; later just happened to be not next year, but twenty years later! But it felt like the next day and that’s when you know something great is happening; you may not be the best friends personally but you know when you work well together and that was the key for me. It wasn’t about any politics or what anybody had said or would say; it was all about the music and could we play it and enjoy bringing it to the fans at the end of the day. The only thing I had to do wasn’t convince them to talk to each other, but to excite them that it was a show that we were going to do for the fans. If you don’t do it for the fans and you only do it for yourselves, then there’s no point; I don’t make records to keep them on my shelves! It was my whole legacy; I’ve probably only got three of my own records as I have a habit of giving them away as they were made for the fans. They want to see us play it, so let’s go play it!”
Touching further on the fans and how Mantas also mentioned it’s been all because of them, Dolan started by saying “that’s exactly right! From the first album of Venom, we’re almost forty years ago; we’ve all been friends all that time as associates. The first album I stepped in on was in 1989; to be here now doing it and trying to control it and construct it, it would be like we were trying to cash in on something and we have nothing to cash in on! When the fans wanted us to go do it, we thought “isn’t that why we did it in the first place? Isn’t that why the band is still relevant and people still want us to play our music, because they enjoy it? If there are no fans or journalists or photographers, there is no music; the fans drive the music, the music delivers to the fans and that’s as simple as it gets!” We also thought “we enjoy doing it, the fans enjoy doing it, so why don’t we get out there and do it?” We didn’t realize at this stage in our lives that this is the second breath that we never planned or thought was going to happen, so we’re appreciating every moment!”
PART TWO IS NOW LIVE! CLICK HERE TO CONTINUE READING \m/