Released: 2012, Scarlet Records
Reviewer: Aaron Yurkiewicz
Most self-respecting metal fans are at least peripherally aware of Venom’s oft overlooked 1989 classic PRIME EVIL, but unfortunately many of those fans have never actually listened to it. Prior to its release, Venom had gone through some pretty turbulent times. After a complete lineup shuffle resulting in drummer Abaddon being the sole remaining member, original guitarist Mantas returned with Atomkraft vocalist/bassist Tony “Demolition Man” Dolan on board to assume responsibilities as Venom’s new frontman. That collaboration resulted in PRIME EVIL, an album that introduced Venom 2.0 and was the heaviest, meanest, and evil sounding Venom release in years. Even after the eventual reunion with Cronos, many fans felt that the creativity from the Dolan/Mantas period couldn’t be matched.
So why is all of this important? Because history repeats itself, that’s why. Though he’s been laying low since exiting Venom once again after 2000’s RESURRECTION, Mantas has reunited with Tony Dolan to form a new band, Mpire of Evil. A power trio rounded out by ex-Venom drummer Antton (and coincidentally brother to one Mr. Conrad “Cronos” Lant), Mpire of Evil proves that lightning really can strike twice. HELL TO THE HOLY is Mpire of Evil’s full length debut (a covers EP was released last year) and praise the dark lords, it..is…amazing.
Easily better than anything released under the Venom moniker in decades and arguably better than the original PRIME EVIL collaboration, HELL TO THE HOLY is a powerfully heavy, melodic, well-crafted and pissed off collection of metal. Though there’s a definite familiarity to Venom’s classic proto-thrash, Mantas and company are not content to exist as a retro nostalgia act. The riffs are fresh and angry, the tunes are masterful lessons in why metal rules, and the band cranks like their lives depend on it.
HELL TO THE HOLY covers a broad range of musical territory, almost all of it a rousing success. “Hellspawn” and “Metal Messiah,” “Snake Pit” and “All Hail” are full on ragers, “The 8th Gate” and the title track are dirge laden and doom inspired, and “Waking Up Dead” is reminiscent of Venom’s looser, booze inspired anthems. Only the tracks “Devil” and “Shockwave” feel a little out of place on the disc, opting for a more “modern” metal vibe with some chugga riffs that play out too long. But as those two tracks are surrounding by a superior body of tunes, it’s an easy grievance to forgive.
Collectively, the performances on HELL TO THE HOLY are exceptional. Dolan’s still got a gritty, forceful bellow, and Antton’s work behind the drum kit is exponentially better than his work on METAL BLACK or HELL. But it’s Mantas himself who’s really the star of the show. The years of inactivity must have inspired the man, because his work on the six-string is phenomenal. More exciting and proficient than we’ve ever heard from the guy, it’s great to hear Mantas roar once again.
I didn’t know what to expect from Mpire of Evil when I pressed play, but holy crap, I was hooked from the opening kick to the gut. HELL TO THE HOLY is the kind of album that not only Venom fans, but metal fans of all kinds have been aching to hear for a long time. HELL TO THE HOLY is an album that can only come from age and experience, and one that you need to hear.