Being a bit older, a bit more jaded and a bit more in need of my bed these days, it’s been a while since I’ve been to a gig that has made be feel as great as this one did. My cheeks ached from all the grinning, my neck was knackered from headbanging, my ears were ringing and my voice was in tatters from singing along with EVERY song. Not since Kiss at the O2 last year or Raven at the Underworld have I been to a gig that has reinforced and underlined everything I love about music. So I warn you, read on…..but there will be some gushing!

After a blistering set from support act Suffocation (and a quick beer with Terrence Hobbs, officially the nicest guy in death metal) there’s not long to go before the amps are drapped in the sigils of Baphomet, the lights dim and the haunting intro to “Ave Satanas” begins to creep from the PA.

The Demolition Man, Mantas and stand in drummer Jeramie Kling stalk on to the stage and BOOM! That fat muscular riff grinds out and we’re off. Horns fill the air as the crowd in the O2 belts out “Ave…….Ave Satanas” along with Tony Dolan who is, quite simply, the fucking MAN! No time to catch a breather as Mantas churns out the black & roll riff to ”Welcome To Hell” and Dolan spits out the lyrics with more conviction and er……venom than the other bloke ever did. Mantas just oozes mean rock star cred, foot on the monitor, Mohawk tied back in a pony tail and shades on.  “Metal We Bleed” is next and is the finest speed metal anthem in many a year. Jeramie Kling’s drumming on this is nothing short of thermonuclear. His face a picture of intensity behind the kit, arms and hair a blur. The hits keep coming with the immortal “Die Hard”, “Live Like An Angel…Die Like A Devil” and “Parasite”  no doubt responsible for more than a few vertebrae issues the next day. What is apparent straight away is how god damn tight the lads are and it’s testament to just how good the recent “Ave” album is that the new tracks easily stand shoulder to shoulder with the older classics, most of which are over thirty years old. We’re treated next to a special guest on stage in the form of Al Barnes – long time Venom cronie and second guitarist on “Temples Of Ice”, “Wastelands” and (my all time fave Venom LP) “Prime Evil”. He’s introduced to a warm welcome and straps on a guitar to join the boys in a tear through “Temples Of Ice”.

More classics follow, “Don’t Burn The Witch”, “Leave Me In Hell”, “Lady Lust” and “Warhead” (remember Tommy Vance’s saying he would pay £100 to charity if the DJ Mike Read played “Warhead” on his breakfast show on Radio 1?) plus a couple more new tracks in the form of “War” and the Lemmy Tribute “Black And Roll”.  Before “Black Metal” and “Countess Bathory” round off the set.  Returning of course for the crowd pleasing blast that is “Sons Of Satan” and appropriate closer “Witching Hour”.

The band themselves, especially Dolan, look like they had just as much fun as the crowd and they all truly played a blinder tonight with an excellent sound in the venue too. Yes it was a shame that original drummer Abaddon couldn’t be here (he’s just become a father) but Jeramie is a more than worthy stand in.

Now….there are those that I’ve seen and heard say “No Cronos , No Venom”. No one present at this gig, or indeed any of the live dates on this mammoth Ave tour would possibly agree. The argument that the only real Venom is the one with Cronos in it has more holes in than the toilet cubicle wall at your dads favourite train station. It simply isn’t the case!

Venom Inc. are the real deal, the full fat, gluten , 100% non-vegan version of the band and for my money, the only one worth bothering with.

(Mark Eve)