What passes for heavy metal these days possesses little of the danger and none of the wit that belonged to true stalwarts of the genre. Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Motorhead, early Metallica--the best of the leather-and-studs crowd always mixed in a good dose of the absurd while overloading songs with iron-clad riffs and just enough satanic metaphors to piss off all parents and priests within earshot.

Venom debuted in 1981 with Welcome to Hell, an ugly piece of work that ushered in what was called "black metal," a surly rejection of the metal-lite that made inroads on the pop charts of the day. Although too raw to be embraced by the American audience, Venom set the stage for numerous headbangers who found solace in the group's sheer depravity and anti-virtuosity.

Twenty-five years later, Cronos, Antton and Mykvs re-emerge with Metal Black, and although it'd be easy to dismiss such a title as exactly the kind of shit Spinal Tap skewered, dammit if this sucker doesn't rock with laudable abandon. Clichéd, corrupt and downright silly, songs like "Antechrist" and "Darkest Realm" are D&D geekfests of the highest order, ridiculously heavy loser tunes that succeed in being scary and bracing, relentless reminders that the best metal never loses touch with an inherent sense of escapist pleasure. --Darryl Smyers


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