Scream und Drang
The alternating throat-shredding and earnest mid-range, non-descript vocals that are featured throughout Venom are rote elements of mainstream metal/screamo. Sentiments like “I don’t know what’s real anymore” (whisper/snarled under some hall reverb and mild distortion in the first song on the record, “No Way Out”) might also aptly describe what it’s like to be a critic reviewing this album. Is this real metal? Is this really what passes for rock music? Are people really paying for this? Twin guitar attacks and throaty vocals no longer mean songs like “Suicide” by Thin Lizzy or “The Red and the Black” by Blue Öyster Cult, where the baroque arrangements were aware more of that adjective’s implications of the inevitability of death and loss than the stylized sheen that Bullet for my Valentine have lacquered this “hard rock” album in. The drums are crisp and punchy. Overly compressed. Quantized. The guitars are punchy. The bass is inoffensive. The occasional effect thrown on an ancillary guitar or vocal or even snare drum in order to connote the standard affective trigger (which I’d bet dollars to donuts the drum parts have more of than an NRA convention).
“You Want a Battle? (Here’s a War)” begins with the obligatory bro-chant, a callback to so much of nü-metal and screamo’s hardcore roots. But this isn’t a political anthem from a bygone era of ABC No Rio matinees. It’s cock-rock for millennials. Frustrated. Unheard. Silenced. Angry. White-(bread) and angry. If you listen closely enough, you might be able to pick out some female voices in the chant, but that’s not surprising. Part of patriarchy is filtering female anger and frustration through masculinist channels after all.
By and large, if you’re a fan of screamo and that ilk, you’ll find the record inoffensive enough. Maybe even enjoyable. The problem is there’s nothing new about the genre, let alone Venom. So in a way, the uninspiring familiarity of so many tropes (Kirk Hammet and Paul Gilbert guitar sweeps, harmonizing in thirds, double bass, the occasional breakdown or sludgy groove section, the ballads incorporating the same sequenced delays and reverbs) just deaden you to the intended effect (empathy, shared anger, being impressed at the technical or studio skill, which is admittedly ample, if unoriginal or non-revelatory). It’s the same overwrought male aggression posing as affect. What separates this entire genre from Creed is Scott Stapp’s ridiculous arena-rock baritone as opposed to Bullet for My Valentine’s screaming and willingness to actually evince the Metallica and other thrash metal records bands like Bullet for my Valentine studied when they were teenagers. Only, it’s Iron Maiden without the sense of humor: all of the self-aggrandizement, none of the self-awareness. The only mythology and references are to the same stock emotions and traumas. “Hell or High Water” comes close to passably referencing Maiden (even in the title), but you’re still left longing for the original. Why indulge in the imitation? Besides the fact that this is heavy metal that is less mercury and lead more Pedialite–perfectly safe for children to consume.