It's early in the morning and Mantas, founding member and guitarist of legendary British metal lords Venom Inc., is in a Wal-Mart parking lot matter-of-factly shattering a cherished metal myth while on the phone with Orlando Weekly. He's talking about the genesis of the occult anthem "Black Metal," a song that inspired several generations of metal musicians to kick up an unholy racket in service to the Dark Lord. "I wrote that while I was taking a dump on the toilet," he deadpans. "That is the absolute truth. Some people take a magazine into the toilet, I took a guitar in, and 'Black Metal' was born!" Heavy.
This is Venom Inc. – or just Venom, depending on whom you ask – circa 2016. Dispensing with myth and mystique, hitting the road on a sweaty club tour with a set heavy on thrashy classics, stripped lean of any fat or pageantry. Just to backtrack briefly, Venom (pre-Inc.) burst out of the U.K. metal scene in 1981 with a raw, noisy sound that owed as much to the punk spirit as it did to Priest (Judas, that is), and then upped the ante with overt Satanic imagery that made even Sabbath seem tame, with baphomets festooned over everything. Venom delivered beyond mere shock, though, with songs like "Black Metal," "Countess Bathory" and "In League With Satan" still sounding fresh and underground many decades later.
Fast-forward through the intervening years and the usual infighting that happens in bands of any stripe, and Venom has split into two. Mercurial frontman Cronos fronts a "Venom," but the rest of the classic trio – guitarist-songwriter Mantas and drummer Abaddon – reconvened about a year ago as Venom Inc. with the addition of bassist-vocalist Tony "Demolition Man" Dolan. Dolan is the Dio to Venom's Black Sabbath (forgive the tortured metaphor), a dynamo of a frontman who fronted the band during a brief spell at the dawn of the '90s for a few solid albums, including Prime Evil and Temples of Ice. And now they're on a never-ending tour – China, Japan, South America, the U.S. – and are playing any club that dares book them.
"It's about paying dues again," enthuses the motivational-speaker-level affable Dolan. "Venom never did extensive touring. It's very easy just to do festivals, where everything is provided for you. And you're in danger of becoming a cabaret. But I thought it was very important that we go back to a grass-roots level and get as close to the fans as we could." And though one never thinks of cult bands being conscious crowd-pleasers, Mantas stressed that they kept the setlist selections very simple: "Everybody wants to hear the classics, it's as simple as that." No jazz odyssey, is basically what he's saying.
Beyond any sort of veneer of cool or whatever, both Dolan and Mantas seem genuinely humbled by the response they're getting back from audiences. Dolan speaks admiringly of a recent interaction: "The other night we were in Bellingham and an older man with a big white beard and white hair came up and said, 'Man, I could have cried through your whole set, I've waited 30 years to see that.'" Even Mantas is at a temporary loss for words: "I was just a young kid from Newcastle, I wrote some songs and ... fucking hell. The stars aligned, right time, right place and that was it. I'm in my 60s now and I feel more energized than ever. It's incredible."