AN INTERVIEW WITH ABADDON
After brief periods of Kiss adorations, around the time when the seventies changed into the eighties, I went on to Saxon. From Saxon, who were getting increasingly wimpy, I took a leap that was not as big to me as it was to my father (and his tortured ears), because that was when I started digging Venom seriously. I have in the mean time - after 12 years or something - recovered from the ordeal. I have known weeks, even months, spent without listening to Venom at all, really, and I never even got cold turkey symptoms.
But it's a fact that Venom is as much part of my history as it is part of a great many heavy metal fans as well as a lot of current-day bands that have been influenced by them in some way or other. I guess the ultimate proof of the latter is the fact that two different tribute albums have been released in the latter half of last year.
What better to do other than to try to interview them now, what with Abaddon having been involved with the production of one of those tribute albums and rumours abounding about a Venom reunion?
Thanks to Marijn Vermunt, senior editor of "Avalanche" (now defunct, ED.), an arrangement was made for a phone interview with Abaddon himself. I went down to Marijn's domicile in Amersfoort and spoke lengthily with one of my heroes of old, a very talkative Venom drummer.
What did you do prior to Venom, and what happened during the relatively silence that enveloped Venom a few years ago?
Abaddon: The period prior to Venom is very easy because none of us had been in a band before. Venom was the first group we got together in and it kindof worked out pretty well how we hoped from the start. That was kindof good for us because we assumed that happened with every band; you got together, you rehearsed a few times and you get a deal. That's not how it happens, which we found out a few years later. It is really quite a difficult business to be in. But it was all a bit easy for us in the beginning. The period after when Venom were selling a lot of records was a case of my discovering other areas of the music business. I got involved with management and owning a studio and owning a record company. And the other members of the band were always more interested in things like body building and this kind of thing. And they all went off to do that kind of thing in that time.
Mantas is a big guy now. He has his own kind of gymnasium and a lot of pupils. It takes up a lot of time. Cronos teaches a kind of aerobics. Whenever I speak to him about that, he argues that he has a room full of nearly naked women for almost every hour most nights of the week, and I can't really argue with that. It's something the band, apart from myself, was always interested in. They wanted to make a living away from music. My interest has always been with music.
I manage a band called Skyclad, probably the most important band we have in the books at this moment. And we've just done the Killers album, which is Paul Di'Anno's band. And we're working with John Sloman at the moment; he used to be the singer with Gary Moore. We're kindof concentrating very hard on the record label at the moment. We've had an offer to play the Dynamo Open Air festival with the original line-up, with Cronos and Mantas, and we're having meetings every week now to see if we can do this. And Andre Verhuysen, who promotes the Dynamo festival, is coming over in about two weeks to kindof put everything straight. We originally talked about it kindof this time last year and we agreed that it wasn't gonna happen, and a few times since then, but it's a very very good chance now.
Where did the name Abaddon come from and what does it stand for?
Abaddon: When we put the band together we all agreed straightaway that we didn't want to use normal names, nor rock star names. We kinda wanted to create characters. The name Abaddon comes from the bible, it's the guardian to the gates of hell. We were all very much into the Satanic Bible at the time and it's one name that I found was a common link between the spirit worlds of the religions of Satanism and the Bible. And it seemed quite good to me at the time, a good character to build for that part in the band. "At War With Satan", our third album, has quite a large part that was written about that character, Abaddon.
Some people may know that in reality you're called Tony Bray. When was Tony born?
Abaddon: He was born in Newcastle, in the North of England, of 17th September 1960. It's a very industrial area of England and it was built on shipyards and coal mines and that kind of thing, at least in that time. It's a very hard area to grown up in, which is why the music we did was kinda more violent than other stuff in the early eighties. Heavy metal music was very safe, it was kinda Iron Maiden and Whitesnake and that kind of thing. Venom's music was very violent. I think it had to do with the kind of upbringing we've had. It was al rented houses and our fathers had to work for very many hours for very little pay so a lot of anger and frustration came into the characters and we managed to transform that into the music easily without having to "perform", if you know what I mean. That's why many people thought Venom was so bad and kindof crazy, because we weren't doing it as performers; it came natural to us.
What can we expect to hear from Venom in the near future?
Abaddon: The big thing is the Dynamo festival. We've been asked to play another four festivals around the world and one of those is at Red Rock in America. And a Japanese festival, and one in Argentina.
What about future recordings? Will they be in the industrial vein, like those sortof new tracks on "In the Name of Satan", the Venom tribute album?
Abaddon: The new tracks were kindof down to me. You know I have a recording studio down here and I was messing with some stuff for Venom. And I wrote eight or nine songs which were very industrial and I thought were very heavy. I didn't know particularly how people would listen to them and think of them of Venom or not. So when we did the tribute album it was a great chance to put a couple of songs on there to gauge people's reactions. This new material didn't necessarily have to go out as a new Venom album. Maybe as a solo album, or another name, or maybe I'll chuck it in the bin. It's all the Venom drum samples and loops from my kindof early days, kindof 15 years ago, built into new rhythms with new industrial guitars so it kindof has the darkness of early Venom but is more vicious. A lot of people have said it's possibly just jumping on the industrial bandwagon which is going round now.
There is a distint possibility of an album with the original band, that depends on how well the live shows go, and depends on the record company wanting to get involved with us again. Because the thing with Venom is that from the very beginning we were on a company called Neat Records. There was no financial help from them. The band was touring big places and selling these out but there was no financial support to keep us out there and do it again. We did pretty good but we couldn't stay out there. I mean it didn't have to be huge, we didn't need millions and millions of pounds pumped into cocaine abuse and videos. But we were running 3 or 4 coaches and 5 trucks and it was obviously very expensive. We were putting everything that we got paid for the shows back into doing it. And in the end the band didn't get any money and we were still signing on the dole in England. What I got from it personally was that I was getting contacts. I didn't realise that at the time but when I was doing my own things I just had to call up and say, "Hi, I'm Tony Bray, I'm Abaddon from Venom," and people are prepared to talk to me and I could talk to the important people directorly instead of through someone else. So I did gain something from it personally, but we never got any money out of it.
The whole point was to give the crowd absolutely everything. We always said that if we could party really hard after the gig we hadn't given everything on stage. That's what we always tried to do.
Will there be releases of older material, through Castle or Neat Records or whatever? I am thinking of stuff like "Skeletons in the Closet".
Abaddon: Possibly, yes. We don't have any choice over what goes out or not. All that stuff belongs to Neat Records. They put this stuff out. My own personal stuff that I've been doing with back- catalogue Venom has been restricted. I think we did one compilation album of re-recorded songs, the new Venom playing old Venom songs ("Kissing the Beast", ED.). I was a little bit surprised that it didn't go down well with the critics because they were great songs, you know, from "Welcome to Hell" and "Black Metal", but we had never produced them properly. We went in and re-recorded the songs with the band, you know, 10 years later, and obviously we were better musicians and the recording facilities were better and the production was better. A lot of the cricits kindof didn't buy that.
When you look back at what Venom did in the early days, are you not in a way ashamed? After all, people have been known to label Venom as "immature".
Abaddon: For all the people who would say that we were immature or who would say that we weren't excellent musicians there were a lot of bands, like Paradise Lost and Sepultura, Pantera, Metallica, Slayer, there's Megadeth, and they'd say Venom was the most important band to come out of England since, I'd say, Judas Priest. One of the most influential heavy metal bands. We played 4 or 5 concerts in Brazil where Sepultura supported us, those were very big concerts, and it was kindof a breakthrough for the band. Metallica, before they were supporting us, were kindof playing in garages and stuff. The Americans need something to come over from Europe, to come to America, to make the American sit up, and then the Americans do it better, they do it bigger, they do it with more clout, more money. But they always looked at places like England, they looked at Germany, to Holland, sometimes to France, to look for something that's gonna be different. That's why I get so involved with Skyclad, because they're so different, so original, and I'm very proud of that. And they're not doing huge sales and they're not so important right now, maybe, but at least it's straight from the heart. But we'll be taking them to America and the Americans are going to be seeing this kind of thing and, you know, some people are going to ridicule it and some people are going to say, "no, no, this is really important". Venom was like that. And Slayer was laughed at for 3 or 4 years before they got a major deal. And now nobody would laugh at Slayer.
Would you agree that Slayer, together with Venom, were the most important early thrash/speed/black metal bands?
Abaddon: I think we've got to include Metallica, and not so much Megadeth, and Anthrax, and also a band called Raven, who didn't get so much recognition perhaps. They played great speed metal, and went out with Anthrax and Anvil and they were playing great stuff. Then they signed to a big company in America and the company tried to change them and it didn't work out. They were from the same background as us, of a similar age and a similar upbringing, and people who would listen to Raven, who were excellent musicians and different from Venom, would see where the intensity and violence came from, that kind of industrial background. I think you have to have that. I mean, look at Sepultura. They wouldn't have been as angry if they hadn't been brought up in the police state they talk about so much in interviews and whatever. I mean, you come from the Bay Area, San Francisco, and your mummy and daddy are gonna buy you a car and a house, it's quite hard to get some violence out there and make it believable. The Americans draw from other places, I think.
What is your favourite band?
Abaddon: My favourite band, wow. At the moment...I guess of all time it's Deep Purple. It's always been Deep Purple because they were always a bit off course and you never knew what you were going to get if you went to see them live. It was a bit different.
Sticking to your trade, who do you reckon is your favourite drummer?
Abaddon: Simon Phillips. He's a session musician, who played on Judas Priest albums and he's played with Russ Ballard and this kind of thing. Actually he's a really young guy. I went to see him at this drum clinic in Frankfurt at the Music Messe and Simon came out on stage in front of a few hundred people who were most drummers, I guess, and he set up his drumkit and the lights were turned out and he played for 20 minutes and all these people were stunned, you know. Great, professional drummers from all over the world. And he's such a nice guy, not a superstar or anything, but he's been on some of the most important albums ever, George Michael albums, this kind of thing. He's a very nice guy and a great drummer.
Which musicians are you most influenced by?
Abaddon: I try, and I think we all try, not to be influenced by anybody. Personally the industrial type thing that's happening has obviously influenced me, and I try not to listen too much to Nine Inch Nails and this kind of thing, but the music is very influential because it's a new kind of heaviness for me. It's more brutal, more direct, and if I could condense this kind of thing with the brutality that Venom used to have, the lyrical content, that would be a great thing to take Venom through the end of the nineties.
Don't you think you might be betraying the old fans by swinging around the rudder of your musical direction like that?
Abaddon: To be fair, I don't think there's a lot of the old fans left. If we just re-made "Black Metal" again I think they'd think it's a cop-out. I think they'd want us to explore new intensities and all. Venom is thrash metal, is speed metal, is death metal, but none of these words had been used before. Nobody called a band a thrash band or a speed metal band. You see, we would do a speed song with satanic lyrics, or a song about perversion, nothing to do with satanism at all, with lyrics about how Mantas thought of his primary school teacher, when he used to see her in class. It was about there being no boundaries other than the intensity and, you know, being over the top. I can't see how a band that set out to explore musical parameters and redefine intensity, I can't see why...you know, we did disco stuff on albums, just to take the piss out of it, doing it to show how more intense it was then what was available in 1980 or whatever. This is only my angle on things, and there's three of us. When we get together the chemistry will appear again. I would present a harder edge but someone else would say, "no, Venom is more about black metal, we need to be more in the old vein". It's this kind of argument, the internal fighting, that kept Venom interesting. There's no chance of it happening, but if we'd all be the best of friends before the Dynamo festival this year, it would be a shit gig. But I know we'll be argueing, we'll be fighting like cat and dog, and it's gonna make a very interesting concert. That's why Venom was never very good at touring, because you can't go out and do one gig and say "well, that's it, fuck you, I'm going home", you know, you got a commitment for the next three months. And if you've got a safe kindof family unit that goes to the next concert and does it that's not interesting for us. We played our best concerts at times like that, there was always the one-off gig that was better than the rest because we fought.
What is your favourite Venom album?
Abaddon: (Resolutely) "Prime Evil".
And your least favourite?
Abaddon: (Equally resolutely) "Possessed". I think most people would say they dislike "Possessed". We had more time to write the music, we had more time to spend together, and it didn't work. "Prime Evil" was a case of when I managed to split with Cronos and went back to see Mantas again and we were gonna write stuff and it would be him and me with another singer. "Prime Evil" should really have been the album after "Black Metal". I mean "At War With Satan" had a great concept and great lyrical content but we were still recording in cheap studios and it should have been done on a bigger budget. "Prime Evil" was done with a big budget in a good studio with a good producer and we felt like we wanted to work together again.
You mentioned "managed to split with Cronos" just now. Was it difficult?
Abaddon: It was, because in the beginning it had been a laugh to be in a group and it didn't matter when we weren't making any money out of it. When Mantas had left and we recruited two new guitar players and had a deal with a new record company it was becoming a job and I'm not enjoying this. We wrote a lot of new songs and I didn't have much input. I learned the songs and I played on the demos of the songs, but I thought, you know, this isn't a fuckin' Venom album, it sounds like a David Lee Roth kind of thing, with very nice guitar playing. When Cronos split he got a new drummer and that became the new Cronos album. And the songs on there, I think it was called "Dancing in the Fire", that would have been the next venom album. It's a perfectly good album with perfectly good songs but it wasn't a venom album. It was far too light. My angle was not to get too light, to get more vicious and more violent. Cronos wanted to get better musicianship and more, kindof, virtuosity. I wanted more violence, more death, more fuckin' over the top. And if we sit down to record a new album I'll be bringing back this angle to it. We'll have some arguments and some fights. Even if we're not gonna do an album it's gonna make for a great concert. I'm looking forward to it, I haven't been on stage for a long while.
What is your favourite track on the "In the Name of Satan" tribute album?
Abaddon: "Witching Hour", with Mille (of Kreator, ED.). I think it's very intense, it's extremely fast, and very heavy, and I think it's a great version of one of our better songs. It's very simple, but it's like a train and this is my idea of what is good about Venom. All our best songs were, like, four-minute songs. We were writing very intense music but in a standard rock'n'roll format, you know. And most of our successful songs were like that. Thrash changed with Metallica and Exodus and Exciter, and they became 7 minute songs and 9 minute songs and this kind of thing. Venom were never about that. Venom were only ever about to create an atmosphere for the song, start the song, get our point across, get to the solo, double-chorus, get to the end. Pretty straightforward.
I guess you could say you are in many ways a part of the music industry, what with your being in a band and managing and recording and everything. What do you hate about the music industry?
Abaddon: It's a very shit industry to be in because there's a lot of back-stabbing. There's a lot of record company bosses that make money and the band don't see it. A record company will look at a band and they will say, "we like the singer, we'll promote the singer," and the rest of the band gets a shit deal. You find that mostly drummers, rhythm guitar players and bass players leave bands more often. I think you kindof get people to sell millions of dollars hyping mainly American bands. How can you justify people killing themselves for their music because they can't face what the next step is? They can't see the next angle. It's ludicrous to me that it gets to this. it's only entertainment. You listen to it, you like it. People shouldn't be under that kind of pressure. I don't know Curt Kobain's life style that much, but when you get the impression that it's record company pressure and you'll sell 25 million copies of the next record I think it's too much. The worst part is pressure and hype. If everybody could just pick up a Guns'n'Roses album and like it, without having to realise there's 47 million quid being spent on the video. The industry belongs too much to the machine, and not to the bands.
Of the books you've read recently, which one made most of an impression?
Abaddon: A book called "The Great and Secret Show", which is by Clive barker, and he wrote that a while ago. He's just done a new book called "Everville" which I've nearly finished, it's a very horrific book, a very intense study of people, and it's pure fiction but it's very intense, very bloody, very gory. I've gotten within the last two chapters now and I've realised the whole thing is a love story. It really smacked me last night when I found out. It's made a very big mark upon me, because I didn't see this coming though I normally do. Clive Barker is my favourite author, absolutely, no doubt about it.
Likewise, which film did you most like?
Abaddon: (Deep sigh) It's been a long, long time. I tend to like stupid films, films where you don't have to work too hard on it, films where you sit back...I watch stuff like "Killing Fields" but I find myself thinking, what's the entertainment, where's the humour? I suppose most important are ludicrous films about escapism, not so much about heaviness. I like intense books but when I go to the pictures I like a couple of hours of escapism, I don't want to be forcefed anything. Stuff like "The Mask" is really nice and I think, "how the fuck does he do that?" where you can sit down and be impressed and entertained without having to think about the morale. I hate these things were you have to come out of the pictures talking about the meaning of life and is it really worth while and this kind of shit.
I guess you'll die eventually, in whatever amount of years. Which song, barring "Buried Alive", would you like to be played at your funeral?
Abaddon: "Always look at the bright side of Life" (Monty Python, ED.). It's irony. So what? I don't like to think there's anything after this. The Christian ideal of the afterlife...I'd hate to have to go through it all again.
And, let's be frank, you've done some pretty naughty things in your life, so you'd definitely end up in hell.
Abaddon: And if I have to choose between heaven and hell I think I'd rather be in hell. Probably just as well. I don't expect to be able to write songs like "Welcome to Hell" and "Leave me in Hell" and get away with it, anyway.
What do you loathe that you see everybody around you likes very much?
Abaddon: I think it would be something in music, because I spend so much time with it. It's overhyped bands that take themselves very very seriously. Bands who go out and play and become millionaires but not because of what they're doing but because of their managers, the record companies, because of the guy who produced the video, and has very little to do with individual talent. I am thinking of 2 or 3 bands. To think of Guns'n'Roses, I don't think I've ever heard a singer who is more *annoying*, yet he can piss off tens of thousands of people one night because he's in a huff, or he sings for 2 minutes and then fucks off. He's not a real person and I can't see why anyone would want to go off and buy any more records. I can't understand why people put up with that kind of shit.
What's been the worst ever moment of your life?
Abaddon: Pwoah... I was very young, I think about fourteen. And we had a game here, in Newcastle, where we used to wait for the trains to come by and slow down and we used to jump trains and we used to ride on the coaltrains. And my friend, one night, slipped underneath. I got hold of him but the train had cut off his leg. I was only 14 years old. We shouldn't have been there, we could have been prosecuted. And I remember I had to go and tell my mother, tell his mother, get an ambulance, that kind of thing. And I wasn't really ready for that. It was really strange. It was a gruesome thing. The tendons of his leg were still connected and a dragged him to the wall, which was kinda 20 feet away, and I
went between the train tracks and picked up his shoe and his foot and the bit of leg and I thought, in a stupid young guy's way, "it's OK, everything is still connected, they can sow it back on." And I was standing there holding this foot, and that foot was most important to me. The ambulance guys turned up and put my friend on this stretcher and I was kindof walking with him, holding his foot because they were going to sow it back on. The guy lost his leg, you know, but to me it was just really important to hold this useless piece of meat, I guess.
Well, since we're talking about meat anyway, that sortof leads me smoothly to the inevitable "most cliche" question of the interview: What's your favourite food and what's your fave drink?
Abaddon: Food would be very rare steak. Favourite drink is Wild Turkey Bourbon Whiskey, straight-up.
Suppose you could stand in the Oriental Loafers of Aladdin for a while and rub the magic lamp. Out popped the genie and he'd allow you to make three wishes. What would they be?
Abaddon: The first one would have to be that nobody would ever have to suffer. I don't know if this is clich‚ or something, but when you look at the news and this guy's murdered 16 people and he's a serial killer but whenever people start involving kids I get really fucking hot under the collar. I don't see why people should be brought into some of the things that happen when they don't have a chance to say "no." It really fucks me up. I wish my kids would not have to witness stupid wars or stupid fuckin' religious arguments that have been going on for thousands of years and will go on for thousands more.
Wish numer two...I would wish that more people would pay attention to some of the bands that I personally get involved in. Some of them are great and the music is great but they never seem to sell enough records. I'd love to think that some of my bands could sell more records and gain more fame. I think we've done some great records but not enough people listen.
Wish number 3...I could say I need a bigger house and a bigger car, but I really don't. The house is big enough and the car is running, so...
OK. Suppose you would be sent to a deserted island with only one book, five CDs and one luxury item (plus a CD player, of course). What would you bring? And...er...if you're going to say "the bible", I have to warn you it might not sound believable.
Abaddon: That's exactly what I was thinking. It's mostly a book of solace. It's a group of excellent stories and you can place yourself anywhere within these stories. The fact that it's set in a particular time and with a particular person...you don't have to take it that way. If you read some of the stories, it's really a very entertaining book. So I *am* going to say "The bible". As to the CDs...recently I got a CD from Alistair Crowley, which is like 45 minutes of him preaching, and it's from an original wax cylinder, and it's really interesting and I think I'd take that because it's actually very relaxing to listen to (laughs). And I'd take Nancy Griffith's last album, the American country star, because it's great relaxing music, you don't have to listen to it. I would take "Made in Japan" by Deep Purple, Tommy Bolin's "Private Eyes" and "Making Movies" by Dire Straits. Luxury item...I guess it would be a bottle of whiskey, but it would probably not survive the first night. There were go! My third Aladdin wish would be "as much whiskey as I need" and my luxury item would be "the whiskey".
What invention do you hope people will come up with soon?
Abaddon: It's not an invention as such, but I hope they come up with a cure for AIDS, because it's something which affects my industry possibly more than the others. It has happened within my lifespan and it's a plague on the earth which we don't seem to be able to get rid of. We kindof promote promiscuity more - we have men openly kissing on British TV before 9 o'clock - but we can't go and buy hard core porn in England yet, and we can't go to a prostitute, but we can see two men kissing and we regularly see people injecting drugs and this kind of thing. If at least we could get rid of the death aspect and it would go back to being itchy or scabby, you know, *treatable*. My young son is 14 now and I'm having to say things to him, and I'd hate it if he made some slip one night with a young girl and he'd die. It's not an invention, but a serum that would stop people dying from sexually transmittable diseases would be nice.
Suppose you were going to expand your mind even more and join the cosmetics industry. Suppose you were to make a perfume, what would you name it?
Abaddon: In 1984 there was a perfume called Venom. It was a black bottle shaped like a coffin with a cross on it, but I wouldn't do that. I guess it'd be a macho thing with lots of sea spray in the adverts and that kind of thing. I think I'd call it "Macho". I think I could see a few ex-members of Venom wearing "Macho".
What's your ultimate ambition, the kind of thing you'd like to be remembered by?
Abaddon: Being fair. I'd love to think of people to look at me and say "what an asshole", "what a prick", "what a nice guy", whatever, but that everybody would at least think I was fair. People may not have agreed with what I thought, but at least I was fair.
Now for the last major section of this interview, the "words to react to" deparment. Please respond candidly, briefly and quickly to the following words...MTV.
Abaddon: Waste of time.
Abaddon: (Virtually laughs his head off) Nice guy.
Abaddon: Nicer guy.
Abaddon: Great singer.
Abaddon: 47 (laughs). Can't explain that.
"Promotors of the Third World War" (the Swedish alternative Venom tribute album).
Abaddon: (Thinks for quite a while) Self-motivated.
"In the Name of Satan" (the official Venom tribute album).
Abaddon: I like the album, but I had a lot to do with it, so I probably would. One or two of the songs didn't really work; maybe some of the stuff we got from America was not as good as it could have been. It was not, by the way, that the songs needed to sound like Venom, it was just that the bands needed to have been influenced by Venom. And they had to do it in their own style.
The Horned One from Downstairs.
Abaddon: Dad (laughs).
"Skeletons in the Closet".
Abaddon: Shit. It was material I assumed to have been thrown away when we recorded it. They are versions of songs that we thought had been recorded over. But this is something the record company did without me knowing, without Mantas knowing. Haven't spoken to Cronos about it. They were versions of other songs with different lyrics and different titles, and very vaguely different music. I assumed the demo would be wiped over but it wasn't.
Would you want to say something to the people who still think Venom is the epitome of true black and satanic metal?
Abaddon: I think they should listen to stuff we've done with an open mind and not just say the first two albums are the be-all and end-all of Venom. You should listen to Venom right across, especially the last three albums, because they've been very good albums. I think a lot of the fans who liked the old stuff would like this stuff.
(Needless to say, I am now right in the middle of one of my periodicaly Venom revivals again)
Written January 1995
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