Not every band kills it with every release. A friend and I were recently discussing a question: how many bands can you think of that have 5 objectively good albums? It’s a tough question even if you get past the discussion of what qualifies as “objectively good.” Very few bands make it. Some bands get to 4, many more have about 2 or 3, most bands have at least 1. Some bands don’t even get the one. Venom is one of those to me. They get a lot of props, justifiably or not, for helping to influence early black and thrash metal scenes. And there’s no doubting that. The problem is that they’ve basically ridden their own coattails for their 40-year history, and the mediocrity continues with Storm the Gates.
Before I take the time to really lay out what’s wrong with this record, let’s be nice. Venom did influence a lot of artists. Many in the Bay Area thrash scene point to Venom as an influence, and certainly a lot of second wave bands could point to Venom and others as having established tropes of the genre. For that, let’s applaud Cronos and his revolving door of guitarists and drummers.
I can even be nice about this record! There are some solid parts. Specifically the guitars and drums. There are some really interesting guitar solos on this record that really do intrigue the mind. Both “Notorious” and “100 Miles to Hell” sport some very interesting solos that will leave guitar players wondering just how the hell did these happen. The drums are also recorded pretty well. “Dark Night (of the Soul)” has a particularly memorable beat to it.
That’s really where the positives of this record end. There’s nothing left to prop up. The entire record sounds like it was recorded over a long weekend in someone’s garage. Let me explain.
First, the songwriting is extremely lacking. There is really nothing creative going on in these songs. The trio essentially made 13 songs based on a intro-verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus-outro structure. Every single song is written in the same way. I found myself turning the album off just so I could listen to something else and work my way back to where I left off. I had to have something else at least engage my attention so that I can go back to letting it be bored to tears.
Second, the recording and mixing is extremely poor and just plain unprofessional. Yes, one of black metal’s hallmarks is a very lo-fi sound meant to keep out the non-believers. That’s all fine and good but it’s not what’s happening here. There was clearly an iota of effort to make the record sound professional since things are relatively clear to the ear. That’s where it ends. The mixing is absolutely abysmal and inconsistent. Guitars and vocals trade places as the most prominent part of a track, and that trade will happen multiple times in a song often in the middle of a phrase. Small audio snafus, like a click track or random techno noises, are littered throughout all the songs. There was clearly no effort whatsoever to edit the tracks and fix issues. It’s as if an engineer asked the band if they wanted to listen to the tracks they recorded and everyone just ignored them and moved along.
Finally, the album is just plain boring. There is nothing particularly interesting at all about this record. Listening to Storm the Gates reminded me of a quote from longtime Metallica producer Bob Rock about St. Anger. He said the album was never meant to be a major release record for the band and that it’s essentially the recording of a band jamming in a garage. The difference between the two records is that Storm the Gates tried to make something from their random jams to make incohesive songs. A lot of the tracks feel like they were made similarly to Frankenstein’s monster: take that piece over there, we’ll put in this riff here, and take those solo licks and make something out of them. It doesn’t make for fun listening. It sounds like a record Venom made just to fulfill a crappy recording contract and get out of a deal.
Combine all those pieces and you get a very underwhelming record. There’s nothing special about it apart from how unprofessionally mediocre it is. There are short sections of individual songs that are alright, but you forget those sections because the rest of the record is so bland, boring, and just not fun. If you’re a massive Venom fan (why, exactly?), you might find some enjoyment out of it. Apart from that, you’d be more entertained watching paint dry. At least you’d know you accomplished something once the paint is set.