Darkest Hour

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Eagle Records' 29-track Venom retrospective, Darkest Hour, may be the fairest of the ten-plus collections in circulation. 2000's Greatest Hits and More is too long, 1995's In Memorium: The Best of Venom is too incomplete, and 1999's Buried Alive was made redundant by the new records released through 2004. Darkest Hour seamlessly mixes tracks from the original lineup of singer/bassist Conrad "Cronos" Lant, guitarist Jeff "Mantas" Dunn, and drummer Tony "Abaddon" Bray with the Mantas-less quartet of the late '80s/early '90s that included guitarists Jimmy Clare and Mike Hickey. Also included are tracks from the underrated reunion albums Cast in Stone and Resurrection, which reunited Cronos with his bandmates, this time without Abaddon. The Newcastle trio's early recordings still sound fresh, especially "Angel Dust" and 1982's genre-inspiring "Black Metal," but it's the often overlooked later material that shows the band's chops. "Cursed" and "Blackened Are the Priests" -- despite the latter being one of too many live versions on the compilation -- display a group that grew as musicians and never abandoned its apocalyptic vision. The "essential" track missing from the set would never have fit anyway; the 20-minute title track from 1983's At War With Satan, which remains Venom's crowning achievement.

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