Fallen Angels

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Pretty much from day one, when misleading press and limited touring in the pre-web 1980s restricted concrete evidence of Venom's formidable musical infamy, the legend surrounding black metal's founding fathers has far outstripped the modest reality of their meager instrumental gifts and limited songwriting scope. But then that's as it should be in rock & roll: "when truth and myth contradict each other, always print the myth," goes the old journalistic adage. And because Venom's many career missteps only fueled the growth of said legend in absentia (with lots of help from a bunch of clueless Norwegian ne'er-do-wells), it has been easy to overlook the relatively busy release schedule maintained by original vocalist/bassist Cronos and newer recruits Rage (guitar), and Danté Needham (drums) throughout the 2000s. 2012's Fallen Angels extends this productive streak, but, like its immediate predecessors, has no hope in hell of recapturing Venom's ramshackle vintage sound, never mind the naive enthusiasm responsible for its alchemical imperfections. In Venom's case, maturity is the enemy. So although Fallen Angels' opening salvo, "Hammerhead," actually teases with ominous drums and staggered guitar rumbles reminiscent of days long gone, its subsequent descent into an all-too-tempered, almost industrially precise, mid-paced chug-chug is sadly more representative of what lies ahead. Despite interrupting forgettable metal-by-numbers like "Sin," "Valley of the Kings," and "Annunaki Legacy," with a few glimpses of familiarity in the unlikeliest of places -- namely the title track's conceptual nod to At War with Satan, Cronos' roaring "Are you ready bitch? Let's Go!" in "Lap of the Gods," or insistently shouting "Hail Satan!" in, errrrr..."Hail Satanas" -- these are clearly not the believably nihilistic convictions of a youthful naïf frothing at the mouth to destroy or at least terminally shock society. Moreover, not even sporadic fast-breaks such as "Nemesis," "Pedal to the Metal," and "Death by the Name" do much to ameliorate the situation because their relatively tight execution behind Cronos' ever present roars leaves new-millennium Venom sounding suspiciously like Bay Area thrash titans Testament. Hardly a bad thing, but go figure. Throw in "Beggarman's" surprising melodicism, the misplaced message of "Punk's Not Dead," plus the useless filler of "Blackened Blues," and Fallen Angels is clearly no nostalgia trip, but could be the work of any other extreme metal band with raw tendencies in 2012. In some ways, one could say this is still preferable, and certainly more respectable of Venom, than attempting to exploit glories long faded away, but that still can't elevate Fallen Angels above the status of mediocre metal listening.

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