Interview with Mantas of Venom Inc.

Recently I was given the opportunity to speak with Mantas, a founding member of the highly influential band Venom. These days he’s playing guitar in Venom Inc., a band with two other former Venom members. Venom Inc. is wrapping up their US tour at Baltimore Soundstage this coming Monday, October 2nd, and I hope this 18 minute interview helps shed some light on one of the founders of black metal and helps to get you pumped for the show. You can stream the interview by pressing the orange play button below or you can download the interview as an mp3 for free here or you can read the transcription. As always, my words are in bold.

This is Metal Chris of DCHeavyMetal.com and today I’ve got Jeffrey Dunn, better known as Mantas, on the phone with me. Mantas is one of the founding members of Venom but he’s also playing guitar in Venom Inc. right now who just released their debut album, Avé, in August on Nuclear Blast Records. Venom Inc. is currently in the middle of the Bloodstained Earth North American Tour with support from Goatwhore, Toxic Holocaust and the Convalescence. The final date of that tour will be at the Baltimore Soundstage on October 2nd. So to start things off here Mantas, what can fans expect from the Venom Inc. live performance?

I suppose what you’ve always expected from us. It’s going to be loud. It’s going to be fast. It’s going to be chaotic. Everything you want from a Venom Inc. show I suppose plus the fact we’re including some of the new songs off of the new album and so far everything’s going really well. We’ve had, I think it was, three sold out shows so far, the rest have been absolutely packed, just below sold out. First show in Philly, oh it was incredible. They actually oversold that show and they opened the side doors of the venue so that people on the street could watch the gig as well. It’s just gotten crazier and crazier as we’ve been going on so it’s going really, really well so far. Very, very pleased with it.

Mantas of Venom Inc.

Mantas of Venom Inc.

That’s cool. The Venom albums Prime Evil, Temples Of Ice and The Wasteland had [a] very similar line up to the line up that Venom Inc. does right now. That era of Venom also consisted of Demolition Man [Tony Dolan] and Abaddon [Anthony Bray] as well as yourself. Do you consider Venom Inc. sort of a continuation of that era of Venom?

Personally I don’t know. I mean, a lot of people have said obviously that it is because it’s essentially the same line up but I just think that we’ve got a good, strong, legitimate line up here. And I think personally I don’t look at it as a continuation. I think you might get a different answer from the other guys, cause we hadn’t been together for so long. But obviously when we did come together, which was purely by accident and none of this was planned. We did not plan to continue this long it was going to be a one off show in Germany. There was certainly no plans for an album. Everything’s just been fan driven, promoter driven, and it was only in the later stages that Jon Zazula came in as management as well. And he was the one that said, “one great album could change everything for you guys” and really we’d never thought about that. But yeah, we’ve had a few people saying it’s good to see the Prime Evil line up back together again and I suppose yeah, it is, but I don’t know if I’m looking at it as a continuation because it was such a huge gap. It has taken us a long time to come together again but it’s rolling and to quote a cliché we’ve all just strapped ourselves into the roller coaster and we’re seeing where it takes us now. So far, so good.

Do you still talk to Al Barnes at all? Do you think there’s any chance that he could end up joining Venom Inc. to complete that Prime Evil era line up?

Ohhh no, no. Al is all settled down with a family and everything now. Got a really good job. I think he still does some sort of little acoustic gigs and things just by himself but I don’t think we could drag Al out. Maybe a one off if we’re in London or something like that and he jumps up and plays one of the Prime Evil songs with us but as a permanent member I don’t think so, no.

So do you see Venom Inc. staying as a three piece for the foreseeable future then?

Oh definitely. Yes. Absolutely. It’s working great and you know the old saying, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. No we’ll continue the way we are. It’s good.

In April of 2012 I saw you perform with M:pire Of Evil at the U Street Music Hall in Washington DC along with Onslaught on that tour. You guys put on a great live show with lots of energy. M:pire Of Evil played a mix of old Venom songs as well as new material. Do you guys play any of those M:pire Of Evil original songs still or is that something you’ve kind of moved on from and you just stick to the Venom and the Venom Inc. stuff now?

Yeah we just stick with the Venom and the Venom Inc. stuff. We have thought about that but we thought no, M:pire is a completely separate entity for us. There is a new M:pire album ready. It’s ready to go it just needs bass and vocals put on. I think in January Tony [Dolan] is coming over to my studio and we’re going to finish the album off. It’s been sitting there in the can for a couple of years now. It would have been out and done by now if it hadn’t been for the Venom Inc. tour. We sort of have put M:pire on hold but it’s definitely not over. We still plan. We had a great time doing that band so that’s something that we want to continue but at the moment it’s difficult to do anything else to be perfectly honest, because of the live work that we’re doing. Even recording Avé we had to take time away from live shows to get the recording done because the deadline was tight but now that we’ve started touring again I mean, we’re going to be on the road forever I think. There’s offers coming in all the time and when we get back, I think we get back on October 6th, and we’ve got about a week or so off and then it’s European festivals then the first week of November we have a UK tour which spreads into a European tour and that won’t see us home until December 18th and then February we’re going to Japan and Australia and possibly back to America in March. That’s the plan that Jon Zazula had anyway but the Japanese shows are definite. So everything is just forging ahead. There’s going to be no time for anything. Even fitting another Venom Inc. album in is going to be difficult. We’ll have to take time away from touring again.

Cover of Avé by Venom Inc.

Cover of Avé by Venom Inc.

One thing I’ve been curious about is the line up of Venom Inc. is very similar to M:pire Of Evil. Of course the main difference, I think everyone knows, is that Abaddon is now on drums with you guys. So how did he end up connecting with you again and joining Venom Inc.?

It all came about when Tony Dolan did a Atomkraft show in Newcastle, our home town. And it was a sort of North East festival called Brofest which is a sort of old school new wave of British heavy metal festival. So he was asked to do an Atomkraft set and at that particular point I was still living in Newcastle so he said to me, “do you fancy jumping up for a couple of songs?” so he came to Newcastle, we went [to] our rehearsals. We went though a couple of the Atomkraft songs and I joined them on stage and there was a Canadian band I believe called Cauldron who do [a cover of the Venom song] “Die Hard” in their set and they asked me to jump up and do “Die Hard” with them so I did that. And there was a promoter from the Keep It True Festival, Oliver Weinsheimer, he was at that festival and so was Abaddon and he spoke to Abaddon and said, “I’m surprised that you didn’t get with those guys.” Well, to be brutally honest, at that point, myself and Abaddon, and Tony Dolan and Abaddon, we hadn’t spoken since 1998 after the big split in Venom. Tony received a call from Oliver and he said “Look, I’d like to book M:pire Of Evil for Keep It True.” It was at that point that Tony says, “Oliver has asked if Abaddon was there would you consider doing a few Venom songs?” and I have to admit at that point I said no. It was going to be a no go for me. But we spoke again and we sort of said, look it’s only going to be for five songs, maybe six and it’s just for the fans and we do the songs and then that’s it. It’s going to be a one off. So we all agreed to do it. We flew into Germany. We had no rehearsals whatsoever we just got the songs and rehearsed them at home. Went on stage, did the set. The reaction was incredible and then Tony’s phone was ringing off the hook the next day from promoters and agents that we had worked with and that’s when really we were booked for China and Japan. Then we got the call for Heavy Montreal Festival. And then it was a European tour and an American tour and like I said none of it was planned. We had to speak again and say, “look are we going to do this?” because I’ve got a life beyond what we just planned to do. So we all said, “Ok then, let’s just get on the bus and see what happens” and to me that’s what we’re doing, haha, just getting on the bus and seeing what happens. And now that we’ve got management and things obviously we’ve got guidance but up until that point it was nothing you know we were just doing it by ourselves. So it was all fan driven and it’s totally exceeded my expectations all together, including the album. It’s overwhelming to be perfectly honest, to think that we’re in such demand. This tour that we’re doing now which will be our third tour of duty in America and at the end of this tour that will be sort of 90 shows in America within I think a year, 18 months, something like that. And so we’re just working hard and whatever offers come in we look at them and nine times out of ten we say yes. But like I said, totally unexpected. We’ve got to thank the fans for that. It’s great.

One thing that’s been a bit of a point of debate among fans is Venom’s genre classification. Obviously you guys coined the term black metal but I’ve also heard you guys called by various people as speed metal, thrash metal, new wave of British heavy metal, all kinds of stuff. So what kind of sub genre of metal do you consider the music you play to be?

You know, obviously we gave the name to black metal, if you want to say we created it, we did. We had an album called Black Metal, we had a song called “Black Metal,” and what followed on after that was exactly the same as what we did to our heroes. Bands were looking at us and thinking “we can take it a stage further.” So black metal has evolved into what it is today. Without evolution you become extinct. That’s one thing I’m quite proud of, is to think that black metal is still around today and it’s very, very strong. Classification wise, do you know what it is? I think there’s too many genres and sub-genres around these days. Let’s get back under the flag of heavy metal. Me personally, I look at ourselves as just a heavy metal rock n’ roll band. That’s all I see us as. It’s all about the music for me. I’m not talking about the genres or sub-genres whatever people call us. I’m in a heavy metal band. It’s as simple as that.

That’s a cool way to look at that. There’s been a few metal bands with multiple incarnations recently like Entombed, Gorgoroth and Queensrÿche for example. Most of those bands seem to be tied up in lawsuits fighting over bands’ names. That doesn’t seem to be the case with you guys. Are you still amicable enough with Cronos? Is that something you’re not worried about or…?

No, no, no. I’ll stop you in your tracks right there. There’s absolutely no contact with that guy whatsoever. The bridges are firmly burnt. Yes we did receive a couple of lawyers’ letters at the beginning and I responded to both of them and we haven’t heard anything since. The thing is that I’m the founding member of Venom. Abaddon designed and hand drew the original Venom logo and Cronos was the last person to join, by invitation, and it was my invitation. And when he went out as Venom in 2005 I think it was when he started Venom, it was at that point that Cronos had called me regarding the license of an album and I just didn’t care. My head was firmly embroiled in family. Everything was about my mother at that point. She had cancer and essentially she was dying and she passed away in December of that year. And it was during the course of the conversation he asked me if I was ok with him continuing the Venom name and at that point I said “I don’t give a shit. I really don’t care what happens with the Venom name.” I wasn’t thinking about bands or anything. However he did not ask Abaddon and he said, “well if he had asked me I would have said no immediately. It just needs to be buried.” So that’s why I think it’s the fans and the promoters and the industry who are turning around now and saying that we are the real Venom. We’ve never once said that unlike Cronos who’s trying to stamp that point. I really don’t care about that. He can go out there and do what he wants to do with his two hired guns and we’ll go out and do what we do. And I mean Tony Dolan said, “Is it not better that you can go and see this guy and then you can come and see us?” And he just plays big festivals. We go into the smaller venues and we’re right in your face. So I don’t think there’s any confusion any more, let’s put it that way. People know who he is and what he does and people know who we are and what we do and that’s fine by me and that’s as far as it goes as far as I’m concerned.

Well for what it’s worth, I’ve seen you at least with M:pire of Evil and I thought you guys were fantastic live. I’m really excited to see you as Venom Inc. If it’s anything like the show I saw in DC about five years ago it should be really exciting. I’m looking forward to the one coming up here in Baltimore on October 2nd.

Oh don’t worry we will deliver. We will deliver.

Mantas at U Street Music Hall

Mantas at U Street Music Hall

Venom has been a huge influence on countless other metal bands over the years however I would like to know what your biggest influences are as a musician.

Ohhh. Well, the thing that changed my life was 1979, May the 28th, and it was Newcastle City Hall and it was Judas Priest on the Killing Machine Tour. My musical growing up occurred during the 70s so I came up through Slade and T.Rex and the Sweet and you know the sort of glam rocky era that was going on in England. And for me it was always something which was guitar driven. If there was guitars in the band I was fascinated by it as a kid. The first 7″ single that I ever bought with my own allowance money was “Seven Seas of Rhye” by Queen which I suppose was the first sort of dipping the toe into heavy rock. And then I remember being in a department store with my mum and there I just saw Kiss. I’d seen the Alive album and I was absolutely fascinated by these guys on the front but I couldn’t afford it at the time so there was a beaten up old copy of Hotter Than Hell behind it so I bought that. I’ve been a Kiss fan ever since, well you know, early Kiss obviously. But then, the guy that I started the band with, we met at a tae kwon do club, we were training together, and he had a guitar. He had a lot of metal. He was a little bit older than me so he was sort of into Deep Purple and stuff like that. So I discovered Purple through him and then we used to go to concerts all the time. The first concert I’d ever seen was Blue Öyster Cult. That was around ’77 I think. We went to everything, we’ve seen Rory Gallagher live. Like I said, anybody who had a guitar. But seeing Judas Priest, and I just remember being in the audience and looking at stage left as I’m in the audience and K. K. Downing was on and fucking, *pff* that was it. I just thought to myself, “this is what I want to do.” He just became like a distant mentor if you like. I was fascinated by his playing. He looked the epitome of a heavy metal guitarist. It was just all that kind of stuff and you just gotta hold up people. If someone said to me you could only listen to one guitarist for the rest of your life it would be Gary Moore. [I’m] a huge, huge Gary Moore fan. And I discovered Frank Marino on a Mahogany Rush album Mahogany Rush Live. I think he’s a phenomenal guitarist. And my other favorite guitarist is Zakk Wylde. So that whole sort of blues based guitarists that I like cause honestly I’m pretty old school when it comes to stuff like that. I’m not so much into the neoclassical shredders and all that kind of stuff. I’ve said many times in interviews now that I’ve got no desire to be looked upon as a virtuoso guitarist. When I’m on stage I see myself [as] more of an entertainer interacting with the crowd than some guy who stands there playing at a million miles an hour. But if someone was to offer me either one of two gifts, one would be to be the greatest guitarist the world had ever seen or to be the greatest songwriter the world had ever seen, I would choose the songwriter every single time. But yeah influences with all those tastes you know, Judas Priest, Motörhead. You know when I first heard Motörhead I was blown away by them as well. And I just used to search out anything I possibly could. So anything that was up and coming, anything that was going around. New wave of British heavy metal was around then obviously. At [the] time my favorite new wave of British heavy metal band was Samson, again a sort of more bluesy kind of a band. But yeah it was anything guitar driven I was just fascinated by it and I sort of made that decision and just gave it no option but to happen I suppose so here we are and it’s not over yet.

Are there any bands around, like newer bands today that you’re a big fan of?

I must admit I love Machine Head. I really do like Machine Head. You know you said newer bands, Machine Head is hardly a newer band, and I still like the Metallica boys as well. I still like that stuff but again they’ve got a few years under their belt, everybody has. I think metal went through a phase where it all started sounding the same to be perfectly honest with the production side of it and all that kind of stuff. Like I said I’m pretty old school. If I’m going to put something on at home it’s still going to be a Priest album or an early Kiss album or Gary Moore or something like that. I do like Dimmu Borgir but I’ve never really explored a lot of the newer bands. The time that I hear a lot of it is when we’re on tour and I have heard some good bands. Goatwhore are really good that we’re out with now but there’s an Australian thrash band called Desecrator. Everybody should check them out they’re really good and an English thrash band called Divine Chaos. They’re really good as well. We’ve been out with both of those bands and they’re excellent so check those two bands out.

Yeah I definitely will. Do you have any favorite song to play from your whole history of you know songs you’ve played?

Um, do you know what it is it’s difficult to choose. I mean, I still love doing “Countess Bathory,” I still love doing “Witching Hour,” “Black Metal,” “Live Like an Angel,” “Die Hard,” “Don’t Burn the Witch.” I don’t think I’ve got a particular favorite to play. They’re all just great fun to play. To see the audience reaction is phenomenal. It’s not a case of getting bored with those songs because some of those songs are like 35, 36 years old. I’ll never get bored with them. They’re just a joy to play. I mean who knew that people would be calling them classics these days. I was just a kid from Newcastle who wrote some songs and people dig them. That’s the way I look at it. But the things that surprises me is when I meet fans and they tell me that the effect that these songs have had on their lives it’s, it’s overwhelming. It’s great. Some days I can’t take it in because naturally I’m quite shy and I just stay in the background. On stage is a release for me but meeting the fans afterwards you got telling me all these things. All I’ve got to say is thank you. [It] comes from the bottom of my heart. It’s a big thank you because without those guys we wouldn’t exist. But I still enjoy doing all the songs, all the old songs.

Venom Inc. at Baltimore Soundstage

That’s about it for my questions here. I wanted to say thank you for taking time out of your day to talk with me and answer some questions here.

No problem.

It’s been really cool getting the chance to talk to one of the true legends of underground heavy metal and again I’m very excited to see you guys play at the Baltimore Soundstage on October 2nd. I know when I saw you with M:pire of Evil, one of the cool things I thought about your live performance, it’s just really cool seeing how much fun you guys are having on stage playing together. That’s something you can’t really fake. There’s a lot of bands, they’ll go out there and they’ll just go through the motions but you guys, like the way you interact with the crowd and the energy you’re putting out there, it’s a lot of fun to watch and a lot of fun to be at.

Yeah. I don’t think we could do it any other way because that’s who we are. That’s genuinely us on stage. We’re not play acting on there. I think that heavy metal fans, they’re very knowledgeable and if they know that you’re faking it, they know, and we don’t fake it. We go out there and we enjoy every moment on stage. I enjoy all the interaction with the crowd. It’s great. Like I said, for me it’s a release and that’s my point to meet the fans really. But nah we love it. We have such a blast playing together as well. So when you come down to Baltimore you’ll have to introduce yourself so we’ll have a chat.

Oh for sure, for sure. That would be my honor, thank you heh heh.

No problem.

Alright well thanks again for your time and I can’t wait to see you guys in Baltimore. It’ll be great.

Ok then my friend. I’ll see you very soon.

Alright. Take it easy.

Cheers now. Bye bye.

Bye.