by Mark Kadzielawa
M-Pire of Evil formed on the ashes of latter day Venom. The whole story begins back in 1988 when Venom regrouped with Abaddon (Tony Bray) on drums, Demolition Man (Tony Dolan) on bass and vocals, and returning Mantas (Jeff Dunn) on guitar. This of course was the second coming of Venom, the line up which released the excellent "Prime Evil" album, and followed it with couple of more records into the 90s. After a few more records this version of the band broke up, only to make room for the return of the original Venom. It was a successful reunion, as it appeared on the outside, but soon old cracks began to show, and one by one the original members began to abandon the band. Currently, Venom is lead only by Cronos (Conrad Lant) as the only original member.
M-Pire of Evil was put together by Jeff Dunn, and Tony Dolan, and Antony "Antton" Lant, who also enjoyed a short stint with Venom, and is a brother of Cronos. The trio originally called themselves Prime Evil after their breakthrough record from 1989, but soon the name was abandoned because there was another band using this moniker. The band's first release was an EP titled "Creatures of The Black." It was a set of covers with two originals, but it showed what potential lies within this band. "Hell to the Holy" gives the real taste of what the group is capable. It's a hard hitting record, and definitely the one keeping Venom's legacy alive. Jeff Dunn was responsible for a majority of Venom's classics in the old days, and with him in the band, you certainly get that vibe back. Only recently, drummer Antony Lant, had departed, and was replaced by Marc Jackson. M-Pire of Evil completed a very successful tour of the United States, has a great record on their hands, and incredible legacy to draw from.
Jeffrey "Mantas" Dunn remembers his time with Venom. Dunn is very forthcoming with great little details, and the makings (as well as the unmaking) of this metal giant. The chat largely concentrates on the "former" band, and slowly leads into M-Pire of Evil, and other preceding side projects.
Let’s talk about Venom, what happened there?
Jeff Dunn: Yeah....(laughter) Well, I’m the founding member of the band. The formation of that band took place in late 1979. At first it all came together as a five-piece. It was myself, and another guitarist who had put the band together. It became Venom, when Clive Archer, the original singer, and Abaddon came into the lineup. So, at that point it was myself, Abaddon, Clive Archer, and a guitarist called Dave Rutherford, and a bass player called Allen Black I believe it was. So various members came and went. I suppose they were not into what we were doing. I mean, the first band that I’ve had when Abaddon came along for the audition was because the drummer we’ve had was very technical, and not into the sort of the metal we were doing. So, Abaddon did this audition, and a bass player I’ve had at that time, a guy called Dean Hewitt, who was massively into Geddy Lee and Rush, a truly mesmerizing bass player. He actually came to me at the end of the rehearsal with Abaddon asking me, “is that guy gonna join?” And I was like, “yeah, looks like it.” I just wanted to create this metal band, you see. So he goes, “if that guy is going to join, I’m out of here.” So he went, he was the first one to go, and then Allen Black took over. But it slowly just worked itself down. Cronos was the last member to join. He came in as a rhythm guitarist. And I met him at a girlfriend’s house. Every Tuesday night, we used to get together, play metal, and drink. I walked in, and he was just sitting there on the couch, so I introduced myself. I’ve never met the guy before. He said he played guitar, so I told him I needed a rhythm guitarist. So Cronos came to the rehearsal and joined as a rhythm guitarist, then the bass player left, so he took over bass. We did a couple of shows as a four-piece. Then we went in and did couple of demos. We had a rehearsal demo tape with Clive Archer singing "Angel Dust,” “Red Light Fever,” “Raise The Dead,” and “Buried Alive.” So all of those songs, the bulk of the first album was written back then. The name was already Venom. We went in the studio, did the demos. And the idea was that Cronos was gonna sing a song that I wrote titled “Live Like An Angel, Die Like A Devil,” and Clive was gonna go off stage and do a costume change. Clive at the time was wearing all the corpse paint stuff that you see now. And we thought at that point, “oh no, Alice Cooper has already done it, and Kiss is already doing it, we’re gonna get slammed for this.” Clive stepped down, and that’s when it came to be a three piece. So, the first single went out. It went out, and literally, overnight, the world just went boom. It was Venom crazy. Then we did the first album, “Welcome To Hell,” that was recorded in three days, mixed, produced, everything. Three days, that was it. Initially, we went in to make more demos, and the guy said, “have you got enough material for an album?” We said, “yes,” but we didn’t. We ran upstairs, and “Welcome To Hell” itself was written in the studio. So that was it. I think the thing that contributed to personality differences in the band was the speed of the success. We didn’t go around and play all the clubs, and then play bigger venues, and then play bigger venues where you end up in a arenas. For us, we were just thrown in straight into the arenas. And I think that affected people, particularly the other two members. To be perfectly honest with you, I was just absolutely bemused by the whole thing. You know, I was there for the music, I had to write tunes, I had to be in the studio, be creative, and play live. And even going away, the first time we played outside U.K. was in Belgium at the music festival, and the previous weekend prior to that we’ve been rehearsing in a little church hall in the West End of Newcastle. And during the course of that week, we were told we’re going to Belgium. We turn up in Belgium, and there is few thousand kids there. I was like, “what the hell is going on here?” It was incredible. And then we went to New York, and played the Paramount Theatre, and this little band called Metallica came to support us. And then there was the European tour titles “Seven Days of Hell.” Metallica was with us again on support. I know it’s a cliché, but it was an absolute rollercoaster ride. Everything was happening fast.
In a way you began a new genre within metal.
Oh, yeah. That came around, we were doing an interview at Neat Records. And at that time every band that had guitars and long hair were put into the heavy metal box, or the heavy rock box. We were quite arrogant in those early days, you know as youngsters. We thought that we didn’t have anything to do with that. So this interviewer goes, “if you’re not a heavy metal band, what are you?” And the term Black Metal came out. I mean the song was already written, and the second album was ready. “Black Metal” the song is about playing live, there is no real satanic connotations in that song itself. So that statement was made to individualize us, and alienate us from the scene. We just wanted to be a band in our own right. But looking back on that now, what I’ve been saying in a lot of interviews now, I feel that metal scene now is, and this is just a personal point of view, it’s fragmented. It’s in far too many pieces now. Black metal, death metal, this metal, that metal. You hear kids even saying, “what kind of metal are you?” And it’s just metal at the end of the day, and that’s what we’re trying to do with the M-Pire thing. It’s just do whatever we want to do. We didn’t write the album to be genre specific. We wanted some elements of thrash in there, we wanted some elements of black metal in there. We put whatever we wanted into it. But essentially, with us being the elder statesmen of metal if you like. We did it the old school way. That's’ what we’re trying to give. We’re trying to give that old school vibe back, you know.
Let’s continue the Venom story, you seem to be really in the mood to tell it all.
It got to the stage in 1985, and there were events that happened during that period, well one particular period in time, that drove me to think this is not about the music anymore. So that was it for me. I stayed until 1986 I think it was. Then I got a phone call saying there were Brazilian dates and Japanese dates, and that's when I turned around and said, "I'm opting out, I'm not doing it, I'm not working with these guys anymore," and that was it. So, I left the band, and did a solo album, and eventually got a call to come back to Prime Evil project with Tony Dolan. And my first initial reaction even to that was "no." I didn't want anything to do with the Venom thing. But the big hook for me was that Tony was gonna be in. Me and Tony had been friends and brothers for like 30 years now. So they were tempting me with the fact that Tony was gonna do bass and vocals, and they were tempting Tony with me being in the band. At that point, neither of us had agreed, but then we agreed to do it. We did "Prime Evil," "Temples of Ice," and "The Waste Lands." But again, outside forces, management, bad decisions, all that kinds of stuff drove us to say, "this just isn't working." And then obviously after that there were a couple of things that I did, and then the big reunion thing came.
How was the Venom reunion orchestrated?
That took three years to get us together to do that. It was initially the Dynamo festival that had offered it. I remember going along to the first meeting, and I walked in to the local rock bar that is called Trillions in Newcastle. That's where we agreed to meet. Cronos was the first one there, and I just walked in, and there was a tentative, "hello," shake of hands. I just said, "I've just come in to say no." I wanted to see what they were gonna say, I wanted to see what the management is going to say, what Abaddon is gonna say, and I'm gonna say, "no," regardless. That was my decision, and it was already made. So I refused to do it that time, but eventually we all decided to give it a go, but even that was just fraught with problems. We did a warm up show at the Waldrock Festival in 1995, and Machine Head supported us for that one, and in 1996 we did Dynamo, and 1997 was the Milwaukee Metal Fest, then Athens. And all the old wounds just started to open up again, you know. We did the album, "Cast In Stone," and that had its problems, and then when it came to do the next album, there were more problems involving management, Abaddon, and stuff like that. We got Antony (Lant) in to do the next album, but again, I think the thing that is being proven over the years is that none of the original members can work together. You know, Abaddon and Cronos are still out there. Cronos asked my permission in 2005 to use the Venom name to continue it, to which I've said, "yes." So he's continuing it on, but there is no Abaddon there, so these two guys can't work together. With the three of us, there is too much personality clashes there. Socially, we're miles apart from each other. We never socialized with each other, really. Personality wise, we're just at the opposite ends of the scale. It amazes me sometimes how it stayed together so long. But one thing that come out of it, there was some good music.
Venom's legacy is unquestionable.
There is definitely a legacy, there is a heritage there, and it had a massive influence as well. I've met so many people on this tour, who say to me, "oh my God, do you realize what you've done for metal?" It's incredible that I get that reaction.
And then there is always a new generation of kids discovering the original Venom.
Oh yeah, definitely. We've had young guys in the audience, and I've met tons of people after the show. In Seattle and Portland especially. There were fathers bringing their sons, so that's a new generation of fans. And to think those young guys are going back and paying homage re-discovering all the early stuff. I mean, most of them were not even born when "Welcome to Hell" came out, you know, but they are re-discovering all this stuff. And it can only be a good thing at the end of the day.
You did few things after you left Venom, care to shed some light on your solo projects?
I had a solo project just called Mantas. I did an album called "Zero Tolerance." We did shows in Germany, Holland, up and down the U.K. We even went to Japan, came back, had few weeks off, and we were due to go on European tour with Six Feet Under, and the bass player and the vocalist just dropped out, they said they couldn't do it. I think it was just too much for them to be honest. So, that sort of evolved into another band called Drill. We did good few shows, we did a couple of festivals, and then what happened was I got an e-mail from Antony saying he's left Venom. I hadn't spoken to him for years, so I gave him a call, and he came over to my house and we just sat and talked about everything that had happened. And obviously Antony being Cronos's brother, when you're in a band with two brothers you really haven't got that much of a say, you know, because the old blood is thicker than water I think. But I think, Antony soon discovered what the problems were. When we spoke, there were a lot of things that were very similar, and obviously the same problems that we had. Drill itself was about to do a charity show for a DJ that had passed away in Newcastle, and he did a lot of rock and metal in the northeast, so every year they have a charity gig for him. So, they asked Drill to headline; my drummer was based in Germany at that time, and I got a call from his wife saying he was playing a festival with another band in Germany, and as he was walking up the ramp to do a show, he slipped and fell and broke his arm. So, he couldn't do the gig. First guy I called was Nick Barker, but he was on tour, so I gave Antony a call, and he agreed to do the gig. So we did it, and after that, it made sense to have everyone in the same city. My previous drummer and bass player were from Germany. But for this show I had drafted Antony, and another local bass player, and I figured I wanted to stick with this line up. And then as soon as it was announced that Antony was in the band, people were like, "wow, Mantas and Antton are back together." This could be something else, so we talked, and decided, why not, let's have a little side project. It was gonna be nothing more than that. And basically it evolved into what we've got now, into M-Pire of Evil. But just before this American tour, Antony did the drums on the album, but before the tour he decided that he couldn't do it. He's got a young family, he didn't want to be away from home for a long time, so it was a case of us getting another drummer. So we literally had two rehearsals with the new drummer and hit the road.
Very similar to the way Venom did it, two rehearsals and a festival.
(laugher) Oh yeah, the way Venom did it with two rehearsals was because we couldn't get Abaddon to rehearse ( laughter.) That was the problem then.
When you look back at all the music you wrote over the years, especially Venom's golden years, how do you see your musical growth?
I hope I've grown up, and evolved, and progressed. I'm very proud of the new album, but it's still me writing the songs. I mean, I still got the same attitude. When we did the M-Pire album, we wanted to do anything we pleased. We wanted to put the album out, hoist the flag, and see who salutes! And the reviews so far are amazing. The reviews had been absolutely amazing. I mean, we took a lot of risks on the album. There is a track on the album called, "Devil," which is a big heavy blues track. I play slide guitar, all that kind of stuff. When I had the idea for that song, I wanted to play the blues, and pay homage to Robert Johnson, the crossroads, and all the old blues players. You see, everything we do as musicians comes from the blues. The other thing that I wanted to say in that song was Venom created black metal, but before we took its influences from Black Sabbath, and there was Black Widow. But way, way before that there was some guy sitting on the porch in the Delta with an old acoustic whaling about the devil. So it's nothing new, and that's what I'm trying to say in that song. The opening line is, "A widow on the Sabbath day."
Venom's image was very much in your face, shocking, often thought provoking. How much of that was a gimmick?
We've always said that we wanted to be the band that we would like to see on stage. And we've said that if you took every heavy metal cliché, put it in a big pot, stir it all up, then pour it out, it's gonna spell Venom. That was always our thing.
And the satanic aspect of the band?
That was an absolute shock value. Nobody had taken it that far before. I mean, yeah, I've read the satanic bible. We all had an interest in the sort of darker side if you'd like. I mean, my grandfather, when I used to go to his house, he let me stay up late, and watch all the old horror films. It was that kind of thing, so I had that sort of background. But I mean, the whole thing, the name Venom, the way we wanted to portray it, and everything was all new. It was all there before Cronos joined the band. It was an already made thing to step into, really. The songs were written, everything was there. But, I've got no particular religious beliefs. I think religion causes more problems than anything else. I get asked this a lot, especially from people who are into the black metal thing. They want to know your views on it all, but I'm still into the music. That's what it's about for me. yeah, I like presenting things with a certain image, making it look as good as you possibly can. And that was the whole thing with the Venom thing as well. The stage show, the pyro, the way we looked. It's nothing new when you think about it, nothing drastic.
At the same time you were the part of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal movement, so you had a small role in restoring rock after all.
Oh yeah, I know. I remember those times quite well. There was a great metal scene in the northeast of England, where we came from. bands like Raven, Fist, Tygers of Pan Tang, Tysondog, all those bands around. And every single one of them without exception hated us. For a start, they were all far superior musiciians to us, but we were doing something different. We had the balls to just go out there and do it. I think a lot of the other bands wanted to stay safe. Tysondog for example, a good band, but you could just see they were a young Judas Priest. I think the only one that was different in a way that we were different was Raven. They had the unique sound, brothers, and the whole thing.