As details are
revealed of a third full-length assault, MPire Of Evil has taken possession of
its own life. The band was formed around 2010 by musicians who had previously
passed through the ranks of Venom and who have doubtlessly had their say in
shaping the Metal landscape.
contains a conversation I had with Tony ‘The Demolition Man’ Dolan, bassist and
vocalist with MPire Of Evil, where, amongst other things, he discussed recent
developments within the band while taking time to reminisce on times past. A few
days later I also had a chat with guitarist Jeff ‘Mantas’ Dunn where I tried to
uncover more of the man behind the myth.
further ado, here is the complete interview with MPire Of Evil. Hope you have a
I heard that
drummer Marc Jackson isn’t in the picture any more...can you give me more
information on this? Who is currently playing drums with MPire Of Evil?
Yes, last month we did the European tour with Obituary and next month, in March,
we go to Russia. [In 2013] we finished our European tour with Onslaught, Master
and Tantara. At the end of that we had a couple of festival shows. When we
returned home from that tour we had a discussion with Marc...basically we just
came down to a situation where we felt that the whole idea behind MPire Of Evil
was predominantly based on myself and Mantas. We do all the management work, we
do all the artwork, all the production and all the writing. Marc wanted to do
more than play drums. He wanted to be more involved, but of course the way that
we work is pretty much centred around myself and Mantas. And we couldn’t balance
it out in a way that Marc would feel completely happy with his role.
because I had some shows coming up and we were still in a little state of
indecision I called a friend of mine, Peso, who drums for the Italian band
Necrodeath and asked him if he could step in should I need him for a couple of
shows. And he said that he was a bit old now [laughs] and that it would take him
quite a while to learn everything.....probably longer than we could wait. So he
suggested another Italian drummer who’s like a young [Dave] Lombardo. His name
is Francesco La Rosa...they actually call him Francesco ‘Frullo’ La Rosa because
‘frullo’ in Italian means ‘to mix’ and he mixes well with his feet, he’s very
fast with his feet. So I got in touch with Francesco and I said “Look, we may
not have a drummer for a couple of shows. Would you be able to come and step in
for us if that happens?” He said “Yes” and I sent him the material and we’ve
been together ever since. Francesco plays for a band called Extrema and also
plays in another band called Mastercastle, he’s a drum teacher and he’s played
with a lot of different people.
found that that was the perfect solution for us. Plus we didn’t need to expand
beyond 3 members and risk all that ‘band politics’.....you know, like every band
has. We decided to keep it nice and clean, no arguments, just fun to do and
always exciting and creative. We found that this was the best way to do it. It
means we have a superb drummer who comes to play with us and when he’s with us
he’s as much part of MPire Of Evil as we [Tony and Mantas] are ourselves. But it
also means that he can then go back to Italy and carry on with everything else
he’s doing while we can focus on writing and recording and dealing with all the
management stuff. And when it’s time to put the drums down, we can call him up
and he goes into a studio and he can put the drums down. Also when we go to play
live, we tell him what the dates are, he arranges it, and then he comes on tour
with us. Actually it turns out to be a great solution to the issues we were
having. Initially this was how I wanted to use Marc Jackson, in a very similar
role after we had parted ways with Antton. So yes, for the foreseeable future we
will have Francesco playing for the MPire.
[drummer Anthony ‘Antton’ Lant] was involved in the songwriting of “Hell To The
Holy”, the first MPIRE OF EVIL album. How much did his departure influence your
decision to do second album “Crucified”, basically a re-interpretation of Venom
Well, kind of. I mean bringing us all together was partly Antton’s idea. They [Antton
and Mantas] were playing together in Dryll - the project Mantas had prior to
MPire Of Evil - and then they got in touch with me inviting me to join and I
thought it was a brilliant idea. We all had a relationship through Venom: of
course Mantas is Mantas, I was there for a period of time and Antton was also
with Venom for a period of time, besides being Cronos’ brother. So we felt we
had something in common even though, until then, we had never played together as
did “Creatures Of The Black”, our first EP. Then we recorded “Hell To The Holy”.
We all had an input in that and I thought it turned out pretty well. Antton,
however, just wasn’t quite happy at how it turned out or how he wanted the thing
to move forward. He wanted to push it in another direction that I wasn’t
particularly happy with. And one thing I said when we began the project was that
this time we have to do everything correctly. We don’t need and politics, we
don’t need any arguments and it should be fun. I didn’t want to go ahead with
the band for just a year or two or three years. I wanted to do it so it will be
Over the years there have been so many times when we said “Oh, let’s do an
album, let’s do some shows”. And then you do it and two or 3 years later the
band has broken up again. I just didn’t want to waste that sort of time because
I know how much energy I put into projects and how much time it consumes. So if
we were going to do it, we’d have to all be happy, all agree and we need to put
everything into it.
Right before the American tour, when we had just finished “Hell To The Holy” it
was quite clear to me that all things with Antton were not particularly well and
that we may be creating some sort of issue with ourselves that in a few years’
time might break us up. I didn’t want that to happen so I thought that before we
do the first shows we have to make a decision. That decision was Antton’s
departure. But he also had his Def Con One band and it was what he liked doing
so it was perfect. He’s been getting albums out with that band and he’s doing
really well. He got to do what he wants and we moved on.
drafted in Marc Jackson after that and, a bit like Francesco, he was recommended
to us. We saw him play and we thought this is brilliant and asked him if he
would like to join us for the tour. At that point we should have explained to
him how it was going to work. We though we’ll just keep our drummer and not
convene our band to clarify things but with hindsight that was probably the
wrong way to go about it. After that tour, because he’s such a great drummer, we
wanted to record with Marc. So we had written two songs for a single: ‘Demone’
and ‘Taking It All’ and then we looked into doing the next album.
What we were finding was that when we went out and played, a lot of the die-hard
Venom fans were asking us to play ‘Prime Evil’ and ‘Parasite’ and ‘Skool Days’
and ‘Harder Than Ever’ and other Venom songs that I had done with Venom. And
then of course because Mantas was with MPire Of Evil, they also said: “Why don’t
you do ‘Welcome To Hell’?” “Why don’t you do ‘Black Metal’?” They’re not really
MPire songs but then we said, hang on, we are doing ‘Blackened Are The Priests’,
we are doing ‘Carnivorous’, we are doing our old material and although they were
recorded under the name of Venom, they were actually our songs. We did write
them. And we thought you’re not going to hear Cronos play those songs live with
Venom so if Mantas is here and I am here, why should we deny fans hearing the
songs? So we decided to play them live as part of our set. Bear in mind that in
the beginning we didn’t have enough material to do a 2-hour set of MPire Of Evil
songs anyway so we went to the fans to ask them what other songs they’d like to
hear us play and they told us to play songs like ‘Die Hard’, ‘Black Metal’, ‘Hellspawn’,
‘Metal Messiah’. Basically our live set was put together by the fans.
if people criticise us for playing songs such as ‘Don’t burn the Witch’, it’s
actually a song that was written by Mantas and me. So we’re not distinguishing
between Venom songs and MPire Of Evil songs – they’re just songs...great
songs...written by the people who are on stage playing them for the fans who
want to hear them.
When we talked about recording our second studio album, we thought that in order
to include the Venom songs in our live set, why don’t we make them legitimately
MPire Of Evil songs by first asking fans what their favourite songs are and then
re-recording them as MPire with Marc Jackson. So we weren’t trying to give them
a 21st century sound or re-doing them because we didn’t thing the
originals were as good. Most of the people who’ve heard the “Crucified” album
consider it to be an MPire Of Evil album. We’ve even had reviews which said
there were one or two Venom songs with the rest being MPire Of Evil songs. It
was only the die-hard fans that recognised the album as having older Venom
songs. So now, when we play those songs live.....songs like ‘Black Legions’,
‘Temples Of Ice’.....people don’t distinguish between Venom or Mpire Of Evil.
They just think they’re MPire songs. And that was the idea behind
Trailer of “Crucified” album:
started MPire Of Evil, did you have a clear idea of what you wanted to sound
like or did you say, let’s just jam together and we’ll see what emerges?
Well, it’s a good question....when we initially started as the three of us with
Antton, Mantas and myself discussing it, it was quite clear that they wanted to
aim towards Venom. I didn’t feel that we needed to do that because we were
Venom so we didn’t even need to try to get there. We could play Venom songs if
they wanted to but we didn’t need to. So my take was that this was an
opportunity for us to be able to play any style we want and any type of songs we
want. Whatever we create could be totally our own. We don’t have to put
ourselves in a category, we don’t have to be Death Metal or Deathcore or, you
know, Thrash. We don’t have to be anything. We could just be whatever we were
feeling. And so we looked and though “What do we love about the music?” And we
concluded that what we love is the heaviness and that ranged from Cryptic
Slaughter to Napalm Death to Pantera to Kiss. What we loved was the very idea of
Heavy Metal....classic Heavy Metal.....stuff that sounds good, that makes the
audience move along to. That’s why we did “Creatures Of The Black” – we looked
into ourselves and said “Which were the songs that shaped us?” Which were the
songs that I, personally, first heard that made me say “Shit, that’s what
I want to do for a career”. For me it was Motörhead, for Mantas it was Judas
Priest’s ‘Exciter’ and for Antton it was AC/DC. We also did ‘God of Thunder’
[Kiss cover] because you could do ‘God of Thunder’ in Venom’s early sets and
also to mess around. And then we added two of our own songs.
People were asking why we did that EP as our first release and the reason we did
that was because we hoped they’ll understand why we were doing MPire Of Evil. We
wanted to say, look, we love Heavy Metal, we love the classic bands and if you
want to call that ‘old school’ you could but it’s just about the genre, the
Heavy Metal genre. And that covers everyone from Cradle Of Filth and Dimmu
Borgir, all the way to, I don’t know....Accept and AC/DC. Just the heavy, groovy
style of everybody. And when we came to do “Hell To The Holy” we did our own
songs but the imprint of the classic Metal sound is still there. All of our
influences are on there.
You know, this morning I was reading a review of one of the shows we did with
Obituary and the reviewer said that he couldn’t quite categorise us. He felt
that it was brilliant, very professional and that we certainly had our old
school heads on and yet he couldn’t categorise us.
playing with bands such as Atomkraft, Venom and MPire Of Evil, your role varied
from bassist, guitarist and lead vocalist, often adopting more than one of these
roles concurrently. Clearly you’re quite a versatile musician but in which of
these positions do you feel most comfortable?
When I had accepted Mantas’ invitation to play bass guitar in his band [around
2004] I didn’t think about roles too much because there already was a guitarist
and vocalist. But I loved the material so I still enjoyed recording and playing
live with that band. There’s a certain freedom on stage at playing bass and not
having to sing. With Atomkraft I sometimes played bass, sometimes I played
guitar and sometimes I sang. Of course with Venom and MPire I played bass and
sang. To be honest I don’t really distinguish between not singing and playing or
singing and playing
happy either way?
Yeah, it always feels quite natural whatever I do or play. Besides, I’ve played
bass and done lead vocals for so many years now that it doesn’t feel like I’m
doing two things. It only feels like I’m doing one thing.
Atomkraft.....what is the situation with that band? I read the band had got
together again and were thinking of doing another album.
Formed in 1979, Atomkraft spearheaded what became known as the NWOBHM movement.
Like Venom, the band came from the North English city of Newcastle and only ever
released 1 full-length, “Future Warriors”, besides a few EPs.]
Well, I often get approached by people wishing to put on Atomkraft shows or
asking if I’d be prepared to record something with Atomkraft. I’ve done it once
or twice over the last 2 or 3 years. I released an EP on vinyl and CD through
W.A.R. Productions in 2011. It was called “Cold Sweat” which included a cover of
the Thin Lizzy classic. That came after Jaap [Waagemaker], of Nuclear Blast,
suggested that I should do something on the anniversary of Phil Lynott’s death.
So I did that and then I was asked to do some shows in Holland, which I did,
with bands such as Girlschool and Agent Steel. But it wasn’t the original band.
As a drummer I had Steve Mason – he was with a band called Blinded By Fear. The
guitarist was Pär Hulkoff, from Copenhagen. Yes, Atomkraft were originally a
3-piece before we progressed to a 5-piece band but at the end of those shows, I
didn’t feel it was right. I wasn’t happy with the performance and I didn’t feel
it was the real Atomkraft. So I decided not to do any more shows.
Then, a couple of years ago, Minotauro Records approached me and asked me if I
had any demos and things that I’d like to put together and give them a release.
So last year....or maybe it was the year before...we released what was basically
a compilation of live recordings and demos that I had lying around. It was
released as a double-vinyl set and a 3-CD set. The recordings were very rough –
I didn’t produce it or mix it, it was exactly as they sounded in their original
recordings. What I quite liked about the reaction to that box-set was that
unless you’re a hardcore fan, you hated it. And I liked that because Atomkraft
was never about being perfect, it was always about the energy of the whole
a result of that release I was contacted by Brofest, a festival in Newcastle,
and asked if I wanted to play with Atomkraft. And I said that the guys I have
with me at the moment were a drummer called Paul Caffrey, who drums for the
Thrash band Gama Bomb, and a guitarist called Kræn Meier, who was with a Danish
band called Sacrificial. So I told [Brofest] that those were the guys I could
use to do the show but I don’t know if I’m comfortable playing Atomkraft. And
they said that they thought we could do a special set featuring the entire
“Future Warriors” album. Eventually I agreed and after we rehearsed the album,
we played it from beginning to end but what I did was to invite Mantas, who was
living in Newcastle at the time, to come down and maybe join the band for a
song. He ended up joining the band for two songs. They were recorded and when I
looked back at it, I realised I absolutely enjoyed it. It was fantastic playing
the Atomkraft material with those guys. Maybe that was the problem before – I
was forgetting the band’s roots.
Thrash Metal did have its roots in Punk but Atomkraft were always a bit more
Punk than Metal. We were more Motörhead and Venom than, say, Exodus and
Anyway, now I’m working on songs for the next Atomkraft album. It will be
myself, Paul and Kræn...with some help from Mantas. Hopefully we’ll complete the
Atomkraft album this year and then either towards the end of the year or in 2016
I’ll be taking Atomkraft out to play in a few selected shows.
‘Devil’s Reign’ by Atomkraft:
I’d like to change
the subject of our discussion and ask about Neat Records, which
incidentally was also based in Newcastle. I’ve
read a lot of stories from bands about the
label’s alleged mis-management escapades but the importance of Neat
Records for the NWOBHM and consequentially for Metal worldwide is
undeniable. Indeed the label had put out records for an endless list of
bands, including Venom, Atomkraft, Raven,
White Spirit (feat. a young Jannick Gers, later of Iron Maiden),
Blitzkrieg, Samson (Bruce Dickinson’s pre-Iron Maiden band),
Crucifixion, Tyson Dog, Witchfynde, Avenger, etc.
do you remember of your dealings with this label and what are your views
Regardless of what anybody says, you can’t deny the importance of Neat
Records. From my point of view, the label gave us a shot. I know there
were issues with the money. Everybody wondered what happened with the
money...nobody got paid....and so on. Now, with the benefit of
hindsight, when we look back 20 years and more into its past, we realise
that in fact there was no money generated. But at the time, most of the
guys were very early in their careers, in their early 20s or even in
their teens and they were at the forefront of what became known as the
New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM). They actually pushed the
envelope far beyond what anyone else was even thinking.
I would say that they
were the happiest days for us and it was only in the latter stages of
the band’s career that we [Atomkraft] decided we should move to another
label. But that was primarily because there was an onslaught from
America with bands such as Metallica, Anthrax, Megadeth. And the
investments that the American labels were making in selling these bands
all over the world, getting their music played on the radio, getting
magazine coverage.....we wanted the same for us.
I don’t think Neat
Records understood what was happening because you had bands that had
been doing demos for £30 or £40 and now they were selling records and
playing shows all over the world. Some even started getting signed to
major labels and we felt we had to move on too, to get signed to a major
label. [Atomkraft eventually signed to Roadrunner Records] Sadly shortly
afterwards the band imploded. So we got on the horses but either the
horses didn’t have the carriage attached or they rode off the track.
to MPire Of Evil.....have you been writing any new material and if
‘yes’, could you give more information about what new songs sound like?
Yes, we actually are. I think we’re probably 10 minutes away from
completing the new album, which is a studio album with the tentative
title of “Unleashed”. We’ve been at it for the last year and in fact
that is why we didn’t do as many shows as the previous year....so that
we could spend some time writing the new album.
Will it be
out this year?
The idea is yes. We wanted it to be out at the beginning of this year, then
towards the end of last year we were off on that tour with Obituary. So we put
off finishing the album to do the tour. Only now that we’ve got a short break
from touring are we finishing it. Right now, in fact, we’re having the drums
recorded and then we’ll do the vocals and put the finishing touches to the
album. I was hoping to have it all done by March but now it seems it’ll be out
either this summer or towards the end of the year. It’ll be out a lot later than
I would have wanted but nevertheless that’s the situation.
will be Francesco on drums, right?
Yes, Francesco, should be drumming on it.
MPire Of Evil
also have some festivals confirmed for this summer, right?
Yes, that’s right, we’ve got a full set of dates confirmed. We’ve got the Keep
It True Festival in Germany.....the Titanfest in London.....Beermageddon in
August.....the British Steel festival this October in France.....we go to Russia
for 8 or so dates.....we play a couple of dates in Italy.....
You’ve got a
very busy year ahead!
Very busy, yes. Also, the Keep It True festival [in April 2015] is going to be a
special one. I think that’s sold out now but it’s going to be a special
performance. We’ll play an MPire set and we’ll have a guest coming along
and.....well, I think that’s going to be a very special show. We may be making
an announcement on that as well.
Keep It True
brings together a lot of old-school Metal fans so will you include songs by
Atomkraft and Venom in the set?
Well, that’s what we’re looking at at the moment. While we’ll have a special
guest with us, we’ll be introducing people to the MPire songs but we do
understand it’s a retro-fest so we’ve got a few classic songs to play and then
we’ll end it with something ultra-classic.
I’m sure the
crowd will love it. By the way, how did your stage name ‘The Demolition Man’
I think it was sometime in 1981 with Atomkraft when there was original guitarist
Steve White and the original Atomkraft drummer Paul Spillet. We were asked to
play an opening slot with a band called Warrior. In order for me not to pull my
lead out from my bass guitar, the technician decided to wrap the lead round my
amplifier. Well, in those days everyone played solos so we got to the part of
the set when I was introduced on bass. So I went to a bit of stuff on the
bass.....a sort of bass solo. And I jumped up on a table to do it but I didn’t
realise that my lead had been wrapped round everything. As I jumped off the
table I felt a tug and basically I pulled all my equipment over. I turned round
and it was all sparks and flames and people running around and I was like “Oh,
shit. I’ve really made a mess!” And as I tried to help put everything back up,
the guitarist went to the microphone and said “Ladies and gentlemen, the
demolition man!” And that was it. The name stuck. Basically I think it’s because
I tend to break everything.
I’m a bit heavy-handed with stuff! If it works, I’ll find a way to break
it.....not on purpose of course.
yourself and Mantas have been involved with many bands in the past. But what
sets MPire Of Evil apart from them all?
We’ve got a long legacy behind us of course but the thing with MPire is that
we’re not trying to fit into any particular box. We’re Heavy Metal and some of
it is Thrashy, some of it is fast, some of it is slow, some of it is sing-along,
some of it is not, some of it is dark, some of it funny. Basically we take all
of the elements that we’ve enjoyed over the years and put them into MPire Of
Evil. So we’re not one thing. We’re not stuck in one genre, we’re not stuck in
one hole. We pride ourselves as being musicians.
The best analogy I can use is that now, at my age, I distinguish between
somebody who’s in a band and a musician. A musician would do many different
things musically, have different styles of playing. So whether it’s Mantas on
stage with Venom, Mantas on stage with MPire or Mantas on stage with Scooter, he
will still be Mantas playing lead guitar his own way. Some people need to be in
bands and some people can just be musicians. And I think we just happen to be
musicians who are in a band together. That’s the difference with MPire.
We’re not trying to play songs in a particular way to get anybody to like us and
of course we’re not trying to get anybody to hate us either. We’re just not
forcing anything on anyone, we’re just letting it happen naturally, enjoying
what we’re doing as musicians while connecting with the fans. And I don’t think
we’ve had that type of freedom before.
Only today I was reading of a band charging $175 to meet the band at one of
their shows. Ridiculous! As recent as the last Obituary tour I’ve been meeting
fans all the time, having photos taken with them and giving autographs. And not
once did I expect to be paid. That’s another difference with MPire, the industry
has changed but we’re still here for the fans. Without the fans there is no
band. After they buy our shirts, buy our albums, come to our shows, the least we
can do is to interact with them.
it’s been a real pleasure speaking to you. I look forward to seeing you play
Thank you. I really enjoyed speaking with you.
in the interview’s introduction, a couple of days after the above conversation
took place, I also had an opportunity to talk to Mantas. The interview with
Mantas can be read here below and you can also listen to it via the link at the
end of the text.
I start by
asking for Mantas’ own impressions on the new material MPire Of Evil is
Ah the new stuff.....so far there are around 14 or 15 songs written for the new
album “Unleashed” and I know every bands says this and it’s a stock answer but I
honestly believe that this is easily the finest material that myself and Tony
have collaborated on. I’m really proud of this stuff. At the moment we’re busy
getting the lyrics together and Tony’s going to be coming over here to get his
basslines done. We’ve got Francesco who’d going to be putting the drums down in
Italy and then all files are going to be coming back to my studio for mixing.
For me it’s just going to be a damn good Heavy Metal album. It’s got no genre
specifics to it. It’s just good straight down-the-line Metal as far as I’m
You know, MPire was always going to be that.....just a Heavy Metal band, while
keeping away from all this Black Metal, Death Metal, this Metal or that Metal. I
think the genre categorisation thing has gone far too far now.
Both Tony and
yourself seem eager to emphasize that MPire Of Evil doesn’t belong to a specific
Metal genre...at the most it’s just Metal. Right?
Absolutely, yes. That’s one thing we said when we put this band together, that
we write whatever we feel is good. Tony and myself have a good working
relationship. [If necessary] we can criticise each other, no problem. But so far
there’s been no criticisms between us with anything either of us has come up
with. We decided we don’t want people to think of Venom or Black Metal straight
away. The Black Metal scene has evolved and moved on so much from what Venom
first created. It’s a completely different animal now. Which is a good
thing...because that’s evolution...and it’s what’s kept the music alive for the
last 37 years.
But we said that if we want to write a song which is in a Black Metal vein, or
in a Thrash Metal vein or Doom Metal or whatever, we’ll do it. You’ve got to
remember that in the early days, when we first started, none of these
terminologies existed. So I suppose in a way we might be partly to blame for all
these genre categorisations. But it seems that every new band that comes out
these days have got to be part of one genre or another. Or else they’ll create
their own [genre].
You know, I’m still old-school at the end of the day and I still go back to
classic Metal. The thing people forget is that I’m now 54 years old so obviously
I’ve got a long history of music behind me. And that stretches way back into the
70s.....into the early 70s. I was always into guitar-driven music and I suppose
my first favourite band as a kid was Slade. They were a good Rock band, a really
good Rock band. T-Rex was another, although obviously a little bit on the softer
side, compared to Slade. Everything just progressed and evolved from there for
me but it always had to be guitar-driven. Sonically I just found that that
appealed to me.
And I thing that that’s what we’re going back to now.....just loud guitar-driven
music. Whether it’s heavy, whether it’s groovy.....whatever it is.....if it fits
in the MPire frame then it fits. If it doesn’t, well then we’ll work on
Slade as an influence...how much of that influence was directly responsible for
your first solo album, “Winds Of Change” of 1988?
Change” was Mantas’ first release after his first departure from Venom.
Musically, it had a distinctly different mindset from his ex-band. While Venom
were sonically much more abrasive and the attitude way more unorthodox, “Winds
Of Change” was more of a keyboards-infused AOR/Melodic Rock affair with a
greater emphasis on strong songwriting.]
Official video of ‘Deceiver’ from the “Winds Of Change” album by Mantas:
To be perfectly honest with you, “Winds Of Change” was just a breath of fresh
air. It was a chance to have some fun. I mean, you know, all the personality
clashes within Venom are well-documented now and it had just become an
increasingly difficult band to be in. And the events of 1985 had very little to
do with musical differences. It was things that happened during the course of
that year that shocked and disgusted from certain quarters. After announcing
that I was leaving in 1986, I thought that that was it for me with music. I
thought that if this was what being in a band becomes like, well then I don’t
want to be any part of that. It wasn’t the music that was the enemy, it was the
personalities within the band.
Then after I got a phone call from Neat Records asking what I was doing and
asking if I had considered doing a solo album, which at that point I hadn’t, I
went down to speak with Dave Wood, of Neat Records. And we agreed that I’d do a
So it was at
the instigation of Neat Records that you decided to do a solo record....
Yeah, absolutely. So, anyway, I proceeded to write it and I thought that if I’ve
just left a band then I might as well do something completely different. And I’m
always like that. I’ve got that side to me that I do things that people won’t
expect. I’m not some narrow-minded tunnel-visioned one-trick phoney that needs
to be under a banner. So I thought that if you’ve got a white wall and you want
to make a change to that wall, well it’s pointless to paint it a different shade
of white. Let’s make a complete change. So that’s how the whole “Winds Of
Change” thing came around. I’ve always been a fan of 80s Rock music so I though
why don’t I just have some fun with this and in fact it was a very enjoyable
time. Just bloody good fun. And it got a lot of good press....we did the Tommy
Vance show for the BBC...we went down for the Headbanger’s Ball....we did a
video which was on MTV rotation...and, you know, some of the reviews that were
coming out were great, saying things like “My God, this guy can play guitar!”
the personality clashes within Venom.....obviously it wasn’t always like that.
So I’d like to ask you what you remember of your first meeting with Cronos and
how Venom had first got together.
Right, I’ll give you the condensed version of what happened. I am writing a book
about it at the moment...I’ve been asked for a long time to write a book but
I’ve always avoided it. But a couple of years ago I was in Japan and I was
speaking to some people who told me I should really write a book to, you know,
tell the truth about what happened. What’s being said in the press today and
what I read on the internet is complete horseshit.
In fact I’ve
read different versions of how Venom came together. So what is your version of
How myself and Cronos met was.....I was seeing this girl.....well it must have
been way back in 1978 or 1979. She was from Wallsend, which is just outside
Newcastle. A friend of mine lived in Walker, which is a little suburb just
outside Wallsend and we used to go to this local Rock club. It was more like a
church hall.....it was like a youth centre on a Friday evening and it was called
the ‘Meth’, which was short for ‘the Methodist church’. Anyway, I met this girl
there and we started seeing each other. Her best friend used to live in Wallsend
as well and once a week, when her parents used to go out for the evening, all of
us young metalheads would go over to this girl’s house and just hang out, listen
to Metal music.
One night when we went round, my girlfriend’s best friend had a new boyfriend
and he was sitting on the couch as I walked in and I was introduced to him. It
was Conrad, who eventually became Cronos. And we just started talking.....it was
the first time I ever met the guy, I had never seen him before in my life. We
had a mutual interest in music and I said that I had a band. At that point the
guy that I had actually started Venom with, a guy called Dave Rutherford, was in
the process of leaving the band because he wasn’t really into what we were
doing. So I was on the lookout for another rhythm guitarist. Conrad mentioned
that he played guitar but the thing that clinched it for me was that he
mentioned that he was working on a scheme. Back in those days, the UK government
used to put people into these work schemes called ‘Youth Opportunity Schemes’
and he got a chance to work in a recording studio, which was Impulse Recording
Studio in Wallsend.....which obviously was of Neat Records. So for me that was a
double-edged sword. It was a chance to get a rhythm guitarist into the band
and he works in a recording studio so maybe we can get some studio time. We
couldn’t afford a recording studio then.
I invited him to come along to a rehearsal on a Saturday afternoon which was in
a church hall in the West end of Newcastle. He came along and the offer to join
the band was made. It was shortly after that that our bass player we had at the
time left the band. Again he wasn’t really into what we were doing or what we
wanted to do. So Conrad took over bass and that left the original Venom as a
4-piece: myself, Abaddon, Cronos and a vocalist called Clive Archer. That was
the first line-up that went into Impulse Recording Studios to do the first demo.
The way that Cronos became vocalist was: I had written the song ‘Live Like An
Angel, Die Like A Devil’ and I asked him to sing it at a rehearsal one time. The
idea was that Clive Archer was going to go off stage to do a costume
change...even then we were already thinking very theatrically...before coming
back on stage to do a song ‘Schizo’. And, you know, they say everything happens
for a reason. Conrad’s vocals were good and Clive was a little bit uneasy in the
band at that point as well. So then it became the 3-piece that everybody knows.
There is a rehearsal tape from 1979 from this church hall with Clive Archer
singing ‘Angeldust’, ‘Raise the Dead’, ‘Red Light Fever’ and ‘Buried Alive’ so
that’s how early songs such as ‘Buried Alive’ are. A lot of the early material
was written before Conrad joined the band but obviously the book goes into more
So will this
book be published later this year?
Yes. I’m talking to an Italian publisher and there a couple of other publishers
who are interested. I don’t yet know whether it’s going to be released by one
publisher or whether it’s going to be licensed in different countries. Currently
I’m roughly half-way through writing the book. For me it’s more complicated than
putting an album together because besides writing it you’ve got to check dates
and lots of other stuff. There’s so much writing involved, one thing leads to
another and your memory gets jogged
about certain incidents. You know, there’s a lot to go into there
and it doesn’t just concentrate on the Venom thing. I’m taking it from day 1,
from when I was born and all the way through my early childhood,
influences.....it’s basically my life story, with the Venom thing in it as well.
It’s from the beginning to where we are today.
there anything that surprised you while researching and remembering past events
for your book?
Yeah, I’ve spoken to a lot of people and there were a lot of contributors to the
book as well. I was speaking to people like Eric Cook, who was the Venom
manager, and to my longtime friend who I’m still in touch with, Gordon Atkinson,
who was also the first Venom drum roadie in the early days. He was there in
Venom’s heydays, he was there when Metallica were supporting us, he was there at
the early shows in America right to the Seven Dates
of Hell tour.....and he can recall things that I can’t remember and I can recall
things that he can’t remember. So when we got together we started talking about
things and started bouncing things off each other and, well.....fuckin ‘ell
there are a lot of things you tend to forget. And there were a lot of
photographs that Gordon had taken with disposable cameras which he never
developed. So we got a digital converter and we converted all these photographs
and looked at some of the shots and...wow...they brought back so many memories.
When you look at early photographs you get reminded of a lot of things that had
happened, photographs of locations, concerts, who you were with at the time and
stuff like that. It’s gonna be interesting for anybody who’s into the true
history of the band and I’m looking forward to see it come out.
suppose it also provides an insight into a nascent Metal scene....
Yes, of course. There were a lot of great bands around in the North East at that
returned to Venom, around 1989, you had invited another guitarist to play
alongside you. And that wasn’t the only time you shared guitar duties. How do
you feel about being the band’s only guitarist compared with sharing guitar
The person you’re talking about is Al Barnes. He was part of the “Winds Of
Change” project and when the album was released and we were due to do some shows
together I got the call to go back to the band. And at first I refused but Eric
and Abaddon were quite persistent about it so eventually I agreed. I said what
about having another guitarist in, so Al came along. For Venom I don’t think it
works with another guitarist to be perfectly honest. I mean Al did a great job
but personally I think the [ideal] band line-up is a 3-piece.
Having said that, with Dryll, the other project that I had, there was another
guitarist in there, a guy called Andy Metcalfe. And I thoroughly enjoyed being
with another guitarist. It gives you more scope to do things. When I did the
Mantas project, I also had Simon Mars as my second guitarist and again, it was
great, it gives you a fuller sound obviously.
don’t mind either way to be perfectly honest but with MPire it definitely works
best with the three of us. We’ve had offers from other guitarists who wanted to
join us and we had considered bringing in another guitarist for the
future.....it’s still an option I suppose.....but at the end of the day, when we
look at footage of recent tours and concerts that we’ve done we think “Nah, we
don’t really need another guitarist. MPire is the three of us and that’s it.”
For me personally it doesn’t bother me whether I’m on my own or if there’s
somebody else there. It’s good either way.
Do you find
the demands of fans who want to hear you play old Venom material at odds with
your urge to be creative as a musician?
No, absolutely not. With the MPire thing we have it all the time: we have some
fans saying “Why do you play so much Venom stuff? You should leave more room for
MPire songs in the sets”. On the other hand we have fans that are totally happy
to see us play the old Venom classics. But at the end of the day, I wrote those
songs. So if I want to play them, I’ll fucking play them! I enjoy playing them
and I think we play them well so, you know, we’ve got the best of both worlds.
It’s the same like Ace Frehley from Kiss – it doesn’t matter how many solo
albums that guy releases, he will always have to play ‘Cold Gin’, he will always
have to play some Kiss numbers. You’ve got two guys in MPire who were part of
Venom, one was the founding member and one was the vocalist for 3 albums. So
yeah, people wanna hear Venom songs, so yeah we’re gonna play them. Simple as
involved in a wide variety of music genres but is there any other musical
activity outside of Metal you’d be interested in doing, given the opportunity?
That’s a good question.....I’ve had that question asked quite a few times. To be
perfectly honest I really want to do a Blues album. A good heavy Blues album. It
was one of the reasons I wrote ‘Devil’ for the first MPire album. Everything
comes from the Blues and if you analyse the early Venom songs like “Welcome To
Hell” and “Black Metal”, it’s all Rock ‘N’ Roll and Blues licks. Whatever I did
different to them, I don’t know. It’s just the way that they came out. But I’m a
big fan of the Blues and I love the Blues, I love Classic Rock, I love Southern
Rock. Again, it’s that guitar-driven thing that does it for me. The guy I was
talking about before, Gordon Atkinson, he’s got an amazing Blues voice and we’ve
actually recorded ten songs and we might try to do some more. But yeah, I would
love to do a good heavy Blues album. Metal will always be my first love but like
I said, I’m not tunnel-visioned. I think Tony [Dolan] put it perfectly when he
said there are people who are in a band and need to be in a band. Then
there are musicians and songwriters. I would love to think, at the age that I
am, that I’m more of a musician and a song-writer than to have an absolute
necessity to be part of one particular thing. At the end of the day I love all
genres of music. Music is my life.
Where I’m living at the moment there’s a dog-rescue centre and I had so many
instrumental guitar songs sitting on the hard-drive of my computer. And I
thought why not do something with them. So I’ve been releasing one song per
month from my website and 50% of the proceeds are going to go to the dog centre.
They’re self-funded but they do an amazing job. We’ve got a rescued dog
ourselves, me and my girlfriend. So it’s music that I do whenever I have the
time. In fact I’ve got another one that I’m going to release shortly. So yes,
you pay in Euros and 50% of that will go to the dog centre.
Jeff Dunn, or
should I say ‘Mantas’, thank you for your time in answering my questions and
best of luck for all your musical endeavours.
Thanks very much. Good interview. Thank you so much.
2015 (Chris Galea)
Hear Part 1 of the interview
with Mantas :
Hear Part 2 of the interview with Mantas :