As a teenager of the late noughties, ‘Tears Don’t Fall’ was one of those mainstream success stories that opened this reviewer’s ears to heavier music. Many modern metalheads have Bullet For My Valentine, Slipknot and, I suppose, My Chemical Romance to thank for that, in a roundabout sort of way. And so it was with some trepidation that I approached Venom, having moved on from Bullet fairly swiftly at the age of 15 or so and thereafter failed to keep track of their career. What I got was a big blast of nostalgia, but not in a particularly pleasant way.
The problem with metalcore to my ears is that it has become a label for two kinds of bands: bands moving increasingly towards the terribly overwrought ‘post-hardcore’ label, or bands like Bullet who continue the more traditional, early-noughties style of crossing Master Of Puppets with AOR and an emotional sensibility. I find the former largely unlistenable, and the latter unfortunately ruined for me by Trivium’s near-perfect Ascendancy. A cursory listen through Bullet’s back catalogue reveals a metalcore outfit struggling to overcome the fact that they lack the brutal technicality of an August Burns Red, the dynamic range of a Killswitch Engage, or the enigmatic presence of a Matt Heafy, leaving them somewhere in the middle: not consistently heavy enough to grab the listener by the navel, but lacking the talent in melodic songwriting to avoid cliché. And so is the case with Venom.
In the interests of fairness, there are some catchy tracks on Venom: ‘Army of Noise’ contains an impressively acrobatic vocal performance, while ‘You Want a Battle? (Here’s a War)’ is rousing in the same vein as Judas Priest’s ‘Living After Midnight’. ‘Pariah’ contains perhaps the only memorable riffs on the album, and they are genuinely groovy. There are certainly songs here to keep the die-hard fan chanting away, but to others the hooky choruses will grate after a few listens. The production stands up well to scrutiny, as does the chunky, aggressive guitar tone and Matt Tuck’s excellent command of an increasingly wide vocal range. But, for me, that’s about where the positives end
The increasingly irritating tropes of the genre rear their head far too often in Venom
The increasingly irritating tropes of the genre rear their head far too often in Venom. There are those silly computer-assisted guitar stutters, ice-pick discordant screeches over chromatic chugging, and even the dreaded breakdowns that have come to polarise modern metal fans. Foremost among these tropes, though, are the vocals. Many of the choruses (and verses for that matter) transcend ‘hooky’ territory and become quite incredibly ‘cheesy’, as do almost all of the lyrical themes. Bullet seem insistent on getting us to stand up and fight, forget and/or have no regrets, overcome our struggle within, come hell or high water (that last one is literally one of the song titles).
However, at no point are we told what struggles/enemies/memories we should be overcoming/fighting/forgetting or failing to regret. These indistinct themes are typified by the amusingly appalling rhyme: “We’ve nothing left to lose/there’s no-one here but fools” which is not alone in forcing a cringe out of the listener. ‘Playing God’ and the title track are particular offenders here. As a result, not one song on Venom remains consistently heavy throughout, because for every listenable riff and scream, there is inevitably either a toe-curlingly embarrassing lyric or a vocal harmony worthy of McFly.
Despite their questionable and homogenous output, bands like Bullet are undeniably important in the sense that they introduce pop fans to heavy music, which (on balance) is no bad thing. We remember fondly the Kerrang! days of Tears Don’t Fall, Duality and American Idiot, but we move on. Unfortunately, Bullet For My Valentine have not followed suit.