VERSUS: Welcome To Hell vs. Bathory

VERSUS: Welcome To Hell vs. Bathory

Welcome to another edition of Versus, the series where we look at two albums in metal history, and compare them to each other, and see which one was the better record.

In this edition, we are going fast, thrash and ready to bash. Two classic speed/thrash metals that are influential, in being the origins of the black metal genre, as well as some would consider these bands the first wave of black metal. We got a classic from England with an iconic satanic cover that strewn the back of battle vests from years to come. The other, a Swedish band that some have cited as potentially being the first official black metal release in the genre. Let’s see what made these records great and influential in the first wave of black metal in this battle I’m calling “The Origin of The Devil’s Music”.

In this corner, we have England’s Venom, with their 1981 debut Welcome to Hell. With this record, and their 1982 follow-up Black Metal (which some have cited this release, from the album's title, spawned the genre’s name), were considered major influences in not only black metal, but thrash metal and extreme metal as a whole. The band brought intense guitar playing and satanic lyrics that caused many non-metalheads to clutch their pearls with the band’s dark imagery and subject matter. Let’s take a look at this legendary release.

Opening the record is "Sons of Satan", with a gritty distorted bass and fast-paced drumming, it gives off a Motörhead feeling to the song with the fusion of punk and thrash.  Conrad "Cronos" Lant's vocals are punching in the mix over the bass and drums. I love the wailing guitars behind the vocals in the verse section. The band hangs back while the guitar solo of Jeffrey "Mantas" Dunn stands out before kicking back into the main riff. With the gritty lo-fi/demo sounding production, you can hear where black metal would get that rough mix sound in the genre.  

Followed up is the title track, featuring a nice new wave of British heavy metal style opening riff. The track leans more towards that style, picking up the pace when the chorus kicks in. Giving off a perfect crowd chanting chorus of the song's title. With female spoken word setting atmosphere and with Cronos' vocals at the same time, the song builds into a fast-pounding drum section by Tony "Abaddon" Bray. With the bands intensity on the track, and a chorus that would sound awesome shouted from the crowd, this a standout track off the album. "Schizoid" continues the Motörhead sounding bass tone and gritty harsh vocals of Cronos. With a little slower tempo of the song, more leaning again towards the new wave of British heavy metal sound, the song builds with driving guitar, with a great yell from Cronos going into the guitar solo. The band gives the listener a break from headbanging with the short interlude "Mayhem with Mercy"

"Poison" continues the thrashy, almost proto-crust punk sound that Venom delivers on the record. A headbanger of a track, with driving and pounding drums, matched with aggressive bass and guitars ringing through the track. "Live Like an Angel (Die Like A Devil)" is another thrashy track and the band firing on all cylinders with a "no breaks, just speed" style of playing. The song "Witching Hour" starts off with a slow bass tinged building of atmosphere, before the guitars kick in with thumping double bass in the mix, before the band continues the speed metal-laden sound that 80's thrash was known for.

The other standout track is "In League With Satan". With pounding drums building with a driving riff. Vocals dripped in reverb and effects, the song builds with drum hits into the chorus. Another crowd chanting chorus, accenting with the drums and driving riff. Cronos' vocals are on point on the track. Though a mid-tempo paced track, it is different from the rest of the album and adds dynamics to the record as a whole. With wailing guitars at the three quarter's mark, it adds mood and tension behind the thumping drums. The album closes with "Red Light Fever", opening with a violin section piece before returning to the band's chaotic playing and a heavy sounding riff, drenched in reverb and distortion, bringing the album to a thunderous close.

Their opponents are Sweden’s Bathory, with their 1984 self-titled debut. One of the other bands, along with Mercyful Fate, were apart of the first wave of black metal and would influence iconic black metal bands like Mayhem and Darkthrone. The band’s debut continued the classic heavy metal sound, mixed with thrash and speed, with a grittier production style and more aggressive vocals and fast-paced playing. Let’s take a look at this record and see how it stacks up to their opponents.

Opening the album is the intro "Storm of Darkness". A three minute long intro, with a lot of atmosphere of bells and thuds. Definitely a SLOW build intro. Once you've heard the first minute, that's pretty much the same for the remaining two. Then we start with a strong track "Hades". A great heavy opening riff and pounding drums in the mix. Quorthon's vocals are very Venom-esque, but also show more gravvely and gritty sound to them, where you can hear the influence that the second wave of black metal would take in their vocals. A very thrashy/speed metal sound in the guitar playing, with the guitars soaked in reverb.

"Reaper" continues the thrash and proto-black metal sound. The vocals are higher in the mix, so you hear and understand the lyrics better on the track. With a great guitar solo and drums pounding throughout it. You can hear the black metal influence a lot behind the thrashiness of the song. "Necromancy" has a more rougher, demo-like sound in the production and is a mid-tempo track compared to what we've heard so far. More leaning towards heavy metal then speed and thrash, it is still a good song, but so far, not one of the best tracks on the album.

"Sacrifice" is a standout track for this album. With an awesome sounding opening thrash riff, that sounds like it could appear on any Metallica or Megadeth classic album. The song is thrash incarnate and is relentless in the band's musicianship. Drums are effortless and punishing on the track, with just the same beat but faster throughout the whole song. This is a great track from the band.

Following that track is "In Conspiracy With Satan". Another thrashy track with bass ringing behind the guitar, accenting it without doing too much. Songs like "Armageddon" and "War" continue the bands thrashy, driving, furious playing with Quorthon's vocals and guitar just going at full speed and giving his all in the playing. With a short outro track, the album comes to a sobering close.

Now that we have listened to these classic metal records, who wins this battle of evil sounding proto-black metal? The answer is Venom with Welcome To Hell. This record is an overall headbanger of a record. This record you can hear the influence it would have on black metal and after listening to it, maybe in the crust punk sound. Cronos' vocals were better sounding compared to Bathory. Bathory's debut is still a great record and it is a great stepping point to what the band would evolve into, solidifying their black metal sound with the album Blood Fire Death and also became pioneers of the Viking metal genre with the release of  Hammerheart. Quorthon would continue Bathory with twelve releases, as well as two solo albums, before tragically passing away from heart failure in 2004.

Venom would continue making music, with constant band break ups and reunions. The band would release their fifteenth album Storm The Gates in 2018 before splitting into Venom and Venom, Inc. Venom Inc was Mantas' version of the band, releasing two albums, with their most recent record with 2022's There's Only Black. The Cronos' led Venom hasn't released anything new since Storm The Gates, but Venom fans will be hopeful for the band to return soon.

Both bands are considered influential in the extreme metal scene and a major influence in the black metal genre. These records are great instances in the origin of the genre and both have great discographies to check out if you like these records and want to see how the bands' evolve their sound and continue in different musical directions, especially Bathory

Do you agree with my decision? Who do you think should have won this battle? Cast your vote below and see if other people agree with you. I’m Justin, your friendly neighborhood metalhead, for This Day in Metal and this has been Versus.

VS: Welcome To Hell vs. Bathory - Online Poll -
What’s your opinion? Vote now: Welcome To Hell, Bathory…

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