Subterranea: Von On Their Long-Awaited Return (And…Er…Debut!)
There can be few bands in the metal scene – with the notable exception of Andy Sneap’s Hell – whose debut albums have been quite as delayed as Von’s. But then the history of this unique outfit is a long and complicated tale, one that can be traced right back to the late 80s and two young friends, bassist Jason ‘Venien’ Ventura and guitarist/ vocalist Shawn ‘Goat’ Calizo. Together this duo would summon a single-minded and ritualistic beast of unparalleled primitivism and in doing so create what was arguably America’s first black metal band. Enlisting a drummer known as Snake, the group relocated from Hawaii to San Francisco to chase their dreams, but their insanely stripped-down assault proved the antithesis of the technical thrash then favoured by the Bay Area, and the public response proved underwhelming to say the least. Worse was to come, with Jason being forced to return to Hawaii to attend to his dying mother, a move that left him estranged from the rest of the band – who’d been persuaded to move to the city by Venien.
The band recruited Venien’s best friend Joe ‘Kill’ Trevisano, and together the trio crafted a demo entitled Satanic Blood in 1992. They then split, leaving behind only rumour, a few live photos and the three names listed on the sleeve. The band would slowly rise to notoriety in the black metal scene thanks to Varg Vikernes (who not only namedropped the band, but wore their shirt at his murder trial), bands such as Dark Funeral and Taake (who covered their material) and Watain, who named themselves after a song by the band. Shrouded in mystery for almost two decades, the return of the band in 2010 was perhaps the most unexpected extreme metal reunion to date, and many initially treated it as a hoax, particularly since the name Venien was completely unknown, having not been present on the Satanic Blood demo. A show with Watain in London that year proved the band were real, but was badly received – due to both the casual attire of the group and a lack of tightness – and led to a split between Goat and Venien.
“Goat and I parted ways permanently when we got back from London,” Venien sighs. “He called me to quit the band and cancelled all Von bookings I was setting up including Hole In The Sky that year as well as a possible mini-tour with some bands in Europe. The main reason for his departure was due to his fucked-up performance and bad attitude during the London show, so I’m sure there was that embarrassment just tugging at him and he wanted to distance himself from me since he is a spineless jellyfish. I mean, when I came on the stage first and plugged in to my amp and hit a note, shit, there was this great energy and the crowd was chanting ‘Von!’ for a few minutes, then that loser came on shortly after and I heard him yelling at the club people to kick the house lights back on? He wanted to able to see the stage and demanded tons of towels so he could clean up the blood Watain left behind, fucking asshole! That was the beginning of the end and it fucked up the entire set and it went downhill from there.”
Needless to say, relations between the two are at an all-time low. Part of this has to do with Venien’s very public assertions that all CD releases of Von material not released via Von Music Group are essentially bootlegs, since they were released without permission from him, one half of the writing team. Goat, in contrast, is on reasonable terms and has even released his solo albums (under the Von Goat moniker) through the main record label in question. Even meeting the two at the aforementioned London show, it was quickly clear that they were radically different characters, and it seems this current schism is the result of two decades of underlying tensions. Whatever the situation, no one can question the almost unfathomable energy that Venien has put into the project over the last few years. The first evidence of this has just been unleashed upon the world in the shape of the Satanic Blood album, a record comprised of all the early Von material (including two unreleased demos, as well as tracks never recorded before) recreated in a studio environment. Working with guitarist J Giblete – a member of Von since the reformation – and Nachtmystium/Lord Mantis man Charlie Fell, who provided session drums on the album, Venien has crafted an hour’s worth of utter barbarity, retaining the hypnotic repetition and crude riffing but giving them a more expansive (yet thoroughly unpolished) sound.
“In terms of Von and the material that was made in our early years, it generates a certain chemical reaction I would say, and for me the work is always met with a sense of panic, rage, a very special connection to those that feel the way we do, a freedom of expression in a very dark place. The demos Satanic, Satanic Blood, Blood Angel and some videos that captured the songs of the past, it resonates in peoples’ minds as an old time of when a very dark metal was created, and since the beginnings of it was met with no fanfare or acknowledgement, that appeals to wide audience of people that are outcast like us, it’s the Von way even today. The levels, the distortion, the quality, old or new versions of the work, it is all the same to me, they are all the same songs, one is a demo and the other is the final form, an album version.”
Incredibly, the first album is only the beginning of an absolute deluge of activity and, having recreated the band as a touring entity with new personnel, Venien is now preparing to release no fewer than three more Von opuses throughout 2013 as well as a solo project and several other releases related to the Von family.
“Dark Gods is the follow-up to Satanic Blood, and includes all brand new material I’ve been writing and demo tracking since the early 90s and still am writing,” he enthuses. “But since I have so much material and it is a huge story to tell, it went from one album to three albums. We just performed a few cuts from all these albums in our own event we call the Ritual Of The Black Mass in LA and soon New York. This will become our travelling tour to showcase all my works from all the Von albums, and even the 30-plus tracks from my solo Venien album called Tribal Blood. I’ve been talking and collaborating with Niklas Kvarforth and Alvaro Lillo from Watain and am dropping Alvaro’s solo album called Kako Daimon, so it’s going to be a busy year in 2013 for Von Records. So all in all there are around 70 songs coming your way, a couple extra surprises, but for now you should have Satanic Blood in your hands, and that is just the beginning.”
Satanic Blood is out now via Von Records.