First off, Bathory is a band that holds significant importance for me. Quorthon's accomplishments are worthy of the utmost respect and admiration. The man was a musical genius and created classics that have stood the test of time. The old Bathory albums, more or less, defined black metal for future generations and the Viking-era material created an entirely different sub-genre of metal. Ultimately, while each band had their share of highs and lows, Bathory reached heights that Venom dared not even attempt. Nonetheless, it is very difficult to believe any claims that Bathory was not influenced by Venom. The question remains, was Venom part of the foundation on which Bathory built its legacy?
Obviously, many noticed the similarities right from the outset. Some derided his work as Venom worship or called Bathory a simple clone band, which was not the case at all. Unfortunately, it would see that the negative criticism led Quorthon to try his best to distance himself from Venom, as much as possible. It is understandable, to some degree, but it does not change the facts. But what are the facts?
"I don't think there are any similarities musically between Venom and Bathory at all. But I do think Black Metal - which I heard for the first time 3 months after we formed Bathory - is one of the best albums ever made because it has genuine feeling. At that time there was no speed or thrash around, so Venom were very unique, even though they wimped out later on and spoiled the whole thing. I mean At War With Satan and Possessed are shit compared to Black Metal."
In this 1988 interview, Quorthon seems to have slipped up and actually admitted the influence, when he was asked directly:
In 1994, another interviewer attempted to call Quorthon out on this matter, citing that the self-titled debut album was a rip-off of Venom. The response given was somewhat vague, yet possibly exposed part of the deeper reason for this denial:
"Not true at all! It was coincidence. I never really listened to Venom before we recorded our debut record. If you speak to true black metal fans, they'll cite ourselves and Venom as influences. They don't regard Bathory as having ripped off Venom at all. We are equally as important to the scene."
Quorthon says that he never really listened to Venom before the recording of the album. This could be taken in several ways, the most obvious being that he was aware of Venom and, maybe, was trying to imply that he didn't listen to them all that much. As in, perhaps, he gave the albums a few spins or something to that effect.
But the true motivation may lie in the comment that followed, regarding how the fans see Bathory as equally important to the black metal scene. To admit that Venom had a strong influence on Bathory would be to, somehow, limit its importance. Indeed, Bathory was incredibly important for black metal. Quorthon took what Venom had done and perfected it. There's no shame in that, just like there's no shame in the fact that Venom, openly, admit to having been influenced by the dark atmosphere of early Black Sabbath, the speed of Motörhead and the attitude of punk rock. But, as Quorthon has said in the past, it was only a coincidence that they shared the same influences. He's quick to point out Black Sabbath and Motörhead, as well as punk bands like GBH and The Exploited, as influencing and inspiring the early Bathory albums. Somehow, though, it would seem that he was unaware of Venom's existence. Yet the timeline for this 'discovery' keeps changing.
In this 1996 interview, when asked about his knowledge of the underground scene in the early days, he had this to say:
"We had no idea there were so many bands. It was us, Sodom and Celtic Frost, previously Hellhammer. So I went to a record store were I knew a guy who worked and he said, "Here's a band who sounds exactly like you". He had been with us in the rehearsal place, and he put on an album and it was Venom. I was like, what the fuck, are there other bands who play that kind of music too?"
This was, supposedly, around the time between the release of Scandinavian Metal Attack and the recording of Bathory's debut album. Again, acknowledgment of Venom's existence prior to writing and recording the first album. Also, in this same interview, he discusses the artwork for the first record, and lets another bit of information slip out:
"It was a week at the most before the cover was due to be printed, [...] they said we had to make a group photo, a nice cover, front and back [...] in a book I had there was this Baphomet pentagram, but Venom had already done that on their first album, so I thought why not copy this and draw a pair of horns to make it look a bit different."
This contradicts what he wrote, a few years later, as he was working on a book that would present the history of Bathory. The material has since been published on the official Bathory website.:
"Both Venom and Bathory independently borrowed the goat and the pentagram from the paraphernalia and symbolism of the Satanic cult and literature."
So, which is it? Quorthon either knew of the Venom cover, prior to the release of the first Bathory record, or he only heard them later on and discovered that they, coincidentally, used similar imagery. In any event, it was already established that Quorthon knew quite a bit about Venom, before the first Bathory record was released. Yet, in 2001, his story changed again:
"The fanzines and magazines back in the early 80's had a field day when reviewing our first album. The only thing that came to their mind was Venom and so we'd be called Venom clones for years, when in fact we couldn't see or hear any resemblance at all once we actually got to hear Venom."
While not coming right out and saying it, this is a strong implication that the members of Bathory (of which there were three, at the time) had never even heard Venom, prior to the release of the first record. It is presented as if, by recording and releasing their first album, only then were they connected with the underground scene and then became aware of all the other bands that were doing similar things:
"It wasn't until we had our first album out in the summer of `84 and fanzines would contact us and ask for an interview, that we all of a sudden realized there were tons of other young bands around the world doing basically the same thing as us."
Throughout the years, those in the Bathory camp were very defensive on this issue. This is from the official website:
"Around the time the second album The Return of the Darkness and Evil was released, a theory frequently referred to as the "Venom-clones" theory began to shape a lot of people's notion of this brand new act from Stockholm. Probably due to the fact there was very little else to compare with at the time, Bathory - along with probably most other extreme metal acts of the early 80's - would be regarded as an act influenced by Venom exclusively."
Notice that last part, "infuenced by Venom exclusively". Again, the author does not deny that there was an influence, yet only goes so far as to say that Venom was not the only influence. The author continued:
"The fact that Bathory had only just heard about this Newcastle act when interviews for the debut album were conducted in late 1984 and early 1985, was a fact that seemed all the more pointless to defend in the maelstrom of disbelief that would begin to shape much of the media climate in the mid 80's."
Of course, it was quite difficult to believe, when the story kept changing. In one interview, Quorthon said that he heard Venom a few months after Bathory was formed, prior to the recording of the first album. Later, he says that he heard them in-between the first and second Bathory records, because a friend came by their rehearsal space and let him check out this similar band. Then, the story became this:
"I know for a fact I heard a Venom album first time just after the release of the first Bathory album. It was because of our debut album released [...] through Tyfon Records, that Neat Records recognized Tyfon to be a potential distributor of Neat albums in Scandinavia. Hence a promotion package was delivered including [...] the first and second Venom album. I picked all of those Neat albums up at the office one day and had a listen. It must have been in early December 1984. I can’t remember what I thought about it. But it certainly didn’t effect the Bathory material at that time, with the exception I might have been encouraged to deepen the Satanic element more than had been the case with our debut."
So, here, we have a vague admission that Venom had some influence on Bathory's lyrics. Yet, still, Quorthon vehemently denied any musical inspiration:
"If you listen to GBH tracks [...], it’s just so obvious where early Bathory came from in terms of rhythm, song construction and energy. [...] the base for early Bathory was primarily Oi-punk and not something that came out of Newcastle. Not that this is an attempt to make an excuse, or trying to turn no back on anything, or re-writing history here, it's a fact: Bathorys roots were closer to Oi-punk than anything else. Mix the sound and style of Motörhead with the gloom and darkness of Black Sabbath, and let that rest on a solid base of GBH. What you get is something that's raw, primitive, noisy and intense early Bathory."
Of course, for any Venom fan (or merely anyone to have ever read or listened to an interview with Cronos, himself), it's obvious that Quorthon has listed off several of the very bands that influenced Venom, right from the start. It could be a brilliant deception, to avoid admitting the influence of a particular band by simply citing their influences as your own and claiming it was all a big coincidence. Now, I am not asserting that this was the case, here. Traces of Motörhead and GBH are very clear in the early work of Bathory, but the fact remains that Quorthon goes out of his way to deny the influence of another important band, Venom.
It would not be entirely impossible to fathom that he had not heard Venom until later on, but his own story changed too many times to be believed. One might say that, as time passed, the memories faded and the story was altered. However, this is not the kind of thing that Quorthon would forget. Any time that it was brought up, he became very passionate about it and spoke of this 'discovery' in detail... It's just that the details were rarely the same.
Early on, the claim was that he first heard Venom a few months after the formation of Bathory, in the summer of 1983, prior to the first record and even before Scandinavian Metal Attack. Later, he claims that a friend brought the album by their rehearsal place and gave him a listen, in late 1984/early 1985, before the recording of The Return... Then, the story changes and states that he came across the first two Venom albums in the offices of Tyfon records, again in-between the first two Bathory records, and gave them a listen then. He insists that he wasn't all that impressed, though may have been inspired to write darker lyrics, based on the lyrics of Venom. More on that later.
While claiming in later years that the Venom albums made no real impression on him, he had earlier stated (in 1987) that Black Metal was one of the best albums ever, following that up by expressing disappointment in At War With Satan and Possessed. So, at different points, he seems unsure about when he first discovered Venom. He's also not clear about whether or not he liked them, though several interviews he would go on to lament the downfall of Venom, among other 80's bands.
So, what has been established at this point? Quorthon's story regarding how and when he discovered Venom is very inconsistent, as is his opinion on the music. Still, does this truly prove that Venom had a strong influence on Bathory? It would seem to imply that there was an effort to downplay, or totally deny, that Venom held any significance for him as a songwriter and musician. The sound was the result of a coincidental sharing of musical influences between the two bands and nothing more, according to Quorthon. The most he would admit was that there may have been some lyrical inspiration, in early 1985. Then how would he explain this?:
"I gasp for air
I scream for sight
and fight against torment and dread
Calling the vengeance
I tear at the lid and
promise to raise from the dead"
- Bathory, 1984
And the original source for this:
"My lungs gasp for air, my eyes scream for sight
I promise the rise of my body this night"
"I tear at the lid, my fingers they bleed"
- Venom, 1982
For someone that, supposedly, didn't hear Venom until '84/'85 (according to one version of the story), he sure had some true connection with the same spirit or force that inspired Cronos when he penned those lyrics two years earlier. Or, it could be that Bathory was inspired by Venom? Are we really to believe that Quorthon didn't lift song titles from Venom, for the first Bathory record? It's a mere coincidence that in 1982, Venom recorded songs titled "Raise the Dead" and "Sacrifice", and then Bathory did the same in 1984, with no knowledge that these titles had already been used? Not one coincidence, but two, so far. But of the third ripped-off song title, there is no question. The first two could be said to be somewhat generic and not completely impossible for each band to have come up with, independently, despite the lyrical plagiarism evident in the Bathory songs. But the most damning evidence is "In Conspiracy With Satan" which was, of course, inspired by Venom's "In League With Satan".
So, in conclusion, the evidence seems to be against Quorthon, in this matter. Now, am I accusing him of completely ripping off Venom and then denying it for years? No. It is plainly obvious that Motörhead, GBH, Black Sabbath, the oi-punk bands and Venom were all influences on the early sound of Bathory, in one way or another. The problem may have been that people automatically assumed that the band was a 100% Venom clone, when that wasn't true. The quick answer to this is to just deny ever hearing Venom until after the first album, thus eliminating any possible influence and trying to rid himself of this tag as being a Venom clone. Bathory was incredibly important for the black metal scene and to be labeled as a simple clone band would have been detrimental to the band's legacy, in Quorthon's eyes.
The point of this article is not to cast Quorthon as a liar or to damage his character in any way. First off, he is no longer alive to defend himself, so this would be terribly inappropriate. More often than not, he always proved himself to be very sincere and open when speaking to the media, or addressing the Bathory Hordes. It would appear that he was a very honest and genuine man, but this one 'controversy' always lingered. I would have been very interested to hear an explanation for all of these inconsistencies and coincidences, as there are just too many to fathom.
Is it completely out of the realm of possibility that two separate bands came along, a few years apart, and were both influenced by the same types of music and then mixed these influences together with their own ideas and came up with similar results? The answer is, of course, no. However, the circumstantial evidence at least creates reasonable doubt as to the extent of the similarities, ranging from image, song titles, album art, music, lyrics and vocal approach.
It isn't a bad thing to be inspired by Venom. Countless bands were. Many of them went on to be influential in their own rights, such as Slayer, Hellhammer and so on. Bathory took what Venom created and perfected it, and Quorthon should have been proud of that achievement. In the long run, Bathory was proven to be the more influential of the two bands, shaping the sound of black metal and creating sort of a template for those that followed. Whether or not any of the seeds for this came from Venom, it was Quorthon's brilliance that brought it into existence and nothing can ever erase that.