When Black Flag opened for Venom at Trenton, New Jersey’s City Gardens on April 2, 1986, there was not an abundance of goodwill in the backstage area. Henry Rollins and his close friend Joe Cole, who roadied for Black Flag, made Venom a figure of fun that night, mocking them to the audience, to their entourage, and to their faces. (It actually makes the story of Slayer’s Tom Araya pissing on Cronos’ head seem not so bad in comparison.) Black Flag had been touring America since January, and was two months away from breaking up, which probably contributed to the vibe.
Afterward, Cole took a tape of Venom’s set from that night, cut out the songs, and spliced together what remained. The result was a collage of singer/bassist Cronos’ between-song patter, a manic, Satanic stand-up routine that is eminently quotable. Thurston Moore’s Ecstatic Peace! put it out as a seven-inch in 1991, and the Beastie Boys sampled it on Check Your Head.
Both Cole’s and Rollins’ diaries from the 1986 tour have been published, so it is possible to reconstruct something of the historical circumstances. Joe Cole describes the show in a diary entry from Planet Joe:
4.2.86 Trenton, NJ: Tonight’s show with Venom was like living Spinal Tap for real. They play “Black Metal.” Satanic rock stars! They acted like they were playing Madison Square Gardens [sic]. The drummer, Abadon [sic], had a drum roadie by his drum set holding a fan on him so that his hair looked like it was blowing in the winds of Hell. The guitar player, Mantas, kept playing these cheesy metal leads and then pointing at the crowd making evil possessed grimaces to let them know he was at war with Satan. The most Spinal Tap of all though was the bass player singer, Cronos. He kept telling the crowd that they were wild. “Aaaaaahhhh, aaaaaaahhhh!!! You guys are wiiiiiiillld! You wanna hear something that will kick yer balls off? The name of this next song is called Love Amongst The Dead. Pretty sicky, eh? If you’ve got any lighters, you can get them out like this guy here! Oookaaaay! Here we go!” I don’t think Cronos could even play his bass. He mostly flexed his muscles, stuck his tongue out at the crowd, gave them the Hail Satan sign while telling them how wild they were. He was delivering the goods and was an awesomely evil rock n’ roll animal. Rollins, [late-period Black Flag bassist] Cel and I drew pentagrams and 666 on the palms of our hands like Richard Ramirez and flashed them at the band members so they could see that we too were at war with Satan. I was over Mantas’ guitar monitor flashing my pentagram, giving him the hail Satan sign while he was in the middle of another cheese lead. He looked up at me, pointed, smiled and winked. At the end of the night we were walking around saying “Hail Satan” to everyone. We are now born again Satanists. “Hail Satan!” has become our new greeting.
And here are the relevant passages from Rollins’ Get in the Van:
4.2.86 Trenton NJ: [...] Now we’re in Trenton. We’re playing with Venom tonight. Joe, C’el and I drew big pentagrams on our hands and every time we see these metal guys, we flash our palms and say, “Hail Satan.” Good fun.
The Venom boys aren’t here yet. Last night in Atlanta, they refused to play their gig. They missed their flight to Trenton. We’re waiting around to play.
[...] Got very little sleep last night and I’m feeling it now. This is an early show. We’ll be done with our set by about 8:30. The only drag is that Venom is using our PA so we have to wait around until they’re done.
4.3.86 Morgantown WV: Played that show with Venom last night. I thought we played real good. When I came out onstage, I did some Satan raps and shit. The best one was “Give me an ‘S’!... Give me an ‘A’!... etc. What does that spell?... Satan!!” It was hot. The crowd was into it. I said, “Hail Satan! Party hearty and surf naked!” We dedicated a few numbers to Satan and had a wicked good time.
Venom took almost an hour to get onstage. They had roadies tuning their guitars and shit. Finally, they hit stage. They were hilarious. It was like seeing Spinal Tap. The drummer had a guy that held an electric fan next to him and kept him high and dry. The singer/bass player was named Kronos [sic]. He had some great raps. He got the crowd to chant what I thought was “Black Funky Metal” over and over which I thought was pretty cool and then I thought that maybe I was wrong about these guys. I found out later that it was “Black Fucking Metal.” Oh, excuse me. I expected them to go into “Sex Farm Woman” at any second. The guitar player was so bad it was painful. I had a great time. Joe, C’el and I were hanging in back saying “Hail Satan” to people and prancing around like idiots. What a night. The bass player was hilarious. He would wiggle his tongue and roll his eyes. But he also would fix his hair every fifteen seconds or so.
After an hour of “I can’t fucking hear you!” they said, “Good fucking night, New fucking Jersey!” and ran for the dressing room.
As Kronos was going to his motel destined ride, Joe jumped in front of him and laid a “Hail Satan” on his ass. The drummer came into our dressing room and asked [late-period Black Flag drummer] Anthony if he knew who was responsible for the drums being fucked up. He also said they were having problems with their wardrobe.
Load-out was great. All the Venom management and roadies were there and we were staring at them — laughing and doing Spinal Tap/Venom raps. They bummed out real bad, but they didn’t say anything. I have a feeling that there will be Venom raps going around our camp for a long time now.
Venom is weak. Everything about them is weak. They can’t even play. They had a bunch of roadies to do everything. Weak, weak, weak. I would love to play with fucking “heavy metal” bands more often. It was fun crushing them. It’s all lights and makeup. What bullshit. Venom suck. They are so full of shit. What a bad joke. They don’t sweat and they probably don’t even fuck.
To see Joe Cole rise from the grave and lay a “Hail Satan” on you, skip to the 51-minute mark in Dave Markey’s tour documentary Reality 86’d.
Wild, man, wiiiild!