Doom metal at times can be very serious business, however Serpent Venom – who deliver a thick and filthy doseage of Electric Wizard meets Saint Vitus – may just win the prize for the friendliest guys in metal. After they put on a thunderous and crushing show at Hammerfest V, clearly having fun onstage, I caught up with Gaz and Nick to discuss Sabbath, influences and playing with legends…
First of all, would you like to say who you are and what you do in Serpent Venom.
GAZ: Sure, yeah. I’m Gaz and I do vocals in Serpent Venom.
NICK: I’m Nick and I apparently play bass.
I kind of wanted to get a backstory of the band, like how did you all get together, meet up and form the band, all that kind of stuff.
GAZ: Paul, our drummer, met up with a guy called Pete, they were jamming in band called Orpheus Child quite a long time ago. They had a bass player called Tas, who left to join Electric Wizard. All his friends, they were doing that for a while, I was friends with Paul. Tas left, Paul basically phoned me up and said, do you fancy coming in and having a jam with us. I was like, yeah that would be great! We did that for a while… we needed a bass player, but we’d known Nick for a while through various gigs and things like that, and seen him about, having beers and stuff, and a mutual friend of ours basically put us in contact with him and me and Nick met up. I gave him like a CD of the stuff and said come down and try, and basically that was that. We recorded an album, Pete then left to move to America, then we got Roland in, who I used to be in a band with as well, a band called Sloth – again a guy we’ve all known for years and that sort of got us to where we are now.
NICK: We got off the plane after going on tour across Europe and we were all standing there at Gatwick Airport, going; ‘that felt really fucking cool… So, do you fancy rehearsing next week?’ And he was like, ‘…yeah’. And there we go! [Laughs]
GAZ: Yeah, we all had common interests and stuff, and I hadn’t been doing anything for a long time. I always was kinda talking to Paul about doing a band that sounded like a fucking dirty Pentagram, sorta stuff, and you know, he was like, well I’m in this band…
NICK: Yeah, again, I got a fucking phonecall from Paul saying, ‘are you up for playing in a band?’ And I’m like, I grew up watching these guys play in other bands, and I was like… yeah, of course I fucking will! I mean, I’m a guitar player by trade – played extreme metal – and I thought, well, I can’t be arsed to play that anymore, and [he] said, do you want to play in a doom band? Of course I wanna play in a doom band. And I’d been arsing around on bass in a pisstake death metal band for a while, and yeah… it was nice, these guys set me up for it. Me and Gaz went down the pub and that was it really; we started rehearsing after, didn’t we?
GAZ: Yeah, we did, yeah. That’s how it all sort of happened.
Just mingling in the circles then.
NICK: Yeah, I mean we all kind of knew each other really.
GAZ: Doom scene really, doom gigs, mutual friends…
NICK: Yeah, doing doom gigs and meeting friends and stuff.
GAZ: Everyone knows everyone really.
It’s pretty good in London with the doom scene then?
GAZ: It is! Everybody seems to know everybody, yeah.
NICK: Yeah, and if you don’t know someone; they know someone you know.
GAZ: It’s kinda handy!
NICK: It’s sorta like: ‘OH! You’re so-and-so’s mate in…’ and yeah, ‘the one who pissed themselves at fucking Cathedral and Electric Wizard’, ‘yeah, that’s right’. It’s cool, we have a good laugh, we get on really well. Just four idiots having a laugh, playing noisy music and doing alright, really…
GAZ: Yeah, it’s not bad, not bad at all…
NICK: For fuck’s sakes, we’re here. [Laughs]
Listening to your music you’re obviously influenced by Saint Vitus, I was wondering how excited you are to be playing alongside them?
GAZ: Something I never thought… I mean, we’re on different stages, but even to be on the same bill as them, on the same day…
NICK: We wouldn’t have given a shit if we were on a different day!
GAZ: Exactly, just to be on the same fucking poster with them is an honour. Candlemass, again, and Angel Witch as well…
NICK: Everybody’s playing really… they’re all names, it’s wow!
GAZ: Never thought that would happen, I mean, I was lucky enough – years ago – to play with Spirit Caravan with my old band and it still blows me away. Y’know, but yeah! [Laughs] I’m at a loss of words for this bit… fanboy worship, I suppose.
NICK: Yeah, but the minute you lose that grounding, you might as well put your instruments down and fuck off really. We’re just human beings playing music for entertainment and we’re doing it for a laugh, for ourselves, and to be able to do it here, or anywhere! We build up friendships with all the bands we play with, great guys, y’know, Conan, Undersmile, Black Magician, Grimpen Mire… all of these guys we jam with and we always get on with them and we always become friends: it just goes to show it’s the best scene in the world.
GAZ: The whole scene in England at the moment is really healthy, there’s so many good bands. There’s another band, Atragon from Edinburgh, who we played with last night… they just come out crushing.
NICK: Blinding… well worth checking out.
GAZ: Bast we played with as well…
NICK: They’re fucking awesome.
GAZ: There’s so many to mention at the moment.
NICK: There are these hated bands for some reason, people just don’t quite get them, and it’s like, we get them involved in shows with us because then people will watch them, y’know… they’re stunning. Simply stunning. There’s loads of bands – millions, hundreds – everyone we’ve played with has been great.
GAZ: It’s just brilliant.
NICK: Christ, we’re just idiot fanboys and we love it. [Laughs]
Well it’s good you get to play alongside personal heroes…
GAZ: It is, we love it. Y’know, when you’re a kid listening to stuff like “Born Too Late” or “Hallow’s Victim” [Saint Vitus albums], you never imagine that one day you’ll be on the same bill as them.
NICK: Even for me with the noisy stuff, we got to play a show with Voivod, and I love Voivod – and so does Roland – and we were both like, ‘Oh my god, we’re playing with Voivod… but we’re opening up for them, and Doom as well, oh my fucking god’. Crust punk legends!
GAZ: I was on a honeymoon and got a text in Mexico from them saying, ‘We got a gig when you come back’. I was like, ‘Oh yeah, who with?’ and it was like…
NICK: Voivod and Doom! [Laughs]
GAZ: I nearly fell over the balcony! [Laughs]
NICK: It was fucking killer mate, y’know, it was just a stroke of luck really. It was Roland’s other band, End Of Level Boss, couldn’t do it, they had some conflicting trouble with members living in other places, couldn’t fly down from Scotland and Harry, their singer, just said, ‘Put them on! They’re a good London band!’ And we did, we played, we were like, fuck… we’re standing shoulder-to-shoulder with heroes. It never gets old. [Laughs] Never gets old!
I was just wondering what other influences you have, in and outside of music.
GAZ: I dunno really, generally a lot of it is the doom stuff, for me and Nick, we watch a lot of horror films and stuff like that. I read a lot of historical books and stuff like that, about the old battles of years ago, the brutal kind of fucking slaying people and stuff like that, and old kings…
NICK: It’s ok, he is sane, he is sane.
GAZ: Y’know, there’s all that…
I’m sure Kerry King does that as well anyway.
GAZ: Yeah, exactly.
NICK: He’s sorta on the naughty side with some of his flags and memorabilia, him and Jeff [Hanneman], dodgy fuckers!
GAZ: I think with regards to lyrics, I generally try… I mean, I try to veer off the horror thing because a lot of people are doing that, and I kind of look at the human mind. Sometimes I think real-life can be a little bit more scarier than fiction sometimes, y’know, with people going mental and doing fucking mad stuff. That’s what I kinda try to go towards now, especially on the lyrical side, definitely.
NICK: Certainly with doom as well, it is particularly miserable music, and I think a lot of the time… me personally, I dunno, correct me if I’m wrong Gaz, but I think lyrically it’s all metaphors for stuff that is perhaps experienced.
GAZ: Yeah, absolutely.
NICK: You got the blatancy of Born Too Late and Dying Inside, y’know, it’s about getting the piss taken out of you for being who you are and being a chronic alchi and stuff like that. But some of the stories that Gaz is telling I sometimes think, I know what’s going on in his life and stuff, and I think he’s drawing on that experience and put it into a story, and people will look at that – as with any doom lyrics – they’ll pull their own interpretation out of it.
People can relate.
GAZ: Yeah, yeah, exactly.
NICK: That’s what I do with fucking songs, I mean, Lord Vicar wrote a song called Endless November and it’s the most sorrowful fucking song in the world.
GAZ: One of my favourite songs by them I think.
NICK: Yeah! It’s just an acoustic number they did and listening to it back, its like, that fucked me up. I got really drunk and tearful one night, and Gaz is the same.
GAZ: I don’t want to get too morbid on it, but my old man passed away when that album came out and I remember that song really hit a chord with me, y’know? Lyrically and the atmosphere of the whole thing… things like that, I think, in doom, there’s so much emotion in it. It can touch you man.
NICK: Music in general, everybody’s got a favourite song for a sneaky little reason – it’s not just a riff where you’re like “WHEY” and banging your head like a nutter to Slayer or Morbid Angel or whatever. But there’s something there just grabs you and that is what drew me to listening to all this stuff, and the fact that I get to play this and make it all up as well is really cool, certainly with the level of people I’m with as well… I mean fucking hell, the guys I’m a band with, amazing. Me and Roland knock riffs off of each other: I’ll play a riff and he’ll say, ‘yeah, that’s quite good’, and I’m like, nod of approval, ‘yay, I like that, wicked!’; then he’ll play something and I’ll be like, ‘fuck’. Then we tie them into the new stuff and it’s amazing, y’know. It’s such a pleasure to bounce ideas off of everybody and have this situation…
GAZ: Yeah, this is the easiest band I’ve ever been in. [Laughs] There’s never any conflict or anything.
NICK: We’ve all been there and done it, we’ve experienced it.
GAZ: We sometimes bang heads over certain riffs and what have you but generally we’re all in it for the greater good.
NICK: There for the craic and the craic’s good.
NICK: We all like a beverage and a laugh… and we’re very silly. [Laughs] The most silly, idiot doom band ever. We’re not My Dying Bride or Paradise Lost, just walk around moping, we’re actually quite up-beat and take the piss out of everybody and ourselves all the time.
That’s kinda what I think: Eyehategod are quite heavy and doomy, but at the same time, they have riffs you just want to get drunk to.
GAZ: Absolutely, absolutely.
NICK: It fires you up, yeah.
GAZ: Definitely, definitely man.
NICK: I love that.
Those are the best riffs!
GAZ: Yeah, the riffs just make you wanna sit there and drink yourself into oblivion are kinda the best riffs I think. [Laughs]
NICK: Pretty much, yeah. Or you just slap it on in the car and put your foot down and drive into a bridge or something for a laugh.
GAZ: Or make you want to slow down to a complete stop and just fuck everyone else off. [Laughs]
NICK: Yeah, I guess you could do that! [Laughs] Yeah, put You Suffer from Napalm Death – WURGH! – just slam your brakes on right in the middle of rush hour traffic… doesn’t make any sense, but you know, anyway… [Laughs]
2013 is going to be a big year for doom metal because of the return of Black Sabbath and the new album. Are you excited or nervous about the new album? I noticed you’re [Nick] wearing a “No Bill! No Sabbath!” shirt.
NICK: I think… yes, I was wearing that because I really think they should have sorted the fucking… whatever’s behind the scenes is driving them, it sounds so financial, it’s unreal; ‘Well, y’know you’re not writing riffs so you’re getting less’, so the whole percentages thing… whatever disagreements they have over that, I think they’ve been through too much, as friends.
They’ve been together their whole lives.
NICK: In and out. Remember when they got together and they just banged music because they wanted to? Forget all of the fucking money and the accolades, this, that and the other: you’re the biggest rock band in the history, invented heavy metal and invented a whole new fucking genre with doom. Remember you are four friends; just get over that shit and play, because you’re friends. So yeah, it’s a shame. The album’s gonna turn out and sound nice, I mean for fuck’s sake, who’s playing on it!
GAZ: Yeah, I’m sure it will be great.
NICK: Three out of four ain’t fucking bad. [Tony] Iommi’s the king of riffs. Oz[zy] might not have the same voice, when you think of the 80s, but give him a fucking chance. I’ve softened my attitude a little bit, well, it’s not going to be shit, is it? They’re gonna make sure it’s not shit, and the production is not going to be shit either, but… I would like to have his [Bill Ward] name on there just because I’m a silly fanboy dick, y’know.
Well, he was one of the original members.
NICK: Of course. Y’know, he had that jazz foot thing going on with his drumming, that slight swing where it’s not really swinging, the band used to thrive on it immensely, y’know, obviously… that, to me, was is the Sabbath stuff – sure, I loved the Dio stuff as well, a new era, and he’s my favourite singer of all time – but when you have that announcement, 11/11/11, Sabbath are back together, you think ‘fuck, they’re gonna give it one’. And certainly with Iommi’s health the way it is, it’s all up in the air, it’s all a big secret as to how he’s getting on. The swansong of that band in their later years, or their autumn years, as a band, it should be all four of them, for me. I don’t know. It’s very selfish, but I’m allowed to be a little bit selfish I suppose.
GAZ: We were talking about it on the way up in the van, about that…
NICK: It’s a shame. But they’re not gonna get anyone older in, are they? They’re gonna get somebody that suits them and where they are musically now. So… I’m looking forward to hearing it, but there’s a small evil part of me looking forward to saying, ‘Ha! It’s not Bill’, y’know.
It’s not the complete thing.
NICK: It doesn’t matter, they’re complete fucking legends and they can do what the fuck they like, y’know, I’ll still lap it up. A lot of albums people don’t necessarily like, that Sabbath have produced, I still like, because I’m a complete fanboy dick. Y’know, they can’t do wrong as far as I’m concerned, y’know… any more than some silly Metallica fan will love “St. Anger” because ‘IT’S METALLICA WHO DID IT’; even though it’s the biggest pile of shit in the world. Well… they topped that with “Lulu” didn’t they?
Yeah, they really set the bar on that one…
NICK: [Laughs] Massively.
GAZ: [Laughs] Massively.
Well, who else are you excited to see? Obviously Saint Vitus, Candlemass…
GAZ: We’ve literally not been here long, we got here – we were driving up from London – just before Undersmile went on, so saw them. We kinda clashed with Angel Witch, which I kinda would have like to see, but it’s a bit, you know… I guess it would be Candlemass and Saint Vitus really! [Laughs] Because we haven’t had any time.
NICK: Again, Angel Witch, going back to the friend thing, it was bloody Will [Palmer] and Bill [Steer], alright fellas! [Laughs]
GAZ: Couple of our mates in there, so it would have been nice but it’s one of those things, you know… we’ve been running to and forth, we haven’t really been here. I’m not sure if Napalm Death have played yet?
No, they’re the last band because Sodom got moved earlier.
GAZ: I’m looking forward to seeing them then, yeah.
NICK: Fuck yeah, man. We’ll go see the legends we want to see.
GAZ: I’ve not seen them for a few years.
NICK: We’ll see whatever really.
Just wander through…
GAZ: I’m a bit gutted that Sodom were clashing with us as well.
NICK: They were meant to be on quite late, weren’t they?
GAZ: I was like, it’ll be 4 o’clock in the morning and we can have a few beers with them, but…
NICK: Or we’d probably just wave our hands at them while laying on the floor, arseholed. Just, ‘Whey! Sodom!’
NICK: Yeah, well… we’ll probably still scream that anyway… Yeah, Napalm Death, certainly. I’m a bit gutted that I missed Enslaved the other day because we were playing last night in London – I would love to see them. I like extreme metal anyway.
GAZ: Lifer yesterday…
NICK: Oh god, yeah! Just look at the line-up, it’s bizarre… that we’re sorta playing it. [Laughs]
GAZ: It’s a bit weird, ain’t it!
Just sinking in now then?
NICK: Yeah! Well, we’ve finished now so we can just go and relax and got nothing to do but get pissed and have a laugh.
That’s cool! Well, is there anything you’d like to say to your fans, in Wales or whatever?
NICK: Oh yeah, we’d like to come here and play!
GAZ: Yeah, definitely!
NICK: If there’s like some promoters that are interested in doom stuff for some venues, you can have us, get in contact, yeah.
GAZ: Anyone who’s happy to watch us, we’re more than happy to jump in the van and come up, absolutely.
NICK: Do a string of dates. We mainly manage ourselves pretty much anyway – we do a bit with Future Noise and stuff – so get in contact with us, our email is quite easily available. We’d love to come and do some doom gigs with some local bands or bring some friends with us, like Conan and stuff. We can always sort it out.
GAZ: Earls Of Mars as well, I’d like to mention them.
NICK: Oh man! Absolutely!
GAZ: Have you heard them?
No, I haven’t.
GAZ: Earls Of Mars, crazy, but probably one of the best bands I’ve seen and heard in a long time.
NICK: If you get a load of horror DVDs and epileptics and nutters, and stick them all in a washing machine, that’s kind of what you’ll get onstage. They are mental.
I’ll have to check them out.
NICK: Definitely worth it; stunningly well live. It’s nice to have a mixed bill where you get a bit of everything, I think.
That’s what’s great about this festival, you get those different types.
GAZ: Exactly. I think sometimes when you get a bill where every band sounds the same, it can be a little tedious. Sometimes you need a bit of diversity. A band you’ve maybe never heard before or a band you’ve never been fussed about before, then you see them live and it’s like, ‘fucking hell’. That’s what you want, definitely.
NICK: I think we find that all the time with everyone we play with really, we’re always pleasantly surprised with the bands we end up on bills with. Christ, the level of fucking playing is unbelievable in the underground, everyone’s just giving it their all, all their guns, ‘This is us! Let’s do it!’. You can’t get better than that, and that’s why particularly the scene we’re involved in and particulatly the bands we play with, they’re all…
GAZ: Very strong at the moment, very strong.
NICK: It’s immensely strong and it’s well up there with the rest of the world, isn’t it?
GAZ: It’s a pleasure to be a part of it. Definitely.
Well, it was nice talking to you guys.
GAZ: Well, thank you, thanks for taking the time!
NICK: Thank you!
Serpent Venom‘s debut album, “Carnal Altar”, is out now on The Church Within Records.
Interview by RichReviewz