From DRUM! Magazine’s January 2018 Issue | By Ted Goslin | Photo by Stephanie Cabral
Most of us want to grow and improve, both as drummers and human beings. So while developing new skills and knowledge, it’s important to maintain the foundation upon which to layer those bigger and better abilities. For Anthony “Abaddon” Bray, career drummer for innovative metal band Venom (now Venom Inc.), continuing this improbable journey means retaining the formula that brought him to the dance in the first place. If you’ve heard his drumming over the past 37 years, including his performance on the band’s new album, Avé, it’s clear that he’s learned everything he needs to remain at the top of his craft.
The members of Venom Inc. started out as the children of blue-collar dockworkers in Newcastle, England, and became what many fans consider to be the architects of black metal. The band’s misfit persona also embodies the essence of Bray’s personality. Bray was originally a bass player with Venom Inc., and switched to playing drums after the band made several failed attempts to find a suitably brutal drummer. It turned out to be a fortuitous decision, as the trio soon discovered his innate ability to craft a powerhouse playing style with a rock-solid tempo.
Now 57, Bray started his career at age 18, and adheres to his signature style, which includes his use of 3S sticks, originally meant for marching band use. “They tend to shatter a lot,” he says. “When I hit a snare, I like to say I aim for the bottom head. The sticks tend to bend and break rims.”
As a player, Bray believes his decision not to alter his setup, learn new techniques, or study traditional method books has allowed him to maintain his preferred pounding playing style. “The way I play, I was a little influenced by punk rock at the time. I don’t rehearse rudiments; I listen to drummers and enjoy what they do, but I don’t try to copy it,” he says. “When I started playing, people who were big fans of the band said, ‘This sounds like Venom’ when I played. If that’s the case, I still sound the way I did in 1984. The playing wasn’t tremendous, but it had style and attitude.”
Bray’s preference for honoring time-tested practices and procedures extends from the stage to the studio. The band had always collaborated on songwriting and previously only recorded together live in the studio. However, Venom Inc. put Bray to the test by asking him to track the new album on his own at a local studio near his home, playing along to tracks prerecorded by guitarist Mantas and bassist/vocalist Demolition Man. This process was precisely the opposite of what he’d grown accustomed to.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve done an album,” he says. “As a drummer, I’d prefer to be in the studio with the band and push and pull stuff. I like to have eye contact and be able to see. You tend to get a good deal more intensity to a song when you’re all in it together. I tried to get the bones and meat of the song in the first take if I could. I believe songs and albums are about that instant; they’re about the performance.”
Bray has had more than enough studio experience to bring his own technical tips and tricks into the studio, including an ingenious way to assure a particularly meaty bass drum sound. “The one trick I learned a long time ago was to put down a pressure zone microphone if you’re playing on a hard floor,” he explains. “When I first saw this, I had huge toms and 26″ boomy bass drums that would get lost in the mix. I found I had to get more head room and was constantly trying to find a more clicky bass drum. There was no such thing as drum samples at the time. So I made it work. It was especially difficult in a three-man band where we’re trying to be the loudest band in the world. They could only cut vinyl to a certain volume or else [the needle] skipped.”
With the new album, he was forced to adapt in any number of ways, including playing without a click track, using only his ear to guide him to accurately play with the ensemble. “I read somewhere that as a drummer you can alter the feeling of the song going in and out of choruses and out of certain parts. That’s always where I try to go,” he says. “I think how I can affect the beat. I try to move around the beat a little bit. “We had a song a long time ago called ‘Blood Lust.’ The guitar was pushing and pulling and it gave me this feeling. It’s like a paradiddle or a shuffle. That made it loud and big. Sometimes it suggests stuff that another drummer would normally do. I’m not necessarily the most accurate or unique, but I try to be the best drummer for Venom.”
The band’s goal with the album — other than world domination — is the same as Bray’s goals as an artist. “We would like to think that people like it and think it’s a progression of the band and a vision of what could happen in the future,” he says. “At 57 years of age I’ve done this album a completely different way. Don’t close yourself off to doing new things. Be open-minded. Try it all and let’s see the next generation of drummers.”
Transcription by Andy Ziker
“Forged In Hell”
Why reinvent the wheel, when tried-and-true metal grooves from the past have worked so well? Anthony “Abaddon” Bray of Venom Inc. answers that question in spades on “Forged In Hell” off the new album, Avé. His mambo-like ride work in measures two, four, and six and his funky, over-the-bar snare hits from measure two to three leave the listener in heavy metal heaven.
Band Venom Inc.
Current Album Avé
Birthplace Newcastle Upon Tyne, England
Influences Ian Paice, Cozy Powell