Singularly ferocious and reliably unhinged, Venomous Concept have been one of the 21st century’s most undeniable punk rock wrecking crews. Formed by underground noise veterans Shane Embury (Napalm Death) and Kevin Sharp (Brutal Truth) in 2004, the band’s swivel-eyed devotion to the most scabrous and chaotic punk and hardcore ensured that their impact was immediate. With Shane and Kevin on guitar and vocals respectively, plus Melvins legend Buzz Osborne on guitar, thrash/death icon Danny Lilker on bass and Embury’s Napalm Death compadre Danny Herrera on drums, 2004’s blistering debut album Retroactive Abortion was always destined to be a brutish kick-in-the-pants. Deservedly, it was widely hailed as a contemporary punk classic, and established Venomous Concept as much more than just another side-project. Since then the band have intermittently active, destroying venues at every available opportunity and producing a further three highly rated studio albums (most recently, 2020’s Politics Versus The Erection), a brace of split EPs and even a mind-bending EP of cover versions, Deep Thinking In Deep Times, that included a wild rendition of David Bowie’s Suffragette City.
Fast forward to 2021 and Venomous Concept are back, but with a massive, jolting difference. Pieced together over the last year, the band’s fifth album showcases a wholesale upgrade and overhaul for the grubby extremists’ sound. Brilliantly titled The Good Ship Lollipop, the band’s latest full-length is still firmly tethered to the worlds of punk and hardcore. But where previous albums had been relentless barrages of breakneck savagery, this one is full of massive tunes, incisive rock’n’roll riffs and even gonzoid, sing-along choruses. As Shane Embury explains, The Good Ship Lollipop was simply an album that needed to happen.
“It was all ready before the last album, to be honest, in demo form,” he notes. “It’s a weird thing. We’ve always stuck to our punk rock roots and the band has only done anything when we’ve been able to. But this time felt different. It was much more a case of, ‘Fuck it, let’s do it!’ We really pushed the boat out. We had Simon Efemy on board, producing, and Kevin really wanted to work on his voice. We just went for it.”
Although fans of fast and furious punk rock will definitely not be disappointed by the new Venomous Concept album, the band’s transformation is obvious and exhilarating from the first riffs of the opening title track onwards. Eschewing the heads-down, last-one-to-the-end-is-a-twat approach of previous records in favour of a balls-to-the-wall rock’n’roll approach, The Good Ship Lollipop dares to be anthemic, stirring and truly heavy, while still delivering all the snottiness and bile that long-time fans will be demanding. With John Cooke (guitar, Napalm Death) and Carl Stokes (Cancer, drums) completing the line-up, this is Venomous Concept rebuilt for the long haul.
“We did four albums of frantic stuff. There’s a couple of frantic-ish tracks on this one, but we just wanted to approach the punk thing from a different angle,” says Shane. “The thing is, we all love stuff like Slade and AC/DC, and I’m a massive fan of Husker Du and Bob Mould. Kevin is a big Ramones fan and he loves Black Flag and stuff like that. So we kept it energetic, but we’ve moved away from the purely chaotic thing. There are some crazy melodic moments on this album, too, and I really think it works.”
Aside from the thrilling directness and rabble-rousing intensity of the new tunes, the biggest revelation to take away from The Good Shop Lollipop is the audible blossoming of Kevin Sharp’s as a singer. Renowned as one of the most brutal and deranged vocalist in all of extreme music, he displays a vast array of new tones and tantrums on the deceptively catchy likes of Timeline, Flowers Bloom and Life’s Winter, delivering the performance of a lifetime in the process.
“Some of the melodic stuff came from me, but the majority is Kev’s,” says Shane. “Normally he screams and tries to fit as many words into ten seconds as possible, but this time we’re just playing to different strengths and he’s got lots of them! I noticed when Kevin stepped [to do vocals] for the fourth Lock Up album, his frame of reference was very different, with different influences, and that was always really interesting to me. We did that David Bowie cover a couple of years ago and he really pulled out some interesting sounds. So I brought in Simon Efemy to help Kev focus on the ‘less is more’ vibe, and Kevin was really into it because it was a new experience for him. He rose to the challenge, I think.”
The last year has been an absolute fucking nightmare for just about everyone, and Venomous Concept are no different. As a result, the new album is simply the most emotionally direct and honest the band have made to date, with lyrics from both Embury and Sharp that dive deep into the psychological impacts of recent times, combined with plenty of soul-searching, as these weather-beaten veterans reflect on lifetimes spent making a horrible noise.
“Even before the Covid thing, Kevin had his feet well and truly dipped in the flames, as he likes to say, just in normal life, so there was plenty to write about,” Shane states. ““The album is called The Good Ship Lollipop, but it’s Kevin’s term for it… everyone has this common bullshit and day-to-day fuckin’ madness, and if someone’s really going through it, Kevin would always say, ‘Man, that guy’s on the Good Ship Lollipop!’ I love that. So this album is a journal of our loves and our reminiscences, but it’s also about how you’re never prepared for what’s around the corner. It’s about the continuous growing pains of becoming older, but with no regrets!”
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