The metal underground has been awash in many triumphant comebacks over the last few years. Bands many newcomers despaired of ever seeing live have been appearing at festivals and exclusive engagements across the US and Europe, and for the most part it has been a pretty exciting ride. A few misfires are to be expected, but overall the output has been strong and galvanizing for metal lifers and hungry neophytes alike. The problems start when decommissioned bands start popping up under false pretenses and transparent cash grabs.
One of the most recent flies in our ointment is the dubious return of San Francisco proto-black metal group VON. Their Satanic Blood demo was a relatively obscure entry that ironically gained notoriety in America after Burzum mastermind Varg Vikernes wore a VON shirt to court during his infamous murder trial in Norway. The band’s small output became celebrated to a worshipful degree by many black metal bands. Watain named themselves after one of their songs, and numerous bands of note have covered VON on their albums (yours truly played a cover of “Satanic Blood” in Germany some years ago). With that in mind, it’s fair to say that this act made an impact. It’s also fair to say that the version of the band we’re hearing about on the metal news wire is far from legitimate.
The first red flag went up in 2010 when the band’s reformation was met with squabbling and speculation. It quickly became hard to tell who was in the band, or if someone was pulling some kind of weird scam with the name. After a lot of weird obfuscation, it became clear that bassist Jason “Venien” Ventura was pulling the strings, but not with collusion or approval of other members. Ventura formed Von Music Group (now Von Records), apparently in a bid to procure his legal rights to the name and copyright-free demo material. It smelled of a cash grab, and many die-hard fans remained unimpressed.
A second flag sailed up the pole the same year when VON was invited by super-fans Watain to appear with them at a special engagement in London. Word is that the audience was hardly satisfied by the presentation, and nobody in the Watain camp was anxious to discuss the aftermath. It seemed obvious to any discerning hessian that the whole thing was a sham, and it also seemed like the last we’d hear of it.
Now the news is that nu-VON is releasing a full length album called Satanic Blood, which is plenty weird considering that was the title of the famous demo, to say nothing of the fact that virtually all the tracks are pre-existing. So did Venien just re-record the entire song catalog? More importantly, who needs it? The whole thing looks like a con job designed to resell old songs to uninformed youngsters who want to get in on the action after being repeatedly told how important VON is to black metal. Whether the emperor is revealed to wear no clothes remains to be seen; the one new track, “Jesus Stain” is a non-starter, but that doesn’t mean Mr. Venien won’t make a stack of cash off then name before blending in the wallpaper once again.
VON is not the only band guilty of this scam. There are plenty of bands who have remained continuously active pulling the same kind of moves (see my repeated harping on Kreator to get an idea of what that looks like), and they get away with it all the time. The thing that makes a band like VON seductive is that it seems like an easy password for people who want to join what they think is an exclusive cult following. Or they might be new to the underground and not realize what they’re supporting.
Let’s halt this travesty before it starts. Don’t be taken in by a band that runs on fumes from a cult following. It’s not the genuine article and there are a truckload of great new bands who deserve a place on your shelf, some megabytes on your iPod, or the real estate on the front of your t-shirt. We’ve got two lying creeps vying for the presidency of this nation, and there’s nothing we can do about that, but we don’t have to put up with this sleaziness in our own house.
The way to prevent cynical entries like this from gaining ground is to always be discerning. If an old band with a good name resurfaces, examine their motives with a little research. Who’s in the band now, and who’s at the helm? Was it one of the main creative forces or the third bassist who didn’t even play on the classic material? And feel free to see what the original fans are saying – are they critical or expressing disappointment? Is anyone claiming theft of a band identity? These are never good indicators, and again, there are plenty of other acts to support. Or you could check out the releases that made the new illegitimate entry good way back when and buy those albums instead.
Stop the insanity, stop the hype, and don’t let anyone fake you out. Your wallet, your music collection, and the metal movement at large will thank you.