By Carl Begai
It’s fair to say that M:PIRE OF EVIL – featuring former VENOM members Tony “Demolition Man” Dolan (vocals/bass) and Jeff “Mantas” Dunn (guitars) with Marc “JXN” Jackson (drums) – gave 2013 a solid ass-kicking. Between a new album, festival dates, one-off club shows and a European tour with ONSLAUGHT the trio were busy from March through December, bent on building up momentum for an even busier 2014. There were a few setbacks along the way, of course, the biggest one of the bunch seeing Dunn sidelined for the first week of the Onslaught tour due to a back injury. That didn’t stop the M:Pire from delivering, however, with Dolan and Jackson hitting the stage as a duo supported by temporary Onslaught guitarist Leigh Chambers (ex-COLLAPSE); a mark of real integrity and all out balls if there ever was one.
Chambers, it turns out, was the only guitarist on a four band bill that dared to step into Dunn’s shoes, learning a Venom song a day over a matter of hours to offer M:Pire Of Evil fans more than just a rhythm section bludgeoning. A nerve-wracking experience for the three musicians but their efforts were well appreciated all around.
“I told Leigh not to try and play like Jeff, just to play like himself playing that music,” says Dolan. “When he plays with Onslaught it’s very precise, there are lot of twists and turns and stops and accents. He has to really be on it. He didn’t have time to do that with us, so we kept it as loose as we could so it sounded like Venom. The idea was that if he wandered, he wandered, and if he couldn’t remember a lick or whatever Leigh just did what he felt like. He just had to put his heart into it and that’s what the kid did.”
“The one thing I didn’t want to do, which was difficult, was compromise ourselves,” he adds. “We just said ‘Fuck it!’ and got up there and just did it. Having Leigh on stage with us made things a little less stressful. Mikey from Onslaught asked us if we were going to get rid of Jeff as Leigh learned more of the songs (laughs).”
The band’s latest album Crucified – featuring re-recorded versions of Venom songs from the Dolan years (’88 – ’92) – has sold a respectable number of units given the reduced album sales across the board for everyone in the industry. It’s easier and probably wiser to rate M:Pire Of Evil’s success on the amount of touring they’ve done.
“Labels these days can’t account for everything as fast as you want them to, so all we can gauge it on is fan turnout,” Dolan agrees. “It’s weird because we did Headbanger’s Open Air and it was packed. We went on just before OVERKILL, and Peter Hobbs from HOBBS’ ANGEL OF DEATH came out, the organizer of the Keep It True Festival came out, and they told us that every band in the place was watching us. It seems they thought we were great, so thank you (laughs).”
Dolan and Dunn have the benefit of their Venom history to draw attention to themselves, putting Jackson in the presumably difficult position of doing his bandmates’ legacy justice. Having replaced Antton Lant – also a Venom legend – in 2012, Jackson has put the naysayers in their place and is loving every minute of it as he continues to do so.
“I’ve learned a lot,” says Jackson. “I’ve played with other bands, but not to this extent. You realize when you’re playing with professionals and that there are people out there as creative as you are. I don’t just call myself a drummer, I’m a musician. There’s a big difference. Tony and Jeff are both musicians, they’re not just people in a band. We can play any style of music that we want so we’re not boxed in.”
“When we did the North American tour last year, we did a show in Laredo, Texas,” Dolan offers.”We played the set and the fans wouldn’t let us off the stage. They wanted us to keep going but we’d done our set; all we could say was that we’d be back. They said ‘No you won’t. Nobody comes back to Laredo…’ (laughs). Jeff said ‘Let’s do ‘In League With Satan’ but Marc had never played it. He didn’t even know the song. Jeff explained the basic 4/4 pattern and we played the song through to the end, and Marc had never even heard the song before (laughs).”
“It was bizarre,” laughs Jackson. “At first all I could think was ‘Are we really going to do this?’ But, I just got on with it and it worked. The same thing happened in Italy when we did ‘Welcome To Hell’. I’d only heard the song once at that point but I was like ‘Let’s just fucking do it.’”