That Tour Was Awesome: Ultimate Revenge Tour, Venom/Slayer/Exodus (1985)

If you’ve picked up Decibel‘s Top 100 Metal Tours of All Time special issue, then you know that we chose the 1985 Ultimate Revenge tour with Venom, Slayer, and Exodus as the best metal tour that’s ever happened, in the history of mankind (and if you haven’t picked it up, you can do so right here). Not sure if I really need to explain why in any further detail here: it was Venom, Slayer and Exodus in 1985. Doesn’t get much better than that.

Grab the issue to read more about the tour, and keep reading here to find out what memories Venom drummer Anthony “Abaddon” Bray, Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo, and Exodus guitarist Gary Holt have left from this most notorious, legendary, and paradigm-shifting of metal tours.

What do you recall about how the tour came to be?

Anthony Bray: The tour was put together by our manager and our American attorney. Slayer and Exodus were both big Venom fans so it was an obvious choice of package.

Dave Lombardo: We were on Metal Blade Records at that time; we had not signed with Rick Rubin and Reign In Blood wasn’t anything on the horizon, so the band was at its primitive, but very advanced, stage. We were gaining a lot of fans and there was a lot of underground talk about us. We were drawing pretty well.

Gary Holt: It’s one of those funny things; I don’t remember how it came to be. I believe we had already done Europe with Venom before the Ultimate Revenge; I can’t remember which one came first. But we were already kinda childhood thrash metal infancy buddies with Slayer, and Venom were heroes of both ours and Slayer’s, still are to this day. We were certainly excited. We’re out there just wreaking havoc every night; Exodus were always known for never shying away from property destruction or anything like that. Certain members of Slayer were right there with us, [Slayer guitarist] Jeff [Hanneman], we hung out all the time, because we all drank all the time. It’s awesome, playing with Venom; hearing them play “Black Metal” every night was awesome.

Mantas [Venom guitarist Jeff Dunn] couldn’t tour because he apparently had chicken pox. What happened there?

Bray: I heard he wasn’t going about three days before we had to fly; to be honest, he was losing interest around this time. We had to pull all-night rehearsals with Les Cheetham from Avenger and Dave Irwin, guitarist with Fist. Each of them learned the main riff for half of the set and filled in with each other as we went along.

Venom performing live with Fist’s Dave Irwin filling in on guitar.

Lombardo: He had chicken pox? Okay, that could be possible. So we show up at the first show with a car and a U-Haul truck, and we were impressed, Venom had two buses, a diesel truck; we were blown away. And we were Venom fans; we loved Venom. What was funny about that was by the end of the tour we were still in the same U-Haul truck; they started with diesel trucks and tour buses but by the time they got to Los Angeles, they were traveling around in U-Haul trucks and cars. They didn’t budget correctly; they were obviously overspending. They thought they were superstars before doing the shows and making the right calculations.

Bray: No, we had the coaches all the way through; Slayer and Exodus had the vans.

How were the crowds on the tour?

Bray: The crowds were batshit crazy, as were all metal gigs of this period. It was the first time I’d seen stage diving and mosh pits.

Holt: The crowds were awesome. We were playing theaters and stuff; the last show of the tour, I believe, was the Hollywood Palladium. I remember rolling into town and our van was just billowing smoke like a dragon, and we could do it on demand, just give the gas a little pop, you know? We were pulling into Hollywood right by a bus stop, there were some people sitting there, and we were like, “Get ‘em! Get ‘em!” and we just smogged them out with this massive wall of black smoke. The only show on the tour we didn’t play was San Francisco; the show was at the Kabuki Theater, a venue we sold out on our own. We were playing first on the bill so just didn’t see the logic in playing first at home in a venue that we sell out on our own, you know? But the tour was great, I think us and Slayer were certainly… how do I say it without disrespecting our peers? We were smoking Venom (laughs). You know, we were young and hungry and we also had serious musical skill, but at the same time I think the beauty in Venom was the sloppiness to it, you know? It just made for a wall of thunder; I love it. It was fucking awesome, I watched them every night. And they were super nice guys; Cronos [Conrand Lant, Venom bassist/vocalist] was a fun guy to hang out with.

Do you have any particularly wild or interesting stories from this tour?

Bray: All the stories are hazy under alcohol, but I remember the fight with [Slayer bassist/vocalist] Tom [Araya] and Cronos very clearly [more on that below], also seeing both support bands jumping off stage to go crazy when we came on. After our part of the tour was over, [Venom manager] Eric [Cook] and I stayed on for a few added Slayer dates after the main tour. Slayer’s tour manager gave us a lift in their tour mini bus and it was filthy with food and drink smeared all over. Eric said, “This is fuckin’ disgusting.” Their tour manager said, “Nah, that’s metal.” Anyway, we got to the gig and I jumped out, having a chat with their tour manager, and after a moment I realized Eric wasn’t with us. We both looked back to see him taking a shit on the driver’s seat. I said, “Naaaah, that’s heavy metal.”

Lombardo: Another interesting story that happened was when we were on the way to meet the guys and we were at this place called Larry’s Hideaway in Toronto. And we had a long drive from Winnipeg to Toronto, and we didn’t have a hotel in four or five days, nobody showered, we were just filthy. So we get to Toronto and it’s the night before; we had a show the next day. We went to the club but we had nowhere to go, there was no hotel, we didn’t have money for a hotel. We get there and hang out, and the club owner says we can drink whatever we want and we can sleep in the attic. He says there’s no bed but it’s clean, and you guys can sleep on the floor. So we made ourselves at home in the club, we were drinking, we’re all right drunk and having a good time, as we did all the time during that period. And I disappear. I just left the club and walked down the street; I was drunk, just roaming the streets of Toronto. I went back and they said, “Dude, you just disappeared on us, where’d you go?” I said, “I don’t know.” Maybe I told them I just went outside or whatever. Then I disappear again, and they start looking for me. Jeff, that guy was just so cool. He finds me in the bathroom (laughs). He’s banging on the stall and it was locked or something happened to the door, he said, where he couldn’t get to me. He notices that I’m in the stall and he tries to pull the door and he’s breaking the door and he’s pulling it hard, just like, “I’ll get you, Dave!” I’m passed out on the toilet (laughs). He’s pulling the door, and he realizes, he tells me the story the next day, that he didn’t have to pull the door; all he had to do was just push it and it would open. So he’s frantically breaking the door, then he pushes it and realizes all he had to do was push it; he picks me up and we stumble to the attic and he throws me on the floor. The next day I wake up with breakfast in my pocket, which was pancakes, and I had a very nice pillow—they laid me on the floor, put my breakfast in my pocket, and laid a little stack of pancakes under my head as a pillow. They were playing tricks on me. I wake up and Jeff said, “Dude, you were hilarious last night.” He told me the story about how he was breaking the door down then realized he just had to push the door. He said, “You know what was funny, Dave? The only thing you asked me was, ‘Were my pants down?’” He told me, “No, your pants weren’t down, you were fine. You just had to go somewhere just to get away.” Apparently I just went to the bathroom and never came out. But Jeff was my hero that night. It was such an amazing and innocent time in the band’s life. It was great. I remember getting to the Hollywood Palladium and performing with these guys [Venom]; it was funny how they portrayed themselves as being evil but in all actuality Venom were just a bunch of nuts like we were. What cracked me up about Abaddon was the amount of drums that guy had; he had not only one layer of toms, he had two, sometimes three layers of tom-toms. I only had four or five tom-toms, and possibly a fan; he had a whole air-conditioning unit behind him; like, really dude? It was just amazing; it was a great experience. Playing Studio 54 was a real treat; I had heard about that club and the whole Saturday Night Fever disco era, so for the band to play that club was pretty damn cool. For it to be Venom, Slayer, and Exodus, that was definitely the end of the disco era and the beginning of the thrash metal era. That was amazing, I remember backstage at the club there was some fool back there, I guess he was the last remaining disco fan or something, he was hanging out with two chicks, he was probably 5’1”, and the only reason those two chicks were with him was because he had a bag of blow, but that bag of blow ended up being powdered sugar or something (laughs).

Holt: Leading to do this interview, I was trying to think, and, god, maybe we just drank too much and I can’t remember it (laughs). And I’ve got a really strong memory; I own four trunks full of photos and I can pretty much tell you where every photo was taken. That tour, though, is kind of a blur, but I think less due to the alcohol and more just because we were kids and everything was full speed. But there were some great moments: first time I ever met Bobby Blitz was at the Studio 54 show; our friendship that’s spanned all these years began that night. It was just tons of fun.

Looking back at this, it’s easy for us to romanticize it; what was it really like at the time? Did it feel like a special moment in time?

Bray: It did feel like something special was going on. We all felt invincible.

Lombardo: There were points in the tour that made us feel like it was really special, like playing Studio 54 and having the show videotaped, playing the Hollywood Palladium… so it did feel like something was happening in the underground. We were fans of that kind of music, there were mom and pop record stores that would cater to that kind of music and we would visit them when we were on tour and endorse the scene, so you could tell there was some kind of excitement. Even the in-stores we would do during that period, fans would get crazy, break the glass window in front of the record store, whether it was an accident or it was a fight because somebody was being thrown through it, because of that excitement and attention the band was getting, I felt, wow, we’re bad-ass.

Holt: Yeah, I thought it was special. It was special for me. Did I think it was special to anybody else? Absolutely not. Obviously, fans were excited about it; us and Slayer were making our own little waves in the metal ocean, and for us, we were with Venom, and the crowds were really great, so obviously some people were excited about it, but we were the ones most excited about it, I think. We were just like, “We’re touring the States with Venom. This is awesome.” Back then we only thought about how much we loved what we were doing and how much we loved Venom; we didn’t see the importance of it to anybody else, it was just important to us.

What were the venues like?

Bray: Venues were quite big theaters, as I remember.

Holt: Theaters to big halls. A lot of the venues were ones that we went on ourselves. There wasn’t a ton of shows; we did a lot of shows off on our own.

What was it like within your own band at this point?

Bray: The feeling was pretty bad in Venom because Jeff wanted to leave and I could tell he’d pretty much had enough.

Lombardo: It was good. It was great, actually. We were having a great time together and the vibe was really good. Things were positive. Things were on the up and up; we were all excited about being on tour and traveling across the country and meeting up with one of our favorite metal bands of that time and a big influence, which was Venom. So it was good.

Holt: Oh, we were just living the life. Touring with our friends on one hand and our heroes on another and just destroying everything. Our behavior was exactly what you could expect from a Paul Baloff-fronted Exodus back in our innocent-looking-but-not-so-innocent prime. We destroyed shit, we abused, we threw shit, we traveled with fucking pellet guns. We had long since learned that you don’t need to buy pellets, you buy a box of Nerds, the little candy, put them in the gun and they fire just like a pellet. They’re biodegradable so we could shoot our fucking guitar tech in the ass and he didn’t have to have it pulled out (laughs). We told him to stop whining, it’s biodegradable, it’ll dissolve (laughs).

So apparently Tom from Slayer got drunk and pissed on Cronos’ head, which prompted Cronos to punch him out. What’s your recollection of this?

Lombardo: Jeff and I and a bunch of fans were just hanging out, and we were sharing the Hell Awaits album, playing it in the back of the bus. We were all drinking; we were hammered. I think maybe Abaddon was there. Cronos was in the back of the bus. Then Tom stumbles in; it was our first time on a tour bus. Tom comes in, fucking punch-drunk, he was just fucking gone. He says, “Where’s the fucking bathroom in this thing?” Cronos, being Cronos, just says “Right here. Just piss right here.” So Tom pulled out his dick, and pissed on Cronos (laughs). We’re like, “Oh, shit!” Cronos gets up and just grabs Tom, I think his pants were still down, and punches Tom in the face (laughs). They get in a scuffle, they were drunk and just hanging out in the front of the bus; the fight broke up and they were trying to mend the argument. They were just going back and forth with each other, you know how drunk people do. So Tom has a black eye and they’re sitting in the front of the bus, and it was locked, I couldn’t get to the bathroom, I’m banging on the door and I’m hearing them arguing, and I’m banging on the door and I said, “Open the door! I gotta use the bathroom! I’m gonna puke!” And I hear the conversation stop and Tom says, “You better open the door, he’s gonna puke.” Sure enough, I went into the bathroom and did my thing, and Cronos and Tom were sitting there next to each other all upset (laughs), Tom with a black eye. He had to do the tour with a shiner.

Bray: He didn’t piss on him, but he did stick his dick on Cronos’ shoulder (laughs). Cronos jumped up and nutted him in the face; Tom’s nose exploded, of course it was left to me to pull a raging Cronos off Tom and calm everything down, a job I got to do more and more.

How did the bands get along?

Bray: The bands all got on well, we had two tour coaches and hotels, so we let the other two bands sleep in our coaches overnight.

Lombardo: Aside from the little scuffle with Cronos and Tom, everything was great from that point forward. I think even leading up to it… what else would you do if somebody pissed on you? But then again, Cronos asked for it, you know? I remember asking, “Did he really piss on him?” “Yeah, he did!” When Tom walked in, I was sitting on the left and Cronos was on the right, so Tom wasn’t facing in a way where I could see what he was actually doing. I thought it was just a joke. Then when Cronos got up and wrestled him down the hall of the tour bus and hearing that he punched him…

Holt: Oh, awesome. We’d been friends with Slayer since we first met them when they came up to play the Bay Area. Venom were heroes of ours and Venom knew it; they treated us really well. They had their pyro and all that stuff. It was a lot of fun and a lot of ball-breaking on everybody’s part. It was a blast. One of those things I’ll cherish, you know? I’d do it again (laughs).

I heard there was some trouble with Christians protesting the shows?

Bray: Yeah, there were protests in every major city, to be honest. We had to escape at one point in the back of the merchant truck. Hilarious.

Lombardo: I remember playing Winnipeg and I think it was the first time that religious extremists were showing up at the show and not boycotting but just talking to the fans, telling them that we were evil and that this isn’t the right path and all that bullshit. So that was pretty cool. I did an interview with the guy. It turned out okay because he said, wow, this guy is a nice guy. Why are we in such fear when these people are just really kind? I don’t remember anywhere else other than Winnipeg and the only reason I remember that one is because he requested an interview, and the interview made it in the local paper; I remember getting that particular newspaper.

Holt: I think there were a couple of times like that, but I don’t recall there being a ton of it, maybe a couple cities, maybe closer to the Bible Belt area, people have nothing better to do. But we didn’t even notice it probably, just walked in right past it, drinks in hand, you know?

Venom’s material from the Ultimate Revenge video was apparently not from this tour at all; what happened there?

Bray: Because Jeff wasn’t on the tour, we didn’t want a video going out without him on it, so me and Cronos did an interview and we gave them two tracks with Jeff on.

Do you have any other memories of this tour?

Lombardo: On the way to Winnipeg, we were traveling in a car; four guys would ride in a car and another three guys would ride in the U-Haul truck that we had (laughs). I remember one night as I was driving, it must have been through Montana, I was driving the car, and I forget who was in the car, and as I’m driving, I hit black ice. The car just… we could have died. The car spun around and fell into a ditch; I was in shock. I remember we were listening to Voivod really loud, because we were headed I think to Montreal, we were going to play with Voivod, and I loved War and Pain; that album was amazing. I remember getting out of the car, my knees were shaking, I was nervous, it was cold, it was like, fuck, how are we going to get out of here? We were in a ditch, but eventually we got out and we made it to Winnipeg, but it was a very scary moment. There were only two vehicles, and the U-Haul track carrying the gear was several yards ahead of us so they didn’t see us spinning, losing control, so they kept driving, and it was like, god, where did they go? But we were okay. One other thing I remember, the interview section of the video where somebody throws a piece of meat and I catch it in my mouth. It was funny, we were there doing an interview and one of the guys from, I believe, IMPORTant Records, or Combat, he was there watching the interview happen. And I don’t know how it happened, but I might have mentioned to him, I asked him, hey, what are you eating there, man, that looks good. He said, roast beef, or something. I said, dude, throw me a piece! And he threw it, and I caught it with my mouth, and it got on video.

Was that something you practised? How the hell did you catch it in your mouth?

No, it was all spontaneous.
Good skill to have, I guess.

Yeah, right?

Holt: I do remember the night I met Bobby Blitz, he saved me from spilling down the upper stairs at Studio 54. I had quite a few Kamikazes, I was standing there talking to him and I gotta little wobbly looking, and he reached out and grabbed me by my belt and he kept me from going head first down a flight of stairs. So we can all thank Bobby for my continued existence on this planet; my wife can thank him, my children, my band (laughs).

So, Bobby Blitz saved your life.

Holt: Oh, yeah, totally. He still jokes about that every time I see him (laughs).