Review & Track Premiere: Venomous Maximus, No Warning


“‘Sea of Sleep’ is a song that is broken up into three parts: past, present and future. We always try to include little references to our personal influences in our music. Whether or not you know realize it, we know it’s there. The song title itself is a reference to Saturn. The bass intro is very ‘NIB.’

“We want you to always hear our influences; it’s what keeps it classic. We don’t steal from it. We were born with it. We are here to keep it alive. I think that’s a big difference between us and other bands nowadays. Some people try so hard to have it and some were born to live it.” — Gregg Higgins on “Sea of Sleep”

[Click play above to stream the premiere of “Sea of Sleep” from Venomous Maximus’ No Warning. Album is out July 28 via Shadow Kingdom Records.]

Now at some six years’ remove from their debut EP, 2011’s The Mission (review here), dark-toned Houston rockers Venomous Maximus remain a band unto themselves. No Warning is their third long-player and second for Shadow Kingdom Records, which brought the four-piece aboard for 2015’s Firewalker (review here) — a workmanlike follow-up to their 2012 debut, Beg upon the Light (review here) — and like everything they’ve done to this point in their tenure, it is marked out by its crisp sense of songwriting and cohesive aesthetic presentation. Their sound, like their cover art this time around, is a multi-faceted collage. It finds them dug deep into horror rock and classic metal influences, tinged with doom so that in any given riff one might hear strains of PentagramIron Maiden, the Misfits, or in the case of the acoustic-minded “All of My Dreams” and the penultimate side B interlude “Endless” here, more cavernous strains of the NWOBHM at its creepiest.

Presented over two clearly demarcated halves, each with its own synth-y intro — aptly-titled “I” and “II” on the digital version, seemingly unnamed in the vinyl tracklist — No Warning adds a progressive edge to Venomous Maximus‘ well-honed theatrical sensibility, and though guitarist Gregg Higgins has his fist-in-the-air vocal declarations working to the group’s advantage in sway and personality alike, he, fellow guitarist Christian Larson, bassist Trevi Biles and drummer Bongo Brungardt sound more assured than ever of the bewitching nature of their hooks and more poised in executing the sonic turns between the chugging “Pray for Me” and the more metallic “Return of the Witch,” which would seem to be a direct sequel to “Give up the Witch,” which was a highlight of both The Mission and Beg upon the Light. Could it be that, six years later, Venomous Maximus are feeling a little reflective on how far they’ve come and what they’ve done in their time thus far?

If so, on that level, No Warning is woefully misnamed. The fact of the matter is everything the band has conjured in terms of craft and sound has been a warning to those who’ve been willing to pay attention for what their third outing brings across its efficient 10-track/41-minute stretch. That’s not to say it’s redundant — far from it — just that the point at which Venomous Maximus show themselves having arrived throughout cuts like post-intro opener “Spellbound” and the later, Mercyful Fate-d guitar weep of “Blood for Blood” is one predicated on their prior accomplishments. They couldn’t be where they are without having been where they were. That No Warning was recorded by Toxic Holocaust‘s Joel Grind certainly adds a sense of metallic cred to the proceedings, and his handling of the mix creates a sense of depth throughout that only further draws the material together.

venomous maximus

Bottom line, perhaps, is that Venomous Maximus are an experienced band at this point and they sound like it, and that their third record stands as an affirmation of their style and execution at its strongest. As “Spellbound” starts off with ghoulish glee and the central riff of “Pray for Me” seems to nod at the doom-pop of Ghost without losing its edge, overall Venomous Maximus still sound most like themselves. They’re a powerful live act, and as always, Higgins brings a formidable presence to the studio as well, whether it be in the sharp-edged turns of “Pray for Me” or the longer “Return of the Witch,” which follows and is a clear focus point for the outing as a whole. It may or may not be intended as an answer to “Give up the Witch” — which still stands among the band’s most landmark choruses — but the title-line repetitions across its 5:50 run would seem to make it one either way, and if that’s an easter egg for those who’ve followed the band throughout their years, then fair enough. They’ve more than earned the right to speak directly to their fans.

That said, I’d still call Venomous Maximus somewhat underappreciated as a group. Yes, they’ve toured with High on Fire, and they went abroad earlier in 2017 to play Desertfest in London, but as they expand their palette here with the strums of “All of My Dreams,” the classic biker riffing of their title-track and the later gallop of closer “Sea of Sleep,” what they bring to realization on an aesthetic level still seems generally undervalued. Whether or not No Warning will change that, I don’t know, but it does present the next logical forward step in their ongoing development, tightening their approach from where it was even on Firewalker while holding firm to the atmospheric elements that have helped define who Venomous Maximus are and have become throughout their time.

It may well be that their refusal to play entirely to one subgenre or another has led to some misread on the part of their audience — too metal for the doomers, too doom for the headbangers, too dramatic for the ultra-serious? — but from where I sit that only makes them more admirable. To listen to them toy with vocal echoes on “Blood for Blood,” or dig into raspy call and response there, or to hear the energetic start that “Spellbound” brings to No Warning lead to the sudden stop in the unfolding and turn toward thrashing vibes on “Sea of Sleep,” it seems that no matter where Venomous Maximus want to make their riffs go, it’s fair game.

They cap “Sea of Sleep” with a hidden bonus riff (visible in the wavform above), as if to sneak one more in before actually ending the album, and that too puts the emphasis right where the band wants it. Make no mistake, Venomous Maximus are and have always been putting on a show. Their records are like a black-swirl cultish carnival. But that show has never been pretentious in the slightest about wanting to offer listeners anything more than a good time, and they’ve never sounded more in command of concept, structure and delivery than they do on No Warning. It is a well-earned victory in a hopefully ongoing series thereof.

Venomous Maximus, No Warning (2017)

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One Response to “Review & Track Premiere: Venomous Maximus, No Warning

  1. GlenW says:

    Been following this band since their beginning (may have been at their first gig). Love their first two albums and am looking forward to buying No Warning and seeing them live again. Be sure to see them when they play your town.
    Venomous Maximus!

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