The sound that Houston-based four-piece Venomous Maximus capture on their Beg upon the Light full-length debut is a Frankenstein’s monster of influence. Here and there, one gets flashes of NWOBHM gallop in the guitars of Gregg Higgins and Christian Larson, that, combined with Higgins’ trad metal vocal style brings to mind a modernized version of Pagan Altar or some such cult curio. Theirs is heavy metal thunder, no doubt about it, and while some of the “occult” elements on Beg upon the Light (out, by no coincidence, on Occulture Records) feel like a put-on, there’s a genuine sense of atmosphere underlying the dudely thrust and all the talk of witches and “What name is this carved in my body?” The record is dark, as one might expect from its name, the band’s name (though it actually comes from G.I. Joe), the artwork, the song titles, etc., but also accessible musically in a way that reminds a bit of the horror rock that the Misfits once made seem so dangerous even though it was essentially pop songwriting sped up. Venomous Maximus’ prior EP, the self-released The Mission (review here), was by no means rudimentary, but one gets a clear sense of development in listening to Beg upon the Light, whether it’s the guitars, vocals, the bass work of Trevi Biles or the drumming of Bongo Brungardt, whose grounding effect seems at points to be the roots from which the album’s memorable hooks spring. Higgins proves a strong vocalist as the intro “Funeral Queen” gives way to “Path of Doom,” his approach straddling the line between semi-spoken and dramatic heavy goth metal wailing. They take elements from the genre, but more than they’re doom or singularly anything else, Venomous Maximus are a metal band, and these songs bear that out. With crisp production and flourishes of organ on “Funeral Queen” – it’s the first thing you hear on the album – and the soon to follow interlude “Father Time,” which also boasts spoken word vocals and acoustic guitar – violin on closing duo “Mother’s Milk” and “Hell’s Heroes” and a rich variety of vocal arrangements – a few guest spots persist there as well – the album never veers close to redundancy of method, and yet there’s a pervasive sense of cohesion throughout, heard as early as “Give up the Witch” follows from “Path of Doom” that underscores the professionalism at work throughout these tracks.
“Give up the Witch” is a highlight, and also likely among the oldest material here included, since Venomous Maximus made their debut with a 7” single of the same name. Still, if it has wear and tear for the band having trudged it through the last couple years since they got together, it doesn’t show. One of the strongest hooks plus one of the strongest riffs equals one of the strongest songs – it’s a pretty easy formula. Higgins lets out a couple screams as he backs himself on vocals, and the guitars behind showcase a touch of the extreme as well. More than enough to qualify as dangerous. Yet an overlying groove remains, and in that, “Give up the Witch” does even more of the work in setting a course for what follows than did the opener. Larson and Higgins bust out classic riff after classic riff, so that you’re through “Father Time” – curious to place your interlude two tracks after your intro, but it works in the overall context – and into “Dream Again (Hellenbach)” and the ensuing “Moonchild” (not a King Crimson cover, though part of me hoped for a dramatic reinterpretation) in the center of Beg upon the Light before you even realize the considerable amount of momentum the band has amassed. With 10 tracks and a runtime just under 46 minutes, the album is right in line with what one commonly thinks of as “full-length,” but it moves remarkably quick from one cut to the next, keeping a strong flow while not sacrificing a sense of the songs as individual pieces. “Dream Again (Hellenbach)” culminates with well-mixed interplay between the two guitars and formidable thud from Brungardt, and when Higgins says, “Everybody,” urging an imagined crowd to join him on the final chorus, it’s emblematic of the accessibility at the root of what Venomous Maximus are doing. There’s an audience for this kind of metal, they know it, and that’s who they’re reaching out toward. The push continues on “Moonchild,” which features guest spoken vocals, more strong screaming, and the begging question, “Why did the gods have to make us this way?” backed by mounting chants in the bridge, offering one of the most dramatic moments of the album.