Album Review: VENOMOUS MAXIMUS No Warning
Houston's Venomous Maximus have toiled somewhat under the radar in this second decade of the 2000's, No Warning being their third album. Their first two netted the band a considerable amount of acclaim, but the buzz wasn't enough to land them on many year-end "best of" lists. Perhaps the band's style of open-ended doom landed them in the thick of a glut of "occult rock" bands that were on larger labels and getting bigger pushes. Perhaps the mischaracterization as an occult rock band turned off receptive ears that were looking for something else. Either way, Venomous Maximus enter the latter half of 2017 as one of the more slept on metal bands in the US right now, even among those that have pretty far-reaching tastes.
So, the "occult rock" thing… sure, Greg Higgins' quavering vocals as well as the witchcraft/black magic-obsessed lyrics are certainly simpatico with that genre, but that's about where the comparisons end: for the most part, Venomous Maximus cull their retro influences from the 80's rather than the 70's. Higgins' and fellow guitarist Christian Larson's riffs aren't quite as upbeat or NWOBHM-inspired as Cirith Ungol, but neither are they quite as downtuned and foreboding as a group like Candlemass. Rather, songs like "Spellbound" and "No Warning" aim for an uneasy-yet-stable middle ground between catchy, accessible hooks and an almost Lovecraftian undercurrent of dread and untold goings-on.
Venomous Maximus update their signature song, "Give Up the Witch", with a sequel fittingly – if unimaginatively – titled "Return of the Witch". On the latter, the riffing is similar to its predecessor yet more fully realized and dynamic, as are the general song structure and Higgins' more impassioned vocals. There are a couple of acoustic numbers present (which probably won't do the band any favors if they dislike the occult rock comparisons), and each side of the album is prefaced by a Stranger Things-like synth intro, and those things do add heft to the album as a whole, but ultimately it's going to be the more jamming tracks like the aforementioned and "Blood for Blood" that keep you coming back for more.
While Venomous Maximus do have a few original touches going for them, their overall value is not so much that they're re-inventing the wheel as that they successfully call back to an era of the late 70's to mid-80's when bands tried to make every song on their album count: whether they expected to get any radio play or not, any given album track could potentially become a new favorite once one had worn out the more obvious choices. That kind of deep cut mentality gave such bands a longer career life than many modern groups who, widely heralded at first, quickly drop off the radar. No Warning is not the kind of album you need to listen to multiple times to appreciate – it's fairly immediate and to the point – but repeat spins certainly bring out the depth of its craft. Maybe "no bullshit" should be a metal subgenre of its own.