Music

Venomous Maximus: Beg Upon the Light

This classic style heavy metal band uses strong riffing and fun lyrics to just barely overcome the fact that they forgot to hire a real singer.


Venomous Maximus

Beg Upon the Light

Label: Napalm
US Release Date: 2013-07-02
UK Release Date: 2013-07-08
Amazon
iTunes

Houston's Venomous Maximus are a metal band committed to the classic definition of heavy metal. On Beg Upon the Light, their debut full-length, they rely on chunky riffs, hard-pounding drums, and the occasional creepy organ to power through songs about subjects like witches, epic battles, and mystical sorceresses. This kind of material is often classified as "stoner" rock or metal these days, but Venomous Maximus has no real interest in the kind of spacey musical digressions that are the other hallmark of stoner metal. The band is much more indebted to the metal of the '70s and early '80s, like Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, and Dio.

And musically, the band is right in that sweet spot, with strong riffs and a solid low end. The rhythm section of drummer Bongo and bassist Trevi Biles support the guitars without doubling them all the time, and it gives their songs a sense of motion that doesn't rely on speed-riffing. The guitars, courtesy of Christian Larson and Gregg Higgins, are very good throughout the album, sounding huge when they need to and laying back on several more sedate interludes.

The band's problem, then, is that guitarist Higgins, who also serves as vocalist, can't sing. If Venomous Maximus were a more modern metal band, that might not be such a big deal if he could growl or scream. But this is the sort of style that has always worked best with a strong, often over the top, singer. Higgins is the opposite of that. Sometimes he works his way through the songs using a sort of spoken word chant, and that's decent. Just as often, though, his attempts to sing end up sounding like sort of a high-pitched, throaty, off-key moan. It distracts from both the riffing and the lyrics, which are really a lot of fun, and drags the rest of the band down.

"Dream Again" features truly punishing doom metal style guitar work and may be the album's heaviest track. But since Higgins moan-sings his way through the song, he pulls the focus away from the excellent music every time he opens his mouth. Single "Moonchild" similarly suffers because of Higgins' moaning. This song has a potentially catchy chorus and interesting lyrics involving wayward entities needing human souls. Higgins can't even get close to singing a true melody during the chorus, though, so the song falls short of being the great sing-along it could be.

When Higgins isn't really attempting to sing, Beg Upon the Light fares better. The album has three quiet tracks that nicely break up the heaviness. The record opens with "Funeral Queen", a two-minute organ solo that sets a dark tone for the album without a single guitar. "Father Time" is a minor key acoustic guitar piece where Higgins speaks dramatically, just above a whisper, as organ chords flit around in the background to make it all a bit unsettled. And the album's penultimate track, "Mother Milk", comes in between the band's raging theme song "Venomous Maximus" and epic closer "Hell's Heroes." "Mother Milk" features violin work inspired by the famous "Danse Macabre" violin solo laid over a gentle acoustic guitar melody. When Higgins eventually comes in, he's once again not attempting to sing and it feels like a dramatic reading of a short poem.

When Higgins chooses to just yell or speak his way through the tracks, the songs still feel like they're missing a real singer. But at least he isn't doing anything to actively hurt the tracks. "Venomous Maximus" begins with a cool riff and a pulsing drumbeat Higgins comes in shouting "Venomous Maximus!" at the top of his lungs and continues in that vein throughout the song. "Hell's Heroes" manages to justify its seven-minute running time with a series of building riffs and lyrics about men who died in battle. The way the guitar riffs keep shifting throughout the song is inventive and it keeps the track from getting repetitive. It's the band's best moment and placed wisely at the end of the album, it sends Beg Upon the Light out on a high note.

5

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image