Gregg Higgins (second from left) and the VM gang.EXPAND
Gregg Higgins (second from left) and the VM gang.
Photo by Jessica Brungardt

Venomous Maximus Remind Us All That There’s No Warning

So, the title of Venomous Maximus’ new album turned out a little more prescient than probably they intended it to. When the record was released a few weeks ago, there were few hints that a large chunk of the band’s hometown was about to be destroyed. Life, as they say, comes at you fast. But on No Warning (Shadow Kingdom), the Houston metal kings’ third full-length release, the foreboding dread creeps forward irresistibly, instead — determined to drag us all to our doom.

VM front man Gregg Higgins isn’t some crystal-ball gazer. Nobody saw the heaviness of Harvey coming. But he might have been the first guy to realize that very fact.

“I seem to be blessed with bad luck,” the rocker says as he inks up a client at his Secret Tattoo shop on Westheimer. “I say it with a big shit-eating grin on my face, but that seems to be that’s the way it is: no warning. It’s going to come, you know, without any preparation. It’s just going to hit you.

“Over the years, I’ve gotten used to it, so I kind of live on the edge, ready for the shit to hit the fan,” Higgins continues. “Once I’m in that mode, stuff doesn’t really surprise me. Once you get to a certain age, it just seems like there’s always something going down.”

Hard for any Houstonian to disagree, yes? Like the city they hail from, however, Venomous Maximus are undaunted by trials. In fact, everything’s mostly been unfolding according to plan. Higgins arrived in Houston with the full plan years ago, bringing lyrics, concepts, and visions along with him from Victoria. Since transitioning into a real group, they’ve put out three records to wide acclaim, toured extensively with the likes of High on Fire, and achieved their long-held goal of exporting their classic, head-banging riffs to Europe.

Even still, there’s a certain spirit in their music of waiting for the other shoe to drop. Fears from the darkness of Higgins’ subconscious inevitably bubbled up into the album.

“A lot of the lyrics have been floating around since Day 1, you know?” he says. “But then all the life experiences happen. Back then, I had no idea that a year after this record was recorded, my mom was going to pass away. Nearly every single song ties into that. It was really spooky, man, the way that worked.”

If bad things must happen, they may as well rock hard, and No Warning does. Local fans will immediately recognize the trademark riffage of Higgins and lead guitarist Christian Larson on tunes like “Spellbound” and “Return of the Witch,” calculated to get heads bouncing. There’s always been a witchy vibe to the band, owing in large part to Higgins’ moaning vocal style. But these songs are never concerned with being the heaviest or most evil metal you’ll hear this year. Venomous Maximus would much rather they got stuck in your head, instead.

“Gregg, I would say, is the mastermind behind the riff kind of stuff,” says Larson. “That catchy metal stuff is actually all over the place. Me and him will talk about all the time how Def Leppard is rad. Def Leppard rules. It’s funny, because me and Gregg will go, ‘Yeah, it’s a big influence,’ and people will be like, ‘Def Leppard, really?’”

It’s not the bubblegum stylings of “Pour Some Sugar on Me” that the pair most admires, however. It’s Def Leppard’s early, striving NWOBHM efforts that they’d like to recapture in their own work, Higgins says. That’s why, at times, Venomous Maximus songs feel like a time machine back to the early ‘80s.

“The thing about Def Leppard that I really enjoyed is that they didn’t take the same road as all the other bands at that time did, of trying to be more metal and trying to be more heavy,” Higgins says. “They wanted to go with the classic song structure with backing vocals and harmonies. It’s not really about their sound. It’s about that they wanted to take hard rock, heavy metal, to a new kind of place.

“We’ve always been about songs,” Higgins adds. “Fucking songs! Like, the name of the song gets sung in it! It’s so simple, and everybody’s afraid to do it.”

Don't get too worked up—No Warning doesn't much sound like a Def Leppard record. It sounds very much like the most Venomous Maximus record ever, however. The band took off for Portland to work with Joel Grind of Toxic Holocaust in the studio, and to say they were on the same page may be understating it. Grind really got what makes Venomous' punchy, wailing style impressive.

“Joel listens to everything we listen to, metal-wise, but we also listen to a bunch of synth stuff and darkwave, and he’s into all the same type of stuff,” Larson says. “He kind of asked us how we want the record to sound, and we were like, ‘You know the record should sound.’

“He was one of those dudes that you feel like you’ve known for 10 years after the first day,” Larson adds. “He knew what way we sounded, and we got it back and we’re like, ‘That’s what I’m talking about.’”

With No Warning now drawing impressive reviews and making the rounds amongst Ghost-loving fans of foot-stomping heavy-metal magic, Venomous Maximus remains cagey about revealing too much of their grand design. They will offer little more than that more touring and more new music is in the offing—probably when we least expect it.

Venomous Maximus would prefer we stay ready for it. As recent events indicate, one never quite knows what’s to come. Whatever it is, Gregg Higgins counsels keeping a cool head.

“Don’t relax too much,” the singer says. “When things start going good, I’m like, ‘Ok, when’s it going to mess up?’ And when things are going bad, I don’t expect them to stay bad forever. It’s all about learning to live in this medium, you know?”

No Warning is available now from Shadow Kingdom Records. Venomous Maximus play White Oak Music Hall Monday, September 25 with Venom Inc., Goatwhore, Toxic Holocaust and more.

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