Like a dank fog hanging over the bayou, rumors have been slowly swirling around a new Venomous Maximus album for the better part of a year. Lord knows there's been no shortage of anticipation for it. After their first record, Beg Upon the Light, helped propel these local masters of underground occult-rock to acclaimed cult status across the U.S. and Europe (not to mention a three-peat as Best Metal Band at the Houston Press Music Awards), Houston headbangers have looked to VM to carry the torch far and wide for the city's hard-and-heavy rock scene. Anything less than an epic sophomore release would be a major let-down from the city's standard-bearers.
Accordingly, the band has been taking their sweet time with the new record. Venomous' shaggy front man and crazed mastermind Gregg Higgins says that they were definitely feeling the pressure to perform — but from within the circle, not without.
"We literally went to hell and back with this record," Higgins says. "This band has always been a high-pressure ideal. With a name like Venomous Maximus, you can't settle for second-best: We knew we had to top the other record. So, we kind of all had this agreement that, no matter what it takes to get this thing perfect, even if it ends up taking two or three years, we are not going to put out a record unless we're completely satisfied with it."
The coveted result of their hidden alchemy, Firewalker, will be released on May 19 by Shadow Kingdom Records. True to form, the record is a fearsome collection of wailing wind and throwback thunder, full of a genuine heavy metal spirit. It's only the latest entry in a multi-album cycle that Higgins says he's been fantasizing about since before Venomous Maximus even formed.
"The records are kind of a journal of us being held captive by Venomous Maximus," the singer says. "Because when the band came along, it swooped all of us up and it took complete control of our lives. So we've always respected the band as kind of an entity. It's like, 'No, we can't do that. Venomous Maximus wouldn't like it!'"
This time around, the heavy riffs that the band feeds to the beast on Firewalker have the sharp gleam of chrome to them. They're crunchier, harder-driving, and tilted more toward the Judas Priest corner of the band's classic metal influences. It's a sound fully inspired by the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Higgins' howling moan remains, of course, but as a more spectral presence, nestled more deeply in the mix.
"I think a lot of people who aren't deep into underground music hear our band, and hear kind of a unique sound that they perceive as being fresh," Higgins said. "But if they listened to my record collection, they'd know we're not new at all...We want to bring this forgotten period of heavy metal back, because a lot of people don't know about the NWOBHM. Heavy metal starts with Metallica for most people, but naw, man. Heavy metal was over before Metallica started!"
Those expecting a second dose of the majestic and doomed sound of Beg Upon the Light may be thrown slightly by some of the band's new experiments, like the Cars-esque New Wave trappings of the song "Dark Waves." But the evolution was inevitable. Firewalker is a record that's all about self-propelled forward momentum, and Higgins says that Venomous Maximus was determined to bring a wicked live edge to their new album.
"The first record was super-produced," he says. "I still like listening to it, and I know people like the way it sounds, but we always knew that we cannot actually sound how that record sounds! And it was intentional: We were in the studio for the first time, and we wanted to see how amazing we could make this shit sound.
"So this next record was like, 'Hey dude: We're going to go into a room, we're going to throw a mic in there, we're going to turn that shit on and we're going to record. We're going to just sound like us,'" the singer continues. "And if fans have a problem with hearing our band how it naturally sounds, then they probably don't really like our band live."
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Fans should have ample opportunity to decide how the new songs sound live this year. Venomous Maximus is an ambitious band, and they plan to take this music to the people. They'll reveal their latest stage set to local heads at Fitzgerald's on May 8. Higgins says the band has big, secret plans for the summer that he declined to reveal, but it almost certainly involves heavy touring and festival dates.
The singer is already burning to get started.
"That's what this record is about: your spirit inside you," he says. "That's the fire, burning! I'm a firewalker, because the only thing that makes my fuckin' feet move every day is the fire inside me, and I am a very serious person when it comes to these matters. I take this very deep, and I think that's why people have responded to our band: It's not bullshit!"
Venomous Maximus will celebrate the release of Firewalker Friday, May 8 at Fitzgerald's with Bowel, Night Demon and Blues Funeral. Doors open at 8 p.m. $12.