May 8, 2015
Venomous Maximus has always cultivated a certain air of malevolent mystery in its music. But in the years since the release of their thick and potent debut, Beg Upon the Light, the biggest mystery swirling around the band has been the hour when a worthy follow-up would appear – not to mention what it might sound like. Anticipation has been high, both from Venomous Maximus’ growing national fanbase as well as the local headbangers proud to call the hard-rock occultists their own.
On Friday night, the band revealed its distorted audio destiny at last at Fitzgerald’s, celebrating the release of the new disc Firewalker. And harkening to the violent symmetry of the snake devouring its own tail, Venomous Maximus’ future is all about the past. The communal worship of metal’s earliest days began with the first band of the evening, Blues Funeral. Featuring the drummer and guitar duo from local doomsters-on-hiatus Sanctus Bellum, the group burned through a stomping retro-rock set featuring some very nice harmonized vocals. Singer Nord also made with some nifty organ work on his keyboard, which came in handy during a terrifically executed Deep Purple cover.
Blues Funeral ended on a wailing NWOBHM number, and Night Demon picked things right up from there. The California trio is steeped so thoroughly in the New Wave of British Heavy Metal of the late ‘70s that they’re practically a band out of time and place. They found a home amongst Houston’s hairiest music lovers, however, who howled with delight when the Grim Reaper made an appearance to bid us all to drink from “The Chalice,” a whipping number reminiscent of Diamond Head. After the ton-of-bricks trio Texxxas came on next to stomp Fitz flat with their punishing riffage, the crowd was once again returned to its throwback thrall by the headliners. After a lively and lengthy soundcheck, Venomous Maximus was summoned to the stage by a chilling synth score straight out of The Terminator or The Warriors.
Front man Gregg Higgins looked happily demented under the green lights as the band opened with some old stuff, including the pumping excellence of “Moonchild.” As he crunched away on his zebra-print Explorer, enthusiastic supporters raised their fists, tossed their hair and swallowed shots of grain alcohol in the dark. Higgins told the crowd that the first new song of the evening, “Dark Waves,” was a tribute to the Bayou City, and Lord knows the tune was hot and sweaty enough to qualify. On record, the track bears a bit of a New Wave sheen, but onstage, it was heavy and pummeling. The air inside the club began to grow thick and pungent amidst the thunderous funk billowing out of the band’s amplifier cabinets.
While Firewalker will undoubtedly sound terrific on a vintage turntable, it’s tough to gain a full appreciation for Venomous Maximus without seeing and hearing them live. The band has an undeniable chemistry that shines through easily under the lights. As his bandmates bashed away, Higgins, in particular, looked to be having the time of his life. Smiling, sweating and screaming behind eyes wild with flames up there, he was a man possessed — if not by the devil, then by something equally as wicked.
“I really did just get out of jail two hours ago!”, he excitedly told the crowd, sounding not particularly put off by the experience.
The band ended their powerful set with a couple of cuts from the new album: “White Rose,” built on some tightly harmonized Thin Lizzy riffing, and “Angel Heart,” the crunchy epic that has already been a staple of their set for more than a year now. After the house lights came up, fans stuck around to shake hands and share drinks with the hometown heroes. Many went home with a copy of Firewalker tucked under their arms, satisfied and reassured once more that this rock and roll beast from the bayou continues to grow out in the black.
Personal Bias: Untattooed.
The Crowd: Longtime fans and true believers.
Overheard In the Crowd: “Whiskey? Or tequila? I ain’t doing both.”
Random Notebook Dump: In metal, the band with the pointiest guitars wins.