Ever a purveyor of mild understatement, Encyclopaedia Metallum describes Venomous Concept as the “side project of several notable metal musicians.” Their lineup reads like a fucking who’s who of grindcore royalty. One of Shane Embury’s fifteen gazillion side-projects, and containing such living legends as Danny Herrera (Napalm Death), Kevin Sharp (ex-Brutal Truth) and Dan Lilker (Nuclear Assault, ex-Brutal Truth and seemingly the majority of all thrash bands that ever existed), Venomous Concept – a play on Poison Idea for you punk-spurners – are the grindcore supergroup of your depraved, crusty dreams. Formed by Sharp and Embury in 2003 after Embury decided he clearly wasn’t involved with enough bands, its first five years of existence were surprisingly prolific given the members’ busy schedules, resulting in two splits and two full-lengths. But without a peep since 2008, you’d be forgiven for thinking other commitments had caught up with them and Venomous Concept was no more. Forgiven… but wrong! You asshole.
Kick Me Silly – VC III is their triumphant return to the grind arena after this eight year absence, and boy does it live up to its title. Venomous Concept have always blatantly and proudly worn their hardcore punk influences on their sleeves, giving them a furiously upbeat vibe that colorfully conjures memories of your happiest moshpit moments. The Poison Idea and Siege references are apparent from the moment frantic opener “Rise” begins, and combined with the band members’ grind pedigree make for a familiar yet distinctive punky grind style.
Though the songwriting is consistently as good as you’d expect – particularly the aforementioned “Rise,” aptly-titled “Anthem,” brooding “Farm Boy” (?!) and punktastic “Fucked in Czech Republic,” there is an obvious mid-album slump where Venomous Concept seem to forget the need to forge their own identity and instead grind along with bog-standard Napalm Death riffs. Of course bog-standard Napalm Death riffs are pretty sweet and these tracks (“Pretend,” “Good Times,” “Holiday in Switzerland,” “Pretty on the Inside”) are still fun, but they’re disappointingly generic and perhaps leaving a few of them off the record entirely would have provided it with greater impact overall.
These lads have been honing their craft for decades and the performances are predictably excellent, though Danny Herrera deserves particular praise for a varied drum performance that’s very tight while retaining its humanity. I’m a big fan of Kevin Sharp, too, and his vocals here are top notch, with perfect phrasing and delivery. Never underestimate how much a good vocalist can improve a grindcore record.
Also never underestimate how much severe dynamic range compression can ruin a grindcore record. Clipping all over the shot, lacking low-end, and squashed right down to DR4, Kick Me Silly has been mastered out of contention of receiving repeated spins from me. Hardly a nuanced album to begin with, every last drop of subtlety has been ruthlessly squeezed out in the name of loudness, rendering within-song transitions impotent and causing severe listening fatigue. I sometimes wonder if musicians agree to super heavy compression levels because their careers have taken such a toll on their hearing that louder genuinely does sound better to them; at least it masks the tinnitus for a while.
Whatever the reason, the result is another good record that I’m much less likely to listen to on a regular basis. Kick Me Silly – VC III contains some cracking songs, an infectious punk vibe, and expert performances from some of grindcore’s finest artists, and is definitely worth checking out if you’re even vaguely into grind- or hardcore. Those with greater aural constitution may be happy with the sound, but the horrible mastering and derivative mid-section mean this is unlikely to go into heavy rotation on the Starshir Enterrrise.