Houston, Texas occult rockers Venomous Maximus have created a minor name for themselves throughout the decade with their riff-heavy approach to the genre. Having had the pleasure of reviewing an excellent occult album just a little while ago, Sabbath Assembly’s Rites of Passage (one of the rare 4’s I’ve given out this year), it would be tempting to do a direct comparison. But these two bands are very different, and one difference is that Venomous Maximus try their darndest to move past the “occult” label and appeal more generally to the metal masses. Like their records before it, No Warning is an attempt to appease fans of both the sinister and the catchy. In other words, they seem to be striving for ownership of the same plot of land Ghost lay claim to.
No Warning is essentially divided into two marginally distinct sides. The first side pays homage to their occult roots, with songs like “Spellbound” and “Pray for Me” serving as upbeat, anthemic sermons, while “Return of the Witch” is the sequel to their most well-known song, “Give up the Witch.” It’s a driving number that, like most of the songs here, is centered on a killer riff, with a churning bass line juxtaposing the guitars and Gregg Higgins’ demented-preacher sing-chant style giving it all a bit of an uncomfortable feeling. The acoustic “All of My Dreams” is a disturbingly effective number about obsession. All told, the songs feature at times ghoulish lyrics sung in mesmerizing fashion atop catchy, almost commercial music.
The second side brings out a slightly more traditional, NWOBHM version of the band. Here’s the title track, which could be straight from on older Judas Priest album, and the heaviest song present, “Sea of Sleep,” which definitely has a trace of Black Sabbath in it. But looking at No Warning as a whole brings to light a couple of flaws: first, there is a lot of repetition here, with both sides opening with a lurching, electronic prelude and both sides throwing out a token acoustic number (ironically, the acoustic instrumental “Endless” is the shortest song on the album). It’s like the band had the first four songs written, and then said “Let’s take those four songs and make them more metal and less occult.” Some more variation in the songs would have made No Warning stand out much more.
Production suits the music to a T, with sharp guitars and a very punchy rhythm section. Venomous Maximus essentially have two big draws, the first of which is the riff-heavy, catchy-as-hell songwriting. A lot of these songs come off as a bit cheesy, but they’re so well written and performed, and sound so good, that it feels like a guilty pleasure listening to them. I didn’t want to like No Warning, but I couldn’t help myself. That’s a testament to the band’s talent in all departments. The second draw (or liability) is Gregg Higgins. His vocal style is definitely unorthodox – he more intones the lyrics than sings them, and with his deep tone he sounds like a gothic snake oil salesman. His style won’t be for everyone, but it does add an unmistakable charm to the songs.
On No Warning, Venomous Maximus keep doing what they do best: catchy, hooky, riff-driven metal firmly planted in the NWOBHM world, but with a dollop of occult goodness thrown in. Their style takes away from the more sinister aspect songs that the Ghost-like “Blood for Blood” and the heavy, fuzzed-out closer “Sea of Sleep” might otherwise possess, making one think they’re having too much damned fun to be threatening, but that’s okay. As they have before, the band deliver a solid record with plenty of great moments despite some repetitive portions.