Venomous Maximus, Beg Upon The Light
It feels a little weird to say, but y’know, what I like best about Beg Upon The Light, Houston-bred doom-/dark-metallers Venomous Maximus’s first full-length album, is, um, the slow, quiet stuff.
I know, I know — that’s a pretty damn counterintuitive thing to say, given that the band’s made its name playing stuff that’s heavy and loud, full of fist-pumping anthems to darkness and otherworldly majesty. But what can I say? When I listen to “Father Time” or “Mothers Milk,” which are both quiet and relatively minimal “acoustic” tracks (at least as compared to the rest of the album), I feel a goddamn chill run up and down my spine.
I think it’s a testament to the band’s abilities, actually, because they manage to build such a convincingly, authentically murky atmosphere that it’s damn near impossible to not get sucked into it. Listen to Gregg Higgins’ muttered/growled vocals on “Father Time,” in particular, where he comes across like Ian McKellen at his absolute creepiest (think Apt Pupil, if you think Gandalf can only play heroes), and you’ll find yourself imagining some kind of strange, Cthulhuian tale of menace from beyond the stars, reaching out across the cosmos from the black places where the light never quite touches. It’s a flat-out fantastic track.
“Mothers Milk” takes a similar track, with gritty, bottom-of-the-well vocals, somber, gypsified strings, and delicate guitars, and it’s similarly arresting. Then there’s opening bit “Funeral Queen,” which is some of the eeriest organ sounds you’ll ever hear, guaranteed. It’s just a quick little instrumental, true, but halfway between the main theme from Halloween and a darkly-lit nightmare carnival ride, it sets the stage nicely for the rest of Light.
Just because I liked the quietest stuff best doesn’t mean I don’t like the rest of it, mind you — I most certainly do. Venomous Maximus’s sound here is cleaner and crisper than it was on also-stellar EP The Mission, and while I tend to be leery of that kind of “shiny” sound when it comes to metal, here it lets the guitars snarl and scrape like they never have before.
And goddamn, Higgins’ and Christian Larson’s guitars are awesomely bombastic on every single track, reminding me of vintage Judas Priest or maybe Pyromania-era Def Leppard (seriously, go back and listen to it again) more than anything else. They turn tracks like “Path of Doom,” the Mastodon-like “Dream Again (Hellenbach),” “Give Up The Witch” — which appears here in a slightly doom-ier, slower rendition than the original from the band’s early 7″ — militant-sounding “Battle for the Cross,” and “Hell’s Heroes” into epic-sounding guitar-god metal. Overall, I’m reminded most of The Sword circa Warp Riders, albeit with the space-opera stuff replaced by a more Lovecraftian theme.
Beyond the “quiet” stuff, the highlight for me has to be “Moonchild,” which is a spooky, thundering, otherworldly metal stomp that’ll make you shake just a little bit while you’re banging your head alongside the band. It pulls off that same feat I mentioned above, crafting a genuinely menacing, foreboding atmosphere that mutates it from “just” a song into something a whole lot bigger and more awesome, like there’s a story lurking behind the guitars and drums. Here’s hoping we hear more of the story soon.