Clashing sinews and sonic deities: an interview with Gregg Higgins of Venomous Maximus

Photo by Mark C. Austin

Photo by Mark C. Austin

 Rock/metal, however you wish to describe the enthralling leviathan of invading shadows and seriously addictive melodic alchemy that is the music of Venomous Maximus it is a confrontation which leaves you gasping and hungry for more. The recent worldwide re-release of their debut album Beg Upon The Light has slammed the quartet right in the midst of the most rapacious yet sonically rewarding bands today. Towering riffs and equally mountainous rhythms crowd maelstroms of irresistible grooves and an intensity which staggers within the impressive release backing up the almost fearsome reputation of their live performances. Given the welcome opportunity to quiz and dig deeper into the band with vocalist/guitarist Gregg Higgins, we soon realised this is much more than a band for the man and his colleagues.

Hi Gregg welcome to the RingMaster Review and many thanks for taking time to talk to us.

First of we will ask for the benefit of those yet to be fully acquainted with Venomous Maximus can you give us some background to the beginnings of the band and its members?

I am an artist and a tattooer. Our drummer Bongo builds motorcycles. Trevi is a math mathematician and a hot sauce master and Christian makes everything happen. I moved to Houston 6 years ago and had been planning for 4 or 5 years on starting the band. I was just waiting on the perfect time and the right people. Then everything fell into place…the end.

Was there an immediate connection musically and in thought about how the band would progress between you?

Yes of course. We weren’t getting anyone involved if they had to be taught anything. I think that’s important when putting together a band. Not just finding members that can just play the music. They have to understand the master plan.

Some bands have a ‘leader’, a founder who is the prime force behind the direction or creative input is that the same with Venomous Maximus or is it a more democratic process within the band?

It’s like being on a submarine. It’s a tight ship with not a lot of space to move around. Everyone has a role and job in the band and doesn’t have to be told what to do. I am the main creative force but it’s just a bunch of ideas. Everyone puts in their input but they are the ones that actually make it happen.

You are seemingly tagged as anything from an occult rock band to a doom or heavy rock. I am not sure any of those truly describe your intense flavoursome rock’ n’ roll, how would you describe your massive sounds?

The whole name game that is involved with underground music is getting pretty silly now days. None of it really matters it should be just for fun and a way to describe and communicate what bands sound like to friends. Our goal was if we play a metal show we are the rock band. If we play a rock show we are the metal band. A chameleon if you will.

I have to ask the about the seeds to the great band name, which alone raises images personally of an insidious dark unknown with

gladiatorial strength and purpose.

You have given the best description of the name. When I hear it that’s what I think of… A titan or god from the ancient world. It basically comes from a tattoo design from the 60s and 70s of a solider that has been away from home a little too long.

Lyrically your songs also approach and investigate the unknown and unspoken shadows. Is this an interest which goes beyond just writing songs?

Yes of course. All of the material comes from experiences or situations I have found myself in over the years. I am not signing about graphic novels or movies or religions. This shit is real man!

Your excellent originally self –released debut album Beg Upon The Light has just been given a re-release through Napalm Records, did they come to you with the offer or were you searching for a wider outlet for the release?

We have always had the attitude whatever happens… happens and Napalm was very interested immediately. Some other labels hit us up but we didn’t wanna get lost in the mix so we decided to go with our gut.

So they were not alone in showing interest over past months or so?

Yea I guess I don’t know what your idea of interested is. We can be pretty picky and choosy about dealings with our band. But most of the buzz has started again in the last couple months. The material on the record is getting old to us and time for some new tunes.

942460_10151622495054738_934875440_nBeg Upon The Light was very well received on its first unleashing, were you more confident with this world wide release or in some way more nervous than before?

Truthfully this band began with a spark and I have always known that we would grow into a flame. It’s kinda like when you meet a woman. Something is a little bit different about it…things just seems to work and flow naturally even when problems arise they seem to take care of themselves, almost guided if you will. When things seem to naturally work in life you shouldn’t question them. ..that’s arrogance to me.

The album follows your first EP The Mission of 2011, and though you are still young in terms of the time the band has been in existence how do you feel your music and songwriting has developed between releases and also what you are presumably coming up with as either new material or ideas now?

Yea I feel the material has grown light years. We spent a good two years just me and the drummer working on a set to finally scratch it when the band actually started playing. We spent damn near the 1st two years playing every week, there has been more time spent on stage than in a practice room now. When your material is written in a practice room compared to being written on the road and in a fully functioning band you really see what you’re made of. Right now we are in the process of writing the next record. I truly feel that it is a true interpretation of what we have wanted to sound like. Much more mature song writing with more of a classic approach to rock n roll than just metal or doom or fucking yea. Hopefully there will be a group of people that don’t like it because it’s not our old material… hahahaha…but they can live in the past and do nothing

How does the song writing process work within the band and are songs as good as completed before entering a studio or do you prefer evolving ideas within that environment more?

Its 3 parts me in my bedroom. Then brought to the practice room and then worked out for the stage. Once the kinks are worked out for performing the song, then the studio. All of the salt and pepper is put on in the studio through intense examination and then its dead to me.

Are you quite strict with yourselves over ideas and things that do or do not work when writing? Do you have a mound of elements discarded or shelved for another opportunity?

We treat the band as if it was a being. As if it’s a ghost. He has his own personality and own opinions and knows what he likes and if he wants to change or stay the same we have to respect his decision. We are just here for his voice to come through. He does half the work we do the other half, so not all the decisions are up to us.

Is it riffs or melodies which generally come first for songs, or do are more often triggered from the lyrical side of your invention?

Actually goes back and forth. A lot of times its lyrics and thoughts that really drive me to write a song, or it could be as simple as me jamming Fleetwood mac and going to the guys with we have to write a song like this our way. Which is normally slightly faster with a little bit of chuggy and a blues lick laid on top. If you got a sharp year you could relate every one of our songs to The Cure, Madonna, David Bowie, all the everyday music that elitist underground’s lie about how much they love. We don’t give a shit about any of that. One of my favorite bands is Enya and she ain’t even a band. hahahaha

Beg Upon The Light is an inventive and intensive ravishing which does not really allow any breaths to be taken within its leviathan like confrontation of towering riffs and equally mountainous rhythms as well as enthralling of invading shadows and seriously addictive melodic alchemy, well how we see and feel it anyway. Is it a deliberate intent to have the listener use every part of body, senses, and emotions within its encounter or just something which naturally evolves?

I believe that all artists that have suffered and given their lives up so that they could interpret their experiences to art hope that other people will pick up on what you’re putting down. What you’re explaining is pure projection. It’s the same as someone is lying to you. You can sense they are full of shit, but when people are truly disturbed and upset to their core you can literally feel. Their emotions are so strong and being amplified so much that they literately travel from your body to yours…that’s one of the 12 super powers humans are naturally born with. It’s a shame that people in this modern technology world of information don’t even know the 12 special powers that only human beings possess…or I could be lying about all this. All that really matters is what rings true to you.

You hail from Houston, how would you say the city and surroundings have impacted on you as musicians and band either positively or negatively, if at all?

Houston is my home and I have many friends here but Texas is where I am from. Houston itself is a hell hole of grime and multi cultures. It’s like the New York of the south. One thing that it has provided for us is all the many flavors of culture. So it’s helped us be a little more diverse and not seem like hippie grass eaters from Austin or Pantera rednecks from Dallas. We love all the cities here we just love to talk shit too. It’s a Texas thing. Fun loving shit talking.

Is it a supportive metal scene there for new and emerging bands?vm

Texas can be the easiest and the roughest crowd anywhere you go. People don’t care about the bullshit politics of what kind of band you are. All the crowd wants is for you to play your hardest and get off stage and have a beer and talk to them like a real person. Everybody in Texas thinks about themselves as a rock star on or off stage. So the crowd doesn’t give a shit who you think you are. They wanna drink a beer with you.

You have a great reputation for your live performances and have played with the likes of High on Fire, Down, Guns and Roses, Mastodon, Pentagram, Eyehategod, Fu Manchu, Torche, Black Tusk, Bison BC, the list goes on. Apart from great experience and recognition, what has playing with bands of this calibre brought to your own headlining shows now and in the future, again in a good or negative way?

From day one the bar has been set super high. More than 1/2 of the bands we have played with the members have been playing longer than I have been alive. The intimidation and self-consciousness got to a point of almost conquering me but I am not really one to fail. I will bite my own leg off to get out of a trap. So we had to really bear down and focus and stay out of the bar to figure out if we were gonna do this it’s gotta be all or nothing. But it was just a trial period. When things are forced to live up to a certain expectation after a while that’s just the level it becomes and then you get bored and you take it up a notch and up a notch and up a notch. It’s truly up to you if you ever want to stop progressing because the second you do. You can clearly hear it.

I sense you guys love the live side of the band intensely, more than the time and creative process involved in writing and recording new songs?

Our band is more than a band to us. It’s more like a cult. It’s taken over all of our lives and the wives of the band, but in a good way. It’s became something that brings us all together as people for birthdays, weddings, movie nights and just straight up weekend partying. Not everyone in the world still has the family they had when they were children but everyone needs a family whether they are blood or not. A band or anytime humans group together creativity and happiness should arise. so to answer your question yes this is way more than a band.

What has Venomous Maximus in store for the rest of the year and are we able to talk about a successor to Beg Upon The Light yet?

For the rest of year we are working on writing and recording the new record which will have videos, new line of merch, and a short film. We have a few shows sprinkled in the next couple months but we have worn ourselves thin so right now we are juggling our personal lives, writing and recording and planning most of next year.

Once again a big thanks for sparing time for us, anything you would like to say to the readers?

I wanna thank all the people that have taken their time to take a second glance at something and follow their gut when they feel that there’s a deeper meaning in things. If you ask the question is it going to happen to me that means it is and that’s the truth.

And finally what have been the five most potent inspirations on you musically or personally?

Music I would have to say Beethoven, Pink Floyd The Wall from 5th grade, The Crow and the Doors from 6th grade and for films that helped me get a visual for music. The lists can go on and on. I am the kinda of guy that’s good with lists. For some reason music from people who are sad or disturbed has always just made me happy. It’s the people who relish in superficial joys that make me angry and Kenneth Anger is the shit. Read books so you don’t have to wait

https://www.facebook.com/VenomousMaximus

Read the Beg Upon The Light review @ http://ringmasterreviewintroduces.wordpress.com/2013/07/07/venomous-maximus-beg-upon-the-light/

Pete RingMaster

The RingMaster Review 26/07/2013

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Jess And The Ancient Ones – Self Titled

It is hard to be anything other than impressed by the debut self titled album from Finnish occult rock band Jess And The Ancient Ones. It is an album of immense depth, melodic splendour, and captivating majesty. Though not a release that had an immediate infection it slowly wrapped its skilled and evocative arms around the senses to bring a deep and lingering satisfaction and warmth, whilst its darkened atmospheres and emotive climes enveloped thoughts and emotions fully. It may have taken a couple of focused exposures to be convinced initially but the persuasion was absolute and the reward immense.

Formed in 2010 by guitarists Thomas Corpse and Thomas Fiend, the band was born with the instinct and intent to explore magical realms beyond the mundane. Completed instrumentally by third guitarist Von Stroh, bassist Fast Jake, drummer Yussuf, and Abraham on keyboards, the band take inspirations from the likes of Mercyful Fate, Roky Erickson, Iron Maiden and Abba to infuse their psychedelic rock/metal sounds for fullest effect. As powerful as their sounds are it finds a distinct elevation with the stunning vocals of Jess, her presence and voice stirring up already highly charged sounds with a sure and skilled breath. With lyrics drawn from personal occult experiences of the writers, the septet from Kuopio took no time in making a name and mark for themselves with the band being signed up by Svart Records in 2011. Their debut single 13th Breath of the Zodiac was released that October and sold out quickly with anticipation for a full length offering rising eagerly.

Prayer for Death and Fire is the first conjuration to explore and incite the ear, a superbly crafted composition with smouldering melodies from the keys and guitars surrounded by riffs and rhythms to draw out the deepest lying primal energy. Within a couple of minutes of the song Jess and the bass of Fast Jake steal attention away from the other corners of the song, his riffs rumbling and scowling with a bestial growl whilst Jess from a slow opening soars the landscape of the song with power and elegance.

A strong opening immediately surpassed by the following Twilight Witchcraft. With a psychedelic folk resonance to the creative weave the track is a playful yet sinister tease upon the senses. With a Wickerman feel to it, fanciful warm sounds in flight with a venomous purpose behind their rapture, the song is a masterful dark mistress with siren tendrils wrapping firmly around the body though the excellent guitar artistry and invention pervading every second of the song.

Though only consisting of seven songs the album is vast in mass and atmosphere. Each track has an epic element to them and none more so than the twelve minute Sulfur Giants (Red King). Though the song did not capture the imagination as much as the previous two it is impossible not to be enamoured with the unpredictable expanse of the song and its emotive energy. It also did not feel anywhere near its actual length, a sure sign of the enjoyment involved.

Ghost Riders canters in next, the irresistible grumbling bass groan and flitting guitar melodies making contrasting but obvious companions. There is a familiarity to the track though without a defined source which makes it easy to fall fully into. It also carries an eagerness which is impossible to resist, every element of the song a persuasive pleasure. The keys at times surprisingly reminded of The Stranglers with the near barracuda sound of the bass certainly added an extra depth to the comparison.

The album closing on the trio of 13th Breath of the Zodiac, Devil (in G minor), and Come Crimson Death. The first is an enjoyable pacing across the senses with male vocals making a more substantial companion to Jess than elsewhere, whilst the middle one of the three is a wonderful piano led creature, with a bustling jazzy swagger to it. It is an excellent track that shows the full strength and skill of the band in ability, songwriting, and diverse thought. The final twelve minute gem from its haunting start is a vibrant blend of harmonics, caressing melodies, and provocative imagery, a fitting end to a completely impressive album.

Jess and the Ancient Ones, band and release are musical alchemy at its height and a deeply pleasing pleasure to fall within. Released on CD and vinyl this is one devilment to eagerly lay down before and worship.

RingMaster 22/05/2012

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