By Dr. Abner Mality

The sludge/doom/psych scene is exploding like an atom bomb all over the place but the aftermath of the explosion is a plethora of trend-following sound-alike bands who are diluting the integrity of the music. Thank heavens for Venomous Maximus, because these guys are putting extra effort into doing something new...and that effort is paying big dividends.

This Texas band is stirring up a witches brew of sonic influences on their new album "Beg Upon the Light". Over the course of this album, your head will spin like a top trying to identify what inspired the band to write a particular hook or melody. Names like Candlemass, Thin Lizzy, Mastodon, Monster Magnet and Iron Maiden may flit through your skull like hordes of moths. And that's to say nothing of Venomous' non-metal touches, which singer Gregg Higgins delights in hiding throughout their tunes.

Speaking of Mr. Higgins, I had a great time talking to this intense, energized frontman. He's like a human volcano of creativity, dabbling not only in music, but also art (he's a great tattoo and print artist) and film. He lays down the philosophy that drives the band and it's a dark one that's rooted in their very name. You can get on board the Venomous Maximus express here at Wormwood and get by these vipers of metal!

(Also, a special shout out to bassist Trevi Biles, who gave me a sample of his homemade "Eyehategod: In the Name of Suffering" hot sauce, which was indeed most tasty. You can check it out at

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: The name of Venomous Maximus has risen quickly over the last year. Did that really happen that quickly or has this band been brewing for quite a while?

GREGG HIGGINS: It's something that's been brewing quite a while with me and the drummer, Bongo. But we didn't start publicly releasing our material until we had every member of the band. Me and him have been jamming together for probably about five years now but the fully functioning band that plays out has been going for about three years now.

WC: You feel pretty confident that you now have the band that's gonna stick together?

GH: Yeah, this is the band. We won't have any other people. It's like Led Zeppelin. Without Bonham, there's no fuckin' show! I'm not saying anything about anybody else but what makes this band work is the chemistry between the people in it.

WC: Right now, you're playing at a fest called Days of the Doomed. There are a lot of sludge and doom bands around these days.  You very much have got your own sound. It's not another knock-off of Black Sabbath or Electric Wizard. How did you arrive at this original sound?

GH: When I was a teenager, it seemed that everytime I was in a band, it would be a thrash band. Then it would be a black metal band, then it would be a hardcore band...because I LOVE all kinds of metal. But what I always wanted to do was play the music I loved when I was a kid. Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Blue Oyster Cult...the giants! But when you're a teenager, it's not very fuckin' possible! You have to work your way up the ranks of metal to get to that level. I knew I wanted to incorporate everything I'd always liked from black metal to even classical type singing and blues. All of it! Even some psychedelic influences.  We mix if all together. The way we are, I've never 100% dictated the sound. I let the drummer put his influences in. He's very ZZ Top/Bob Seger based. That's his stuff. My other guitar player Christian, he loves Guns N Roses, he loves Johnny Thunders. And Trevi my bassist, he's an old school hesher, he loves fuckin' Venom and Celtic Frost. We just put that all together, we listen to everybody's input and we let the band sound how it's gonna sound. We don't dictate it. I think if you respect your band as an entity and let it be itself, it will grow into something unique.

WC: Your PR describes you as a "dark occult metal band". Are you happy with that tag?

GH:  I don't give a shit what anybody calls us. All these names are really for is for the metalheads and the fuckin' vinyl collectors to know what they're really getting.  We see ourselves as a heavy metal rock band that's into the devil and into the imagery of the occult and astrology. We're into everything, though. It's not just  the dark side. I'm into Buddhism...all religions and cultures.

WC: Whatever inspires you...

GH: Yeah, whatever inspires me! As long as it's from the other side.

WC: Your current album has the title "Beg Upon the Light". What does that term mean? Could if refer to a prayer?

GH: OK, when I was a child around 15 or so, I remember a good buddy of mine  who had a copy of the Necronomicon. All of us metalheads, there's always a stage when everybody gets the Necronomicon. (chuckles) I remember him telling me, "if you buy this book, Gregg, you can never let the light hit the cover." The light can't touch the book. Our record was going to be called "Don't Touch The Light". All I was trying to say was, don't let this record touch the light! The sun will melt it. You know, I like puns and stuff like that. During the recording of the record, I actually got the flu and I got the flu worse than I'd had it in years. I mean, I had fuckin' fever. In the middle of this sickness, I was like, why the fuck am I sick now? All I wanna do is record this album. I found myself begging to get better so I could make this music. So the way that I am, I let life dictate what's happening. If life tells me to do this and change this, then I'll change it. So the record had to have it's name changed to "Beg Upon the Light".

WC: There's a ton of emotion in your vocals, like angry shouts and snarls. Was that some of the frustration of dealing with that situation coming out?

GH: Yes! That was the point. I've been in other bands before where it was all screaming and harsh vocals with some slight clean vocals. For Venomous, I want to do it completely different. The only reason there is screaming and shouting now is to show the emotion at that particular point. It's not screaming for screaming's sake. I'm trying to speak right to the listener. I'm not trying to trick you or make metaphors, I want people to feel that when they listen to our record, that I'm talking straight to you. It's very intimate.

WC: It is different than much of what we hear in metal today. Now there's a kick with the female singer for an occult rock band...or we get the death growlers.

GH: Everybody was doing Sleep five years ago, now it's Electric Wizard. That's fine, I love it all, but I can't sound like that. I don't know how to do that. All I know how to do is sound like how we are.

WC: The occult philosophy behind the band, I sense there's more than just jumping on the bandwagon where everybody puts a pentagram or a goat head on their album cover.

GH: No, no, this isn't even about music! The music is the vehicle. This is how I've always been and I have always spoken through my heart. I'm a tattooer and I've used that to convey my ideas as well. All the band is, is a vehicle to get these experiences, these thoughts, this's not about music.

WC: What is the philosophy, then?

GH: The philosophy of Venomous Maximus is that if you're going to be a snake, then be a venomous snake. Because this world is fucking brutal. It is very hard to make it by just being happy. To exist successfully in this world, you've got to be fucking tough. You must push the extremes in thought, in spirituality, in must live to the extreme to get the full experience of being a human. I feel that when you have done that, you have become the Venomous Maximus.

WC: What are some of the non-metal influences that creep into your music?

GH: Tons, tons! People don't realize...there's probably MORE non-metal influences in our sound because we're all metalheads. We don't even have to try to do it. But I can tell you right now,  there's a lot of 80s' darkwave music like Bauhaus, Joy Division, Peter Murphy in our style. That's like a big musical influence on me singing. But there's also like....this is gonna sound fuckin' crazy (chuckles)...a lot of DISCO that we like. We dig that kind of groove. In the metal world, though, that's one of the biggest taboos there is! KISS, man, with "I Was Made For Lovin' You" ...we love that shit!

WC: Cathedral got away with it. They put funky beats in their music...

GH: You see, I think that's what's really exciting, In this world we have that is very closed off, we don't open the doors to everybody. I love the fact that we can bring in these other musical influences and TRICK people into accepting them in our music. That's one of our secrets.

WC: In the 80's, I would hardly listen to anything that wasn't thrash ...I wouldn't even listen to Iron Maiden for a while! But now I can listen to stuff like Johnny Cash or weird electronic music.

GH: Oh yeah! We really like a lot of psychedelic rock from Texas, since we're from there. Townes van Zandt, Roky Erickson...we really like Texas music. Texas has a very strong history of musical culture and we've always tried to "vibe" off that.

WC: One of the songs on the album is "Hell's Heroes". What's that about? What kind of heroes does Hell have?

GH: The song is about men, women and children through all of human history, not just the Dark Ages, who get persecuted for their beliefs. No matter what those beliefs are, even if you don't believe in anything. It's just people fuckin' with other people, that's all I see it as. And the world sees us as hellions, heathens. But they don't realize...even Hell needs its fuckin' heroes! And that's how I see us. The song is for us. We are all "Hell's Heroes".

WC: It's a very personal song.

GH: Yes, yes. that is OUR song.

WC: It may too early for this, but do you have the kernels of any idea for what comes after "Beg Upon The Light"?

GH: Yeah, as soon as we get off tour, we're going to start recording the next record. We've already got it planned out. I'm gonna give you a little exclusive!  It's going to be called "Firewalker" and it's going to be a complete concept album where every song in order tells a complete story. We're also going to make a 15 minute short film that's going to go along with the record. But the soundtrack to the movie ISN'T going to be our music. It's going to be our friend Bo Beasley, who used to be in a grindcore band called Insect Warfare. Bo's the guy who did all the Moog work on "Beg Upon the Light"...all the keyboards and stuff. When we do the short film, he's going to do a full Goblin-esque soundtrack. So when the new record comes out, there will also be a short film and this accompanying soundtrack!

WC: There's an event in Texas coming up, in Austin, that Phil Anselmo is doing. It features horror and heavy metal...

GH: Oh yeah, we are totally there!

WC: I talked to him a while back and I didn't know what would happen given his reputation...

GH: He's the nicest son of a bitch in the whole world! Back in January, we did four dates with Down. Everybody has this idea he's this huge asshole. Well, he's an asshole if you come up and say some stupid shit to him. But if you act respectful, man, he's one of the nicest guys around. And he's a complete fan! A huge music and horror fan. Hey, have you heard about the film "Beyond the Black Rainbow"? Dude, you need to write something about that fuckin' movie. It's a cross between "2001", "Clockwork Orange", "Blade Runner" and "Videodrome".

WC: They need to start doing stuff like that, because what's at the multiplex is killing me. I'm a huge comic fan, I've got thousands of them, but even I'm sick and tired of superhero movies.

GH: I like artists like Bernie Wrightson and Michael Whelan. You know, I've got some of my own prints that I do. Come over to the merch table when we're through with this and I'll give you some.

WC: You guys got a deal with Napalm Records. How did that come about?

GH: Just out of the blue. In the beginning, we did everything ourselves. We paid for everything and had complete control. Then we put all the cards on the table, did "Beg Upon the Light" and paid for it  We did it with the hope that if we did everything the way we wanted it, someone would take notice. And we did it and they called us up out of the blue.

WC: In the last couple of years, they've gone from being a mostly black metal/Goth European only label into a label that has almost everything you can think of.

GH: We noticed  that! Candlemass did their last record with Napalm and they did the European releases for another Texas band we've played with, The Sword. We thought, OK, this is cool, they've got a vision, they've got diversity. Something is happening right now in heavy metal, with this vintage doom, 70's heavy metal influence. It's fuckin' beautiful!

WC: It's not only newer bands, but the original bands from back in the day themselves are doing great work.

GH: Like Satan coming back? And how about Traitor's Gate?

WC: This year, I saw Pagan Altar at Maryland Deathfest.

GH: Oh yeah, they're one of my biggest fuckin' influences.

WC: If you could ask any three people from history to dinner, who would they be?

GH:  Well, I like a lot more dead people than live people. (chuckles) That's a really hard question. I'd have to break them up into different time periods. I tell you right now, one person I'd really like to talk with would be Jim Morrison. Nikolai Tesla would be another. And then....Genghis motherfuckin' Khan! (laughs)

WC: That would be interesting for sure!

GH: Jesus Christ...Julius Caesar,,,

WC: How about Crowley?

GH: Huh! I'd definitely love to go back in time and hang out with Crowley. I live a fuckin' Crowley type of existence! We all do!

WC: Jimi Hendrix...

GH: I'd love to chill with Jimi. I mean, I'd love to chill with all the old rock stars and stuff, but there's a ton of authors like Edgar Allan Poe I'd talk to, too!

WC: What was the last CD or release you got just because you wanted to hear it?

GH: That's kinda tricky, because I buy a shitload of music. One band I'm really digging and I like to talk about to people is a band called A Place To Bury Strangers. They're from Brooklyn and they're like a mixture of Jesus and Mary Chain, Nine Inch Nails, a little bit of Joy Division. I like the new Black Angels, too...they're a psychedelic rock band. So much stuff out there...

WC: I was listening to the new Sabbath on the way up here.

GH: I haven't gotten that one yet. What's that like?

WC: I have to say, my expectations were low for it, but it is 100% a Black Sabbath album. There's one song on there that is so much like their early 70's stuff, with an evil blues riff and even harmonica...they really did recreate their classic sound..

GH: Hey, that reminds me! Last week, they finally re-released the very first Thin Lizzy record on vinyl which has been out of production forever. Oh man, that record!

WC: Has Venomous Maximus ever had any kind of a Spinal Tap moment they can share with the readers?

GH: Every fuckin' show, man! (laughs) Last year when we played Reggie's in Chicago was a total fuckin' Spinal Tap moment! We were in our dressing room in the basement and we got lost going upstairs! We were all raised watching that movie and we love it, we love Spinal Tap. We love the other music movie they did, "The Mighty Wind", about the folk music guys.

WC: Any last words for the faithful out there?

GH: You haven't seen anything yet!