Venomin James – Left Hand Man
The following description will be a nearly impossible leap of logic, but seriously, I promise it’s true. Imagine a world where The Sword DIDN’T suck and weren’t completely disingenuous bastards. I know, I know, such a hypothesis should be spoken in the same breath with alien abduction, MJ-12, and Holocaust denial, but I’ve come to say that such a far-fetched hypothesis is indeed fully rooted in truth. Venomin James plays The Sword’s blend of traditional metal, doom, Southern sludge, and hard rock, but unlike that band, actually cares about the music they play and are able to craft an asskicking album out of those elements that go to waste on ‘Age Of Winters’. But it’s unfair to describe Venomin James in terms of another, lesser band; these guys deserve much better.
If you’ve heard Southern-style sludge material, you know what you’re going to find here: big, heavy riffs that form the meeting point between Black Sabbath, Sleep, and Black Label Society, clean vocals ranging from a somewhat reserved Bishop-style croon to Wylde screams, and, above all, a constantly throbbing groove that pulses through every second of this disc. If your head does not bob throughout this whole album, I’d dare say that you have no soul. ‘Left Hand Man’ packs some of the groovingist riffs this side of Down and knows just when to switch to another or change them up ever so slightly (‘Bullet Juice’ is a great example of how the band can use tiny variations on a single riff to great effect). A fantastically intense drum performance and possibly one of the best vocal performances I’ve ever heard in the style round out the sound of the band, and the powerful and clear production allows every movement in the band (including the subtle but crucial addition of the bass) to be heard perfectly.
There’s not a weak track on here, though a few do stand out from the uniformly great pack. Opener ‘Abu Ghraib’ reminds me a lot of New Jersey’s Maegashira, with its heavy and epic yet grooving riffs, while ‘Downer’, maybe the best track on the album, stands as having probably the best groove on the album with its little stop-starting riff number a bit under halfway through. It’s priceless. This album really is a great representation of how this style of heavy metal should be crafted, and it’s played in a way that really communicates a love of the music on the part of those making it. I can only imagine how great this band is to see live simply because you can tell how into it everyone involved is. The band plays marvelously together, with such an organic feel that every tempo and rhythm shift has a sliding and natural quality to it. I guess that’s the way you can really tell that this album is great: you can anticipate every masterful change in the groove to the point where the music is practically an inherent part of the listener.
This is not an original album. It is, however, one of the best creations within that ‘Southern Metal’ aesthetic that I’ve ever personally heard. If you dig Black Label Society, Bongzilla, Black Sabbath, hell, if you love ZZ Top, you owe it to yourself to grab this LP immediately. It’s a short but absolute crusher of a release from a band that will most certainly be putting out kickass heavy metal for many, many years.