Venom & Tears is without a doubt Throwdown's most accomplished record, both musically and lyrically. However, the abrupt metallic shift in the evolution of the band's sound that occurs on the album has created a paradox on multiple levels.
For one, there is still a huge divide between the veteran hardcore followers of the band and the metalheads. Although vocalist Dave Peters recently pleaded for unity between the two scenes, it's hard to imagine a metalhead wanting to hear about straight-edge, just as it's hard to imagine a hardcore aficionado interested in the slower, riff-oriented grooves on Venom & Tears. Even the buzzworthy (sarcasm included) profile change from "hardcore" to "metal" seems strange, though no one would question the two together as part of the metalcore sound of the band's previous releases.
Straying from their fairly strict hardcore adherence may be in part responsible for the band's deviation from the traditional simplicity of their Ten Yard Fight-styled lyrics about hardcore and straight-edge. Throwdown has always been involved in socially conscious projects -- like their contribution to the Asian Man Records Plea for Peace Foundation and their support for groups like Amnesty International, Second Harvest, DATA, and RAINN -- but rarely did their lyrical content indicate such an agenda. Venom & Tears is a breakthrough for the band in this regard, as they rail against issues like organized religion, insipid American society, and domineering foreign policy in surprisingly articulate fashion.
The hardcore speed-metal of "Holy Roller" pummels through first, which alternates between a savage galloping rhythm and metal guitar riffs with Bad Religion-themed lyrics: "Sermon of hate / Spoken between a smile and words of piety / Well I've got a use for you / It's time we stuck the pig / Teeth in my tongue for far too long / I've watched your lechery / So let this be your requiem / When there's no eulogy I'll speak." "Hellbent (On War)" offers a refreshingly pacifist message from the often self-antagonizing band: "Now we're well past words and threats and everything in between / No more restraint, just pure hostility / Confrontation, intimidation, vindication... / An eye for an eye / A tooth for a tooth / But a code of violence and vengeance is written in blood" with a chorus that shouts out fellow hardcore brethren Blood for Blood.
The best music on the album comes from the circle pit-impelling "S.C.U.M.," which includes the disheartening line "Fuck the gangs of middle class suburbia, the gutter punks, their Prozac-medicated parents too strung out to give a shit," though the sincerity might be debatable given that the band did give props to veteran punkers like Bad Religion and MxPx on the 2007 Warped Tour. Regardless, the line that follows entirely makes up for any misunderstandings: "If I see another pedophile priest released, a hipster glam-rock wannabe, a cop shooting an unarmed teen, I'll carve my eyes out with a stick." "I Suicide" feels like a heavier, updated version of DRI-crossover thrash, and is probably the next big thing when all the burnout college kids get bored of their iPods and iPhones.
The metal-oriented music on Venom & Tears is not without its downfalls though. The album was produced by Andrew "Mudrock" Murdock, who has also produced the likes of Godsmack, Avenged Sevenfold and Powerman 5000. The undesirable similarities of his clients (especially Godsmack) resonate far too much through the banal grooving of "Venom & Tears" and the ironically titled "Godspeed," while "Day of the Dog" gives off a cheesy Metallica vibe.
With the unveiling of Venom & Tears, many have likened the band's new style to nothing more than a Pantera ripoff. While there may be some truth in such sentiment, it's hard to argue against listening to a socially conscious straight-edge rendition of the sound in lieu of a gaggle of vaguely racist, misogynist confederates, especially when Pantera themselves have been accused of ripping off other bands' sounds. The most amusing aspect of the Pantera comparisons comes attached to "Americana," a song that thrashes and tears apart what the Texas metal band embraced: "All hail the god on TV / White noise medicating / Rape and murder, holy war / Nothing phases me / [...] / Eyes wide, fixed and dilated / A myriad of rich white trash / Nothing phases me."
The final paradox of Throwdown's "metalling" is ultimately the most important: Venom & Tears is more progressed musically and lyrically than their previous material, but is it any more enjoyable? For that matter, is anything more enjoyable than dancing around with your half-shelled buddies and singing classic Throwdown songs?
When Throwdown can capture the substance and impressive riffs of Venom & Tears with the fun of their preceding work, only then will they reach their full potential. Nevertheless, Venom & Tears shows progress on multiple levels and is sure to please most Throwdown fans (especially those with an itch for southern metal).