Death metal with a message.
For their second album, March's 'Samsara', Venom Prison chose a rather grotesque cover that shows a woman being held whilst she gives births to eggs that harbour monstrous spiders. It's a gruesome image, but one that counter-acts the cover of their first record, 2016's 'Animus', which showed a man being restrained as he was brutally castrated. Whereas their debut LP was razor-sharp in who and what was firmly placed within it's crosshairs - violence, war, rapists, shitty attitudes towards women, etc. - 'Samsara' is a record looking from the inside-out; discussing flawed systems, the pigs in power, mundane existences, and death; all viewed through the lens of the femme in the modern era.
Or maybe that's not really the case, and I just sound like a total wanker. You can be the judge.
What is easily the biggest success of the latest Venom Prison album is its lyricism and thematic purpose, and how it balances out deeply personal horrors alongside important political preaching. If this album makes you feel uncomfortable about any of the many issues that it raises, then you're most likely the intended demographic to hear the riffy, heavy, and hellish sounds of 'Samsara'. Personal or political, vocalist Larissa Stupar doesn't hold back; she and the band sure as shit don't mince their words. Serrated lyrical attacks lash against governments in power, capitalist systems, abusers, those who get away with literal and figurative murder because of privileges, various philosophical and spiritual cornerstones, and Larissa's own worst demons (e.g. 'Self Inflicted Violence').
[caption id="attachment_1106065" align="aligncenter" width="760"] Venom Prison, 2019. [/caption]
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The record's very first song, 'Matriphagy', sonically takes after its namesake: children devouring their mother a la the arachnid and insect world that the word comes from; "a hormonal cold war" occurring right within the womb. It's a dark and volatile track that sounds like literal monsters gorging themselves amongst imposing percussion and thickened walls of distortion; a fine opening cut that sets the pace and tone for the U.K. band's second album well enough. The savage 'Uterine Industrialisation' speaks of the bond between mothers and their offspring, whilst critiquing those who try to control women’s reproductive rights. It's a stomping, punishing and ugly death metal track to push back against ugly and dehumanising opinions and policies towards women. All armed with one fuckin' tough breakdown too, might I add.
'Megillus & Leana' is a raging vehicle for the South Wales group to honour and defend LGBT communities the world over; "Suffocated, stoned to death/Paid with life for homophobic laws". Whether these people be stuck within the Bible Belt of America or reside in the Middle-East, afraid to come out publicly lest they receive family or community rejection, or a far worse fate, this song is for them and their struggles.
Elsewhere, the rampaging five-minutes of 'Implementing The Metaphysics of Morals' re-shifts the blame often placed upon survivors of abuse, sexual or otherwise, and puts it back on the perpetrators and systems that allow these offenders to miss punishment or even repeat their heinous actions; "Your justice is blind, mindless and heartless/In a court room where money can buy freedom". It's a hopeful gift of solidarity and power for survivors who have struggled under those who can cheat the system. Yet it's also a call-out to the courts who allow individuals with violent tendencies back into society or even back into the homes of those who fear their wrath the most.
Other than the title being a dead give-away, there's also an interesting spiritual side to 'Samsara'.
In Buddhism and other such faiths, Deva are beings representing all things heavenly and divine, whereas as the Asura are demons of wrath. The album's sole ominous and creepy electronic instrumental, 'Deva's Enemy', which is punctured by what sounds like the harsh crack of a slave drivers whip, leads right into it's polar opposite, the blistering and lead-driven 'Asura's Realm', ushering in the album's equally heavy Side-B. The metaphor at play here being that the Deva (the general population) are always pushing back against and fighting with the Asura (the politicians atop the social hierarchy); implying that these class struggles are eternal and cyclic for their own self-gain; "Fabrication of scapegoats to lure the prey/Infiltrating the parliament on Election Day".
Another yin and yang pair of tracks appears soon after with the penultimate 'Dukkha' ("suffering" and existence in Hinduism and Buddhism) and album closer 'Naraka' ("hell" or torment in Hinduism and Buddhism), taking the album in more introspective and personal directions. The former starts with sliding tom fills and guitars slipping in and out over a 911 call, all before a maelstrom of blast-beats surge the track onward as it careens through a double-kick-laden passage of hectic screams decrying "samsara" and a general wish to simply die to end this pain. Then, the latter finale takes you into the mind of someone who sees their body as a mere prison. Gloomy guitars offer a breadth of space over weighty drum grooves during the intro, but it's a short-lived respite before Venom Prison tear you a gaping new one. It's a fittingly fiendish send off, a solid closing piece that battles with heavy traumas of the past and how those horrible events still torture one's mind to this day. After all, there is no hell worse to be dragged to than that of the darkest recesses of one's own mind.
Matching up to this album's bleak and brutal lyrics are the hard-hitting instrumentals and songs themselves. Blast-beats decimate and clanking ride bell hits cut through layers of distortion; guitarists Ash Gray and Ben Thomas have their heavy buzzing chugs surge hard, as do their wailing amp feedback and pinching sequels; and Larissa's demonic vocal performances truly steal the show. She just has so much venom (sorry) and rage behind the words that she spits; she means what she says, and she says what she means. There's so much drive and power to her voice that it's damned hard to ignore. Her lows go so low and her highs pierce flesh with ease. She's definitely one of the best up-and-coming voices in death metal today!
Other than Joe Bills' drums feeling kinda flat in the mix and the album's 80's death metal, 90's hardcore production leaving a little to be desired at times (even if intended), the only criticism I have for 'Samsara' is that things do get too repetitive by the end. Of course, this album is the musical equivalent of a blunt force object; having moments of levity or brevity may have hindered the desired effect. I'm sure many will adore the non-stop brutality this album offers, and I do too for the most part, but the lack of bigger movements in variation at some points do make things too samey. The melodic tremolo leads and blackened vibes heard on album standout 'Satanic Rituals' are lung-filling breaths of fresh air amidst the swallowing death metal/hardcore soundscapes. As is most of 'Naraka'; that track's swirling solo following its mid-section picks up your ears, as do those killer dissonant guitars, and a tapping part that leads a galloping procession down into the bowels of the Earth.
In all honesty, my very first listen of 'Samsara' didn't blow me away; it didn't "wow" me. In the very beginning, I thought it was simply fine, serviceable. However, it's on repeat listens that the intensity, the rawness, the strength, but also the real enjoyment and vision of it fully comes out. If Venom Prison's latest doesn't click with you right away, then that's okay. Give it another fair go and it's bound to pull you into it's endless black void of personal woe and skitz riffs.
Blimey, Venom Prison don't hold back with the ten tracks of LP #2! In fact, they've just gone harder than ever before and have well and truly sent it. This is a noisy and chaotic affair, and with their vocalist's honest and tortured vocals leading the war party, Venom Prison haven't sounded as dangerous or as pissed-off as they do here. Given 'Animus', that's a real feat! There is no real salvation or nirvana to be achieved through the dark sounds, horrible experiences, and depressing thoughts offered in 'Samsara'. No, if anything, it's a grim and violent record that tackles oppression because it reflects the cruel and oppressive nature of an equally grim and violent world. This is death metal with a real message to share. Listen closely.
2. Megillus & Leaena
3. Uterine Industrialisation
4. Self Inflicted Violence
5. Deva's Enemy
6. Asura's Realm
7. Sadistic Rituals
8. Implementing The Metaphysics Of Morals
'Samsara' is out now!