Covid-19 lockdown might be responsible for placing most bands in a state of inertia, but Venom Prison had the novel idea of re-recording their two EPs from 2015 and adding a couple of new songs on top to give us a new offering. Most of you will roll your eyes when you realise this is not a studio album of fresh material. Don’t most bands release these sorts of compilations when trying to escape from a recording contract? Or when they run out of ideas?
It’s true that Venom Prison need to stay in the limelight following the buzz created by their 2019 album, Samsara. As one of the fiercest death metal records in years and with a passion for tackling social injustice matched only by Napalm Death, Samsara was a bold statement from a Welsh band with a charismatic Russian-German frontwoman behind the microphone. Now is a good time to remind people of their early releases, but to re-record nine old tracks is unusual. Maybe they weren’t happy with the originals? Who knows?
Primeval makes more sense if we analyse it in three parts, with the first five tracks comprising the Defy the Tyrant demo EP from 2015, songs six to nine making up The Primal Chaos EP from the same year, and the last two compositions examined on their own merit as new cuts.
In hindsight, the latest recordings from Defy the Tyrant (track 1-5) demonstrate the band’s talent for structuring a work of art that offers something for everyone. ‘Usurper of the Throne’ is a maelstrom of Carcass and Slayer riffs with Machine Head’s heavy grooves, while ‘Mortal Abomination’ is a rousing death-doom number with melancholy guitar harmonies and vitriolic vocals. Standout track, ‘Life Suffer’ showcases Larissa Stupar’s hostile voice at its most menacing. The venomous bite of her larynx produces a phonation few can match for sheer intensity. And when Larissa unleashes her roar, she means it. Is there another death metal band on the planet that speaks out against homophobia, rape culture, matriarchal dominance and the submission of women? You can accuse some extreme metal bands of going through the motions but not Venom Prison.
If the five tracks from Defy the Tyrant tell us that Ash Gray loved a crushing breakdown riff in 2015, the recruitment of Ben Thomas on lead guitar for the four tracks of The Primal Chaos EP added a new dimension to the band. The re-recordings from this period are even more hostile and more aligned to the blast beat than the band’s debut offering. Larissa’s vocals are fiendish, her screams gruesome. ‘Babylon the Whore’ is as much beatdown hardcore as Carcass-inspired death metal and ‘Daemon Vulgaris’ is a three-minute journey through endless brutality with breakdown riffs following on from each other like night and day. This period in the group’s evolution also begs the question: why do Venom Prison avoid the deathcore tag? It’s not easy to answer, but it could be because the guitarists cram so many riffs and tempo changes into the music to make it impossible to categorise it as anything other than extreme metal. This can also be their undoing, for too many of the guitar licks borrow from Carcass’ Surgical Steel album. The sheer number of them is also perplexing. ‘Narcotic’ is only two minutes in length yet we’re already on the sixth riff of the song after 42 seconds. Chaos might be part of the strategy but give us time to settle down!
The two new songs at the end are the most important. Clearly, the band have no intention to slow down after the furious showing on Samsara. ‘Defiant to the Will of God’ is another cauldron of death metal riffs, syncopated rhythms and double-bass drums. Mathcore-death metal is a preposterous term, but Venom Prison are close to testing the theory with the sheer number of notes and screams packaged into the 4 minutes and 45 seconds. But fans will notice one thing over everything else – Larissa explores a brief twenty seconds of dreamy shoegaze vocals and produces a ‘clean’ vocal harmony of sorts in the chorus to ‘Slayer of Holofernes’. This is something to be excited about if she develops this aspect to her range. It might also be a hint of things to come.
Release Date: 09/10/2020
Record Label: Prosthetic Records
Standout tracks: Life Suffer, Defy the Tyrant, Defiant to the Will of God
Suggested Further Listening: Carcass – Surgical Steel (2013), Machine Head – The Blackening (2006), Napalm Death – Apex Predator – Easy Meat (2015)