Since coming to prominence with their debut album Animus in 2016, Venom Prison have been regularly touted as one of the shining lights of UK metal, not only on the more extreme end but just in general. It’s hardly difficult to see why either, with a sound that recalls that of death metal’s classic while still sounding sharp and unflinchingly contemporary, a lyrical focus that hits with depth and incision around profoundly modern issues, and in Larissa Stupar, a vocalist that has rapidly become a superstar within the scene in her own right. The indication of all of that would be a true force to be reckoned with, and indeed, militant live appearances and enormous media pushes have put Venom Prison right onto contemporary metal’s frontline, and with Samsara, that doesn’t look to change. Uterine Industrialisation has already proven that this is not a watering down by any means, and the formidable reputation that this band have stacked up for themselves wouldn’t suggest that any too disruptive is coming to stop them from steamrolling over the competition once again.
Of course, it’s not like that was ever going to be the case for Venom Prison. There hasn’t been a death metal band in years that’s left its mark as deeply as they have, and the fact they’ve only been holding steady since Animus would suggest that this is a band in it for the long haul. On top of that though, it also suggests that they’re on pretty stable footing to continue where they are, and that largely feels like the case with Samsara. That’s not to be confused with complacency though; this is still a crushing, deeply evocative album from a band who continue to represent the new gold standard, and even without any sort of grand progression or reinvention, this is everything that death metal in 2019 should be.
That’s something that Venom Prison have long established in their writing, but even instrumentally, there’s such a contemporary air surrounding Samsara that really does surpass the vast majority of what the rest of the genre has to offer. A big part of that comes in some very close parallels to hardcore and how, on tracks like Sadistic Rituals, there’s a pounding stomp that feels so much more menacing and devastating with the death metal production, to the point where Samsara becomes such an imposing listen on size alone. It’s not like there’s a dearth of pure death metal intensity that needs to be made up for either; the bloodshot violence in Stupar’s vocals can manage that alone, especially paired with the Stygian guitar tone and drum intensity on the likes of Uterine Industrialisation and Self Inflicted Violence. On the whole, Venom Prison barely miss a beat in terms of eking out an impossibly tight, refined sound that still sounds heavy as all hell, and even if a bit more variety wouldn’t go amiss besides the grinding, ominous noise of the interlude Deva’s Enemy, that’s the most minor of nitpicks when it comes to Samsara’s pure formidability.
That’s certainly a good start on its own, but as ever, the writing is the main source of layers that make Venom Prison such a cutting and important proposition. Again, classic death metal serves as a suitable framework, and Megillus & Leana and Uterine Industrialisation have all the gore in their imagery to draw some rather conclusive throughlines, but there’s a relevant social angle to so much of this album that Venom Prison take to with just as much intensity and fury. After all, the running theme is that of death and rebirth drawing from various aspects of Hindu and Buddhist mythology, and that comes across in Stupar’s evisceration of modern ills to replace them with something a lot more moral and just, especially turning the focus on her own depression with graphic severity on Dukkha and Naraka. But the focus also swings around to the wider world, arguably with even more venom, tackling a culture that defines women’s worth for them on Matriphagy and Uterine Industrialisation, treats accusations of sexual misconduct with disregard and nonchalance on Implementing The Metaphysics Of Morals, and sees a view of barbarism and distain towards homosexuality prevail on Megillus & Leana. In a way, it’s representative of Venom Prison’s hardcore leanings coming through again, prioritising a sense of empowerment for all by ripping down anything that prevents that with rampaging ferocity.
It’s arguably what makes Venom Prison as important in modern death metal as they are; there are so few other bands tackling topics like this, let alone with this sort of fury and drive. It helps that it’s done remarkably well too, with an exceptional degree of modernity combined with classic sensibilities that make Samsara a must for any modern metal fan. With this album, Venom Prison are proving that they’re much more than just a one-and-done sort of band, continuing to sound as vital and provocative as this genre possibly could and should. On this evidence, their position leading the charge won’t be changing any time soon.
For fans of: Power Trip, Tomb Mold, Employed To Serve
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Samsara’ by Venom Prison is released on 15th March on Prosthetic Records.