REVIEW: VENOM PRISON – “Samsara”
https://www.oddshunter.ca/The UK upstarts Venom Prison are pissed off and will waste no time expressing every inch of their mania on their latest and perhaps most visceral effort yet, Samsara. What we get on this release is nine tracks (and one interlude) of well-crafted extreme metal, with all the bells and whistles that comes with the territory. However, Venom Prison dances with many subgenres flitting in and out of sections that instantly remind the listener of more established acts. The breakdown on the first single Uterine Industrialization has Dying Fetus written all over it, and album opener Matriphagy has a lot of Misery Index worship without blatantly ripping them off. Samsara is filled to the brim with callouts to Death, Cannibal Corpse, Hate Eternal while simultaneously nodding to modern OSDM acts like Tomb Mold, Phrenelith, and Outer Heaven.
The last time that a band leaped out of the woodwork and captured the attention of diehards was Code Orange on their 2016 release Forever. A safe way to succinctly describe Venom Prison would be “a more unhinged Code Orange”. While the former strayed closer to punk, Venom Prison borrows more from hardcore and death metal. A lot of this is due to the impressive guitar work by Ash Gray and Ben Thomas who weave brutal tapestries with well-executed jagged riffs, tremolo goodness, and cheeky stompy breakdowns which border on slams. Bassist Mike Jefferies holds up the low end with weighty riffs, yet does not ever stray too far away from formulaic sections and brings nothing particularly notable to the table.
If there was every something holding Venom Prison back from true greatness, it is the drums. The drum sections throughout the record are passable at best, yet frequently lackluster. In particular, the choice of blast-beats in many sections follow a more hardcore-esque beat which at best, screams early Cannibal Corpse, but does the riffs and general themes a great disservice. Many of these sections would have been better served with more traditional death metal sixteenth note blasts. This only further made prominent by the lack of fast-paced double-bass sections. The drumming on many of the slower-to-mid-paced sections are very well placed, but fall to the wayside in the more extreme sections, which is severely disappointing and dilutes the overall sound.
Vocalist Larissa Stupar is clearly who makes Venom Prison rise out of the trappings of the genre. Without demeaning the admittedly stellar guitar and bass arrangements as mentioned earlier, the vocal performances delivered by Stupar will ultimately put this band on the map. Her efforts on the previous records were strong, yet somewhat restrained, perhaps aiming to stick within what is expected of bands in this space. But on Samsara, she is taking no prisoners and is probably my favorite aspect of the Venom Prison sound. Her ability to seamlessly switch between death metal growls, hardcore barks, and tortured shrieks with the maturity of a much more experienced vocalist, perfectly evoking emotions corresponding to the underlying riffs and arrangements add a surprising amount of texture to a staple sound. It is a near impossible task to list out the vocal arrangements in fear of listing every single lyric. However, her chants of the album title Samsara! during the breakdown in Dukkha never fails to put a smile on my face. She has cemented her place among the prominent women fronting modern metal bands. Feel free to walk among the giants like Alissa White-Gluz (Arch Enemy), Simone Pluijmers (ex-Cerebral Bore, Your Chance to Die), Missi Avila (Your Chance to Die), Reba Myers (Code Orange), Tatiana Shmaylyuk (Jinjer), and many others.
While the first half of the record, up to the instrumental interlude Deva’s Enemy, relies heavily on blistering, aggressive, and almost bone shattering sonics, the second half, beginning with Asura’s Realm, is more melodic, blackened, and tortured. Tracks like Asura’s Realm, Sadistic Rituals, and Dukkha (Sanskrit for “the feeling of enveloping sadness and ennui”) have higher register tremolo picked riffs and higher pitched shrieks more reminiscent of black metal. Album closer Naraka (Sanskrit for “hell”) has long sections which can easily be pitched and fool even the most ardent “kvlt” listeners. These arrangements go a long way to add another textural aspect and variety to who Venom Prison want to be as musicians.
If there was a gripe to be had with Samsara (in addition to the weak drums) is that it does lack a sense of polish that can easily be chalked up to inexperience or was a stylistic choice to prioritize a “raw” aesthetic over overly “sterile” and “synthetic” production values. It is a minor quibble, and something which will be filtered through the optics of the listener and is ultimately subjective.
Overall, Venom Prison have something special with Samsara, a surprisingly enjoyable record incorporating diverse elements from death metal, black metal, and hardcore titans, into a cohesive blood-spattered collage.