Pity The Nameless: Venom Prison Discuss The Egalitarian Brutality of 'Samsara'

Matt Mills 12 March 2019

“It doesn’t matter how bright we shine, the darkness always takes over,” begins guitarist Ash Gray, whose band, Venom Prison, are one of the bleakest in modern death metal. That said, after analysing the state of contemporary society on their new album ‘Samsara’, their nihilistic outlook is justified.

Respectively, songs like Uterine Industrialisation, Megillus & Leana and Asura’s Realm are very candid examinations of rape culture, homophobia and institutional racism. “I can’t listen to a song that doesn’t connect with me,” Gray says. “This stuff is real. I’d rather not have lyrics on our record that are about slaying goblins and riding dragons.”

On ‘Samsara’, Venom Prison explore personal and sociopolitical issues through the lens of apocalyptic and religious allegories. Stories of gods and Armageddon are re-appropriated to reflect the state of the world in 2019. “No one ever wants to say anything about religion,” Gray says. “It’s the same when you talk about rape culture. I think people are very scared to challenge it. We asked, ‘Why can’t we do that?’”

The guitarist elaborates that Venom Prison’s fascination with the real world’s dark underbelly comes as a result of their origins–not as metalheads, but as followers of socially-conscious hardcore punk. “Hardcore is the way I got into music,” he says. “We were always punk and hardcore kids and it’s always been something we’re surrounded by. Where I grew up in Newport was around the corner from [legendary venue] TJ’s and we would get shows there every week. The promoter used to just let me in to all these shows on my own. That’s how I started meeting people.”

One person Gray met is fellow hardcore fan, singer Larissa Stupar. The two would spend years on the punk circuit, churning out intensely gritty tunes. However, when their separate bands dissolved at around the same time, the two decided to come together and broaden their horizons as far as they could.

“I always said to myself, ‘If I’m going to do another band, I have to challenge myself in every way possible,’” Gray remembers. “Going towards metal was a challenge for me. I guess that’s what fuelled me. I’d never done a metal band before this.”

Venom Prison emerged, arms flailing, with two EPs in 2015: ‘Defy the Tyrant’ and ‘The Primal Chaos’. The raw releases made no secret of their punk-meets-metal hybridity. Stupar’s fast-paced growls and screams emulated those of ‘80s grindcore, while the guitar-playing was a mesh of hardcore chords with more metallic, virtuoso shredding. Gray attributes this diversity to the fact that “our attention spans aren’t particularly great”.

“When I listen to a lot of metal, I hear the same riff over and over for four or five minutes,” he says. “When I’m demoing Venom Prison stuff, I’ll sit back, put my headphones on and see if it keeps me interested. If it doesn’t, it’s scrapped. That’s how Venom Prison works: ‘Out of the five of us, put your hand up when you start to get bored.’”

Venom Prison’s politically-charged EPs quickly attracted the attention of Prosthetic Records, the US label once home to metal titans like Testament, Lamb of God and Gojira. They released Venom Prison’s full-length debut, ‘Animus’, in October 2016. Despite being the first album from youngsters deep in the death metal underground, it saw Venom Prison’s popularity skyrocket. Mainstream publications gave it rave reviews and proclaimed them to be one of the hottest metal acts in the UK.

It’s a response that, to this day, continues to surprise Gray. “We started Venom Prison to try and achieve something we hadn’t achieved before, which was being in a metal band,” he states. “I’ve always been too stubborn for my own good; we wrote that music for ourselves. Our goals were not to get to where we are now.”

Reaping such a level of acclaim has often been the killer blow for a promising rock band who find themselves suddenly unable to follow up their initial success. However, for Venom Prison, the triumph of ‘Animus’ was not a deterrent to writing new material. It was a motivator.

“When we finished ‘Animus’, I went, ‘I’m gonna start playing guitar a lot more,’” Gray says. “We went back to basics and learnt to play again, picking up ideas and making sure that we, as people, progressed before Venom Prison could progress.”

‘Samsara’ is the result of almost three years of meticulous graft. Not only did Venom Prison have to write and record a worthy successor to ‘Animus’, they had to do so while touring with idols like Trivium, maintaining full-time jobs, finishing degrees and–in some cases–even staving off illness. Through it all, Gray is more than proud of his band’s newest opus.

“‘Samsara’ is the stuff we would have put on ‘Animus’ if we could have at the time,” he says. “The technicality, the creativity, the way we change moods and dynamics a lot. As long as we keep the core elements we enjoy, like the hardcore bits and fast blasts, we can build some creative foundations around it.”

Both lyrically and musically, ‘Samsara’ is a socially pessimistic monster, projecting images of a world terrified of progress. The irony is that its compositions represent huge leaps forward, adding experimental licks to the formula that drove ‘Animus’.

“We put intense stuff at the start that then, progressively, gets wackier and more creative,” Gray says of the LP’s sequencing. “It’s almost like you don’t notice it happening, unless you sit down and study it. It all comes back to attention spans. If you flipped the album the other way around, it wouldn’t have the same impact. It would be too wacky from the get-go.”

While tracks like Self-Inflicted Violence and Matriphagy are straight-forward skull-crushers, others such as Asura’s Realm, Naraka and Sadistic Rituals toy with more harmonic guitar lines and powerful breakdowns, akin to the morbid melodicism of Carcass and Hatebreed.

After ‘Animus’, Venom Prison were already being listed as one of metal’s biggest hopes. With ‘Samsara’ impending–and superior to its predecessor in every way–it’s becoming more and more likely that this band will achieve great things. When you see the world in as horrid a light as Venom Prison do, a little hope can go a long way.

‘Samsara’ is out on March 15 via Prosthetic.

  


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