Samsara by Venom PrisonRelease date: March 15, 2019
Label: Prosthetic Records
Venom Prison caused quite the stir back in 2016 with their uncompromising debut release Animus. Its unrelenting pace and classically tinged death metal set a canvas for vocalist Larissa Stupar to re-contextualize existing death metal conventions to create a refreshingly modern debut that placed heartfelt feminist messages on the preferred end of an executioner’s axe. Their sophomore effort Samsara, named after the Sanskrit word for the cycle of death and rebirth, builds upon these foundations in ways you might expect – but there is a tonal shift that might come as quite the surprise.
Much like its predecessor Samsara is vicious. It leaves no time for compromise as it plunders the depths of sonic extremity. Whilst it stays pretty rigidly to the conventions of death metal and hardcore, what it lacks in inventiveness it makes up for in variety. Songs are lightning fast in their changes with sections brought out and then left for dust seconds later. Instrumental solos and flourishes act as signposts to give your some semblance of direction after a flurry of punches leave you in various states of concussion. As modern as Samsara sounds, it’s an album bathed in classic elements, cherry picked and assembled in a way which exemplifies the extreme. Each song is a heavily layered, dizzying experience that cuts out anything that isn’t utterly thrilling. It’s an album that coasts from expansive guitar exhibitions to short interludes packed with more breakdowns then the M25. If there were any fears that Venom Prison may have reacted to their success by holding in the spit to coax in the mainstream – Samsara has only doubled down on the venom to unleash on accessibility.
On its own, the album is an electrifying love letter to the best parts of death metal – but it’s Larissa Stupar’s lyrics that raises the material to something purposeful and unequivocally bleak. This isn’t music to feel powerful, it’s music to fear power. Gone are the reversed power fantasies of ‘Perpetrator Emasculation’, replaced by maleficent mediations on violence committed on the vulnerable. From the very first notes our birth and conception becomes a suffocating violent combat. What follows is an atrocity exhibition of unfeeling governing systems, uterus industrialization, and the persecution of homosexuals and the transgendered. It’s a clever inversion of death metal codas to create something contemporary and purposeful, but its most connecting points of catharsis come from Stupar’s more introspective reactions to these atrocities – images of self-harm, suicidal thoughts, and resignation. There is a tangible zeitgeist that many will feel a deep connection to; a sense that all the unsurmountable evil in the world is having a corroding effect on the very personal innards of our psyche. Channelling these thoughts seems to have further energized Stupar with her growls and screeches scraping deep into an emotional well to produce a harsh, raw, and powerful vocal dynamic. This powerful duality is what binds the album conceptually, and what is formed is something truly dark and disturbing through its connections to modernist truths. A world devoid of empathy has created an album devoid of hope.
Samsara then is a triumph that has taken the blueprint set by Animus and brought out the most extreme elements. But it’s an album with a surprising amount of heart, a deeply troubled corroded heart but one that beats to the pulse of modern truths. Its unflinching music is symbiotic to its unflinching stare into the darkness that pervades modern society in our everyday lives. Venom Prison have already established that they know how to bludgeon the body into submission with lethal song craft, but it’s the symbiosis between body and heart that really sets them apart from the pack and consolidates them as one of the most exciting death metal bands active today.