Album Review: Venom Prison – Samsara
The human brain has appeared many times in the history of death metal. Occasionally, even while still inside its owner’s head. But for all this most extreme of scenes’ frequent musical intelligence and skill, it is a genre that proudly does most of its thinking with its fists; gleefully wallowing in horror, pain, gore, death, mutilation, unnecessary surgery, war, murder, disease, giblets, torture and, when the mood takes, faeces for its lyrical conversation. And this is fine: you would no sooner look to Cannibal Corpse’s Hammer Smashed Face for life counsel than you would use a chainsaw to stroke the cat. But still, when minds are actually engaged and all of this sound and fury is used to signify something, it can raise the form into an oddly powerful, emotive force.
Take Perpetrator Emasculation from Venom Prison’s 2016 album, Animus, in which singer Larissa Stupar sang about cutting off a rapist’s penis and force-feeding it to him until he choked to death on it. As a retort to the genre’s unfortunately long list of misogynistic songs, it was a succinct, violent riposte. But it also summed up just how, when so much of this stuff exists in the same blood-drenched fantasy world as horror movies, where a well-timed axe through the face can be all kinds of banter, Venom Prison are fighting in a much colder, more unpleasant place: one rooted in reality.
Thus it remains on Samsara. It is a furious, raging album; musical attrition that attacks with nuclear force and wind-tunnel velocity. In the face of how easily such brutal music can become mundane and clinical, moribund rather than morbid, the riffs of opener Matriphagy hammer like a heart that’s just run a marathon, exploding with raw energy and adrenaline. Ditto the primal surge of Sadistic Rituals, or the naked aggression of Uterine Industrialisation – every moment leaves a bloody mark.
But it’s a read through Larissa’s words and knowing what these songs are actually for that explains why Samsara leaves the painful bruises that it does. On Megillus & Leaena, she roars of a transgender person, ‘Suffocated, stoned to death / Paid with life for homophobic laws,’ as, ‘Those without sin cast the first stone / Celebrate the cracking of another backbone.’ Meanwhile, Uterine Industrialisation’s talk of ‘A cocktail of amniotic fluids pouring down the operational table’ may seem like usual death metal territory, but the song’s graphic detailing of commercial surrogacy – the business of wealthy couples paying for women in the Third World to carry children in an arrangement that offers little protection for the mothers – and the trauma it inflicts upon those involved makes it a horrific account of a disturbing practice about which not enough is spoken or done. Should you wish to hear it as such, Samsara is a crushing record. But to do so would be to miss a great deal of the picture. Because the fuel in Venom Prison’s engine isn’t simply the rush of playing fast and heavy, but a very real cocktail of bile, piss and vinegar. Blood? Everywhere in death metal, but mixed with angry tears for victims of injustice in sexual assault cases (Implementing The Metaphysics Of Morals), depression and self-harm (Self Inflicted Violence), or political corruption (Asura’s Realm)? Not so much. What Venom Prison have done is humanised this music by holding up a mirror to a cruel world and viewing people as more than simply walking dummies full of guts, but sentient beings worthy of life, rather than a grisly, gory death. In doing so, they’ve made something more powerful and worthy of your respect than a million meaningless blastbeats.
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