I just need to say, this band takes the prize for the absolute coolest, most badass name in metal. Venom Prison. The confronting one-two verbal combo is a perfect promise to how heavy and aggressive this band is. From the moment I listened, I felt that that promised was fulfilled.
“Erebos” is the fourth full-length album from the Welsh 5-piece, a collection of staggeringly powerful tracks that are full to the brim with energy, originality, personality and impactful lyrical themes.
2018, 2019, and 2020 saw an album each from Venom Prison. The debut album “Animus” was an absolutely ferocious and chaotic blast of intimidating death metal. Immediately the listener understood that the band wasn’t asking to be listened to. 2019’s “Samsara” was just as intense, with more musical variation that showed a band intent on developing as a powerful metal entity. I still can’t get those banshee-like screams from vocalist Larissa Stupar in “Asura’s Realm” out of my head.
2020’s “Primeval” was a brutal reworking of their earlier work from 2015, plus two new tracks. Yet, something had evolved; there was a different, more controlled sense of carnage in there.
So 2022 is here, much to the trepidation and uneasiness of, well, the world. One positive thing so far, however, is that “Erebos” is finally among us, Venom Prison’s much anticipated album. “Born From Chaos” commences this album, a big brooding introduction with a ritualistic chanting of Erebos, invoking the central concept of this record. We’re then dropped right into “Judges Of The Underworld”, the first single to be released to the world. When it was unleashed, it had everyone’s attention. “Are you the oppressor, or the oppressed?” growls Stupar in such abrasive and enraged vocals. It’s immediately clear that “Erebos” is going to bring the best version of Stupar we have heard yet.
As the first full track of the album, the band attacks together in a huge blast of energy. This track is a perfect starter to the album in another sense too, it gives the listener a tasting platter of sorts, showing the many different styles that will be explored through the rest of the album. Breakdowns, thrashy sections, gentle yet ominous interludes, solos, you name it. Despite the many elements contained within the track, it all fits and flows together like it couldn’t have been written any other way.
Stupar has ascended to new heights as a vocalist. Powerful statements are delivered with an intimidating strength, spearheading the density and heaviness provided by the rest of the band. In “Nemesis”, the line “this is your end” is blood-curdling, and in “Comfort Of Complicity” the line “welcome to the great divide” creates this melancholy moment in that the music itself sounds so hopeful and uplifting with the synth layer and the guitars emanating a glorious chord progression, but the lyrics are damning and despairing. I can imagine questions being put to society in this moment along the lines of “why are you celebrating this? Why are you trying to spin something so horrible as something acceptable?”
As we reach “Pain of Oizys”, it becomes clear that Greek mythology is playing a large part as the vessel for which Venom Prison is delivering their subject matter. Oizys is the goddess of misery, and is the daughter of Erebos, the god of darkness, who is at the centre of the band’s thematic focus of course. This is the absolute highlight track for me. It shows a band that has truly progressed in composition, dynamics, personality, everything. The guitars are so delicate, as are Stupar’s vocals, and so are the drums. It’s this ambient space filled with gorgeous tones that carries more weight than one would expect. The fluttering piano also provides a fragile little layer that sounds so critical, so mortal.
Stupar’s clean vocals have this silky smoothness to them that compliment the soft sections superbly, yet are an insanely stark contrast to her rough vocals, and this is exactly what makes them stand out as valuable additions to the sound the band is creating in “Erebos”. It’s all of a sudden, however, the absolute opposite of soft hits the listener; a heavy build up, headed by Stupar’s vocals which are magnificent in this track. Her vocals are so human in their fury and chaos; they could be described as the sonic representation of anguish. “This feeling of guilt” is expressed so heavily that I couldn’t stop listening to the track. The chorus lets out the exact same heaviness, the vocals are sharp and are lashed like a whip. “I find peace in the roughest seas” hits every beat with such measured intensity.
Don’t you worry though, dear reader. If you are hoping for more of those clean vocals, there are more littered throughout the album. “Castigated In Steel And Concrete” provides a powerful barrage of melodic choruses in which Stupar matches her screams with a clean accompaniment. What this track also does, is communicate to the listener that the group has no issues with the art of pacing. There are some seriously fierce sequences in this song, but they find a way to transition into a more controlled, stripped back version of themselves, to let the empty spaces in the soundscape exist with their own weight pressing on the listener. Throughout “Erebos”, the listener is given time to breathe, to absorb everything, before they’re pulled back down into the heavy abyss of Venom Prison’s world.
Throughout the album, there are some truly demonic moments from Stupar. The dual vocal layering is downright horrifying in tracks like “The Golden Apples of Hesperides” and “Gorgon Sisters”. The latter track also has some of the fastest phrases from her, matching the speed of Joe Bills’s blast beats. “Gorgon Sisters” has one of the most crushing breakdowns on the whole record, with only chugging dissonant chords and a snarling vocal lead-in to provide us with a stomach-dropping feeling.
Guitarists Ash Gray and Ben Thomas have succeeded in putting forward a wondrous performance for “Erebos”. Whether carrying the heaviness in the form of big dissonant chugs, or stepping forward and showing the listener some delicious riffs and licks, there isn’t a moment where the listener will be bored by what’s happening with the stringed side of things.
Gray and Thomas colorfully display their personalities, and the tracks are composed in such a way that there are moments where they divert and play their own independent melodies alongside each other, and then combine to create this huge wall of sound. The dynamics and interactions between the two axe wielders are constantly changing, keeping the listener on their toes and inviting them to really lean forward into the sound, exploring what is happening at all times. “Comfort of Complicity” is a great example of this, but this quality exists throughout the whole record. Trust me, keep leaning forward, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the little sonic elements you notice here and there.
The incredible command of playing delicately when necessary is not lost on Gray and Thomas, either. “Pain Of Oizys” is a perfect example. The guitars go from painfully frail and vulnerable to an outburst of emotional power. That single note being rapidly yet gently plucked during a weightless interlude holds an insurmountable tension, easily able to cause goosebumps. The solo during this track is also an absolute cracker (Aussie slang for ‘fantastic’). It’s a simple classic rock solo that floats over the more dormant section of the track. An F-sharp rings out at one point and immediately gave me this classic almost Pink Floyd-esque feel. This is an example of the kind of wide collection of different music styles that Venom Prison are able to sew together so naturally. The final track “Technologies Of Death” has an awesome solo in the same kind of gentle approach, backed by an equally soft snare pattern, a wonderful change of pace for the 6 1/2 minute epic track.
This aren’t the only solos from the guitars, either. “Golden Apples Of The Hesperides” has three! They’re short and sweet but have such a great feel to them to match the track. Whilst this track is pretty ferocious from beginning to end, these mini performances increase in their own intensity as the track goes on.
“Veil Of Night” also has a super enjoyable solo, as do a great deal of these tracks, but one special thing about this track is that the backing guitar under the solo is just as fun to listen to. It’s this big chuggy riff that then gets the space to jump forward and be appreciated as the solo finishes. As “Veil Of Night” moves along, it has this expansive atmospheric sensation that feels transcendent compared to the rest of the record, a real nice change to keep things fresh for the listener.
A solid sound doesn’t exist without a solid bassist, and Venom Prison have Mike Jefferies to take care of this. His contribution to the album is twofold, to carry the bass line for nearly 50 minutes, and to add his own flare to the melodies and progressions at the same time. Playing little variations and arpeggios across tracks like “Comfort Of Complicity” and “Gorgon Sisters”, he adds that extra little bit of colour to the soundscape at certain points, and it’s just another pleasant little thing for the listener to engage with and take notice of. The end sequence of “Technologies Of Death” is instigated by a lone Jefferies slinking along with a foreboding melody, the band giving him the limelight to set hell upon the listener one last time.
Speaking of solid sounds, Joe Bills delivers a damn good percussive performance on “Erebos”. In the mix, the drums exist with so much clarity. They’re not oppressive, but so crisp and punchy in their delivery of various patterns. They’re like a jigsaw piece that fits perfectly in this super heavy sound puzzle. In the exact same fashion as Gray and Thomas, Bills also knows when and how to drop the volume and slide into the background, providing a modest rhythm to keep the tracks moving forward, such as in the second half of “Technologies Of Death”.
There’s also something to say about Bills’ stamina throughout this record. On tracks like “Castigated In Steel And Concrete” and “Gorgon Sisters” he relentlessly soldiers through some lengthy blast sequences, and on others such as “Comfort Of Complicity” he grows an extra two legs for the near 30-second 240bpm kick drum roll. He doesn’t push his presence directly into the spotlight with over-the-top fills and variations, but provides a seriously competent and consistent performance all the way through the album, which consequently causes him to shine in this record.
Whilst the use of electronic and synth layers isn’t uncharted waters for Venom Prison, they’ve definitely integrated it into their sound more frequently on this release. It’s employed with the same level of attention to detail as the instruments, and makes for a majorly positive addition to the tracks. “Nemesis” holds a sweet little fluttering synth layer that brings about a celestial, spacey feeling to the sequence, and towards the end there exists a huge and oppressive layer that sits behind the mix and puts just a bit more pressure on the listener. Each time the layer undulates and shrouds the listener, it gets just a little bit more prominent, which intelligently matches Stupar’s lyrics at the time, “the hate inside of me just increases.”
When you reach the end of this album, it’s probable that you’ll take a moment in the post-metal silence, lean back, let out a big sigh, and then press repeat. There is so much for each listener in this album. Whether you’re really down into the details of musical composition, someone who appreciates some deeply thought-out lyrics and themes, or if you’re just a good old metal-loving human, huge satisfaction with this album is highly likely.
The entire album, “Erebos”, is a glorious and uncompromising display of meticulously crafted death metal. Venom Prison have ascended to a new level, pulling influences and elements from all over the death metal spectrum with maturity and confidence, and what has resulted is an engaging 10-track album that celebrates the band’s mastery over the genre.
Released On: February 4th, 2022
Released By: Century Media
Genre: Death Metal
- Larissa Stupar / Vocals
- Ash Gray / Guitar
- Ben Thomas / Guitar
- Mike Jefferies / Bass
- Joe Bills / Drums
- Born From Chaos
- Judges Of The Underworld
- Comfort Of Complicity
- Pain Of Oizys
- Golden Apples Of The Hesperides
- Castigated In Steel And Concrete
- Gorgon Sisters
- Veil Of Night
- Technologies Of Death
Remember this release as the one that catapulted Venom Prison into the stars. Before this album, the band was a formidable force in the metal world that was piquing interests, and now they’re securing themselves in the upper realm of major league metal. The thought that has been put into every element of this album is hard to quantify, but the outcome is a highly enjoyable 10-track experience that will undoubtedly leave you feeling fulfilled, yet hungry for more.