The for-profit prison system across the world is a vile, repugnant institution where no true reform is doled out; punishment for its own sake is the transaction, along with torture, violence and trauma. In the US, we feel this all too well in the pipelines that seem to transport the vulnerable straight into cell blocks with no deviation, and Wales’ Venom Prison feel it as well in their home country/ies. Erebos, the latest release from a band that has never shied away from outspoken political and social commentary, revolves around these horrors and the lives that are destroyed in the process of “justice.”
Venom Prison are a band whose music touches on a great number of issues of social justice, primarily mental health struggles, animal rights, and anti-fascism. On Erebos, they specifically speak to “the loss of basic rights, the psychological damage, [and] criminalization of immigration” associated with the modern prison system. If you’re expecting this album to be angry and full of the ferocious rage of a group fed up with institutions of power, you’d be absolutely right. Venom Prison’s thrashy blend of modern death metal with classic melodic influences has never been more pointed, and Russian-born vocalist Larissa Stupar has never sounded more pissed off than right now. The comparison to Arch Enemy seems like the low-hanging fruit, although it does work, for deeper reasons than “look, a *girl*.” The thrashy, insanely catchy riffs, melodic and technically proficient solos and hooks and the anthemic vibe of the album draws immediate similarities, although with a little bit more of a technical edge on the part of Venom Prison. It’s also well worth mentioning that the striking, horrifying cover art for Erebos was once again produced by long-time collaborator Eliran Kantor, and it does an absolutely incredible job of setting the tone of the album.
Right out of the gate, Erebos opens with a furious vengeance. Opener “Born from Chaos” leads right into the one-two punch of dual singles “Judges of the Underworld” and “Nemesis,” both of which feature crushingly heavy riffs, stompy drums and a whole lot of vitriol and snarl from Stupar. It’s worth noting that Stupar is far from the only member of the band who deserves praise on this album, but a lot of praise is going to come her way for her astounding vocal delivery and her presence on the album. She commands ears to listen and her shrieks, growls and howls stand front and center on every track, making it impossible not to feel the rage, terror and heartache that is at the core of Erebos. Backing her up perfectly is the tandem of Ash Gray and Ben Thomas, whose riffs and solos teeter precariously between pure chaos and deft melodicism. The guitars certainly are what makes these songs the earworms that they are, but maybe the most surprising feature of Erebos is the increased use of electronic instruments. “Pain of Oizys” in particular opens almost entirely in swaths of electronic ambience, clean guitars and Stupar’s crooning vocals. Of course, the song breaks open with the requisite heaviness in the middle, but they always find a way to break it back down. It’s not the Venom Prison you expected, but it is the Venom Prison you need.
With everything that happened and continues to happen in the last couple of years, it’s impossible to avoid being…tired of it all. There’s so much to be angry about in the world, sometimes it feels like the only thing to do is shut down, but I’m very thankful that there are bands like Venom Prison that remind me that speaking up and speaking loud is the right thing to do. They don’t mince any words on Erebos, and nor should they. I think more and more people are going to be listening after this.