The Crushing Heights of “Erebos” Reflect Venom Prison’s Evolution (Interview)
Welsh death metal-by-way-of-hardcore warriors Venom Prison are back with their fourth proper album Erebos, released February 4th via Nuclear Blast (get it on limited green vinyl). The distinct vocals of front woman Larissa Stupar are a continuing, unique highlight, whose piercing delivery has unexpected gruff undertones that contrast against the band's metallic mechanisms. Erebos also includes some of Venom Prison’s most ambitious songs to date, namely "Nemesis" and "Comfort of Complicity." The former could become a standout song for years to come, with an excellent balance of each band member's contributions, plus some electronics thrown in for good measure. The latter track starts off much like the rest of the album: eventually giving way to genuine beauty. Slowly, the band sheds their hard exterior while still flying high. The wonderful combination of delicately played harmonics against the backdrop of Stupar's stellar delivery is an exercise in tremendous songwriting.
Devotees will find themselves looking at a slightly different Venom Prison, however the evolution is worth the price of admission as Erebos might be the band's best album to date, especially with a middle section that includes standout "Pain of Oizys," another exercise in balance featuring the seldom-used clean sung vocals. Opening track "Judges of the Underworld" is a slow pounder before the drums and guitars shift gears to feeling like the band is about to crush a basement venue on repeat; circle pits are a requirement for Venom Prison.
We spoke with guitarist and founding member Ash Gray about the band's lineup consistency influences, what the band likes to do outside of metal, their favorite bands, and Venom Prison's future plans.
Not a lot has changed personnel-wise in quite a while and the well-roundedness of Erebos shows off a versatile machine, what do you contribute to the strength of the band's foundation?
I think everyone in this band stepped forward for this record in their skills and creativity, myself and Ben primarily write everything then introduce it to the members and start dissecting it and improving. I think we had a clear idea of how we wanted to approach this record so it was a matter of trying until it was achieved. I think I contribute creativity and organisation to be honest with you, but I always feel everyone contributes in one way or another, it’s the only way to make a band work properly.
What bands and/or albums were the driving force behind Venom Prison's sound?
There really isn't. I take inspiration from a lot of bands and records but to pinpoint one record is just too linear. I always go with the feeling and how in my mind Venom Prison would sound at that point, I don’t want to replicate anyone’s sound or ideas, maybe we have a similar idea to someone else but it wouldn’t be intentional. My favourite bands/artists could range from Placebo to Carcass or Ozzy, Human League, synth pop generally, I feel to be as creative as possible you just need to allow yourself to put whatever it is you like in that moment down and it’s not forced or copied.
Larissa's powerful voice has become instantly recognizable, what are her major influences sonically? Are there any outliers to the metallic sound she possesses?
Same again, I've known Larissa for a long time now and I’ve never once heard her say I want to be like this or that, it’s just improving what and who you are, everyones got some form of uniqueness you just have to find it then perfect it. Most of this band came from hardcore bands and back then all we wanted to do was plug guitars in, pick up a mic and make a room go wild, it was never about who we wanted to be.
What was the recording process for Erebos like?
Amazing, such a learning curve for the band and each of us personally. It was about reflecting on what Venom Prison has done to date and how we are going to improve every aspect of this band and sound. Scott Atkins was amazing to us and helped a lot with the whole process, even before recording, I'd send him pre production of the record and he'd say "this bit's killer, needs to come back" so that would be sorted from home then even entering the studio we had zero problems in things changing as we went along, we had time on our side, creativity was allowed even in the studio rather than you’ve got six days to record this record, I hope everything is done type thing.
"Nemesis" is the whole package of drums and guitars playing together, Larissa breaking down the wall, even a little room for some experimental electronics. What went into the songwriting for that?
I remember coming up with the main riff and it felt different but something I knew that would belong to Venom Prison, I knew we wanted to structure a lot more on Erebos but finding a way to not just make it A B A B C structure but still catchy enough was difficult but it had to keep those Venom Prison roots, I think by time we finished the record every song had some form of electronic or synth of each song so it was just about making the songs sound consistent with each other as a full length.
"Comfort of Complicity" has an air of beauty about it, while still being brutally heavy, is it difficult to balance those two disparate things?
Extremely difficult I believe, generally anything like that on Erebos was tough as you need to sit back and say what it is too much and what isn’t enough, we wanted to add layers and depth to this record so we knew we had to push boundaries but not stripping our core sound or roots.
What have you all been doing to keep busy aside from the music itself?
Everyone's got loads going on in the band and outside of the band, so much creative content we’ve been creating lately for the band which is new to us and quite exciting to support Erebos, we’ve never really been that band in the past but with lockdown etc, it seemed like the right thing to do and we ended up enjoying it.
I like bikes, motorbikes, mountain bikes, cars, video games, I work in the arts and creative sector at home so it’s always a busy day including Venom Prison happening as well. The others are very similar to me in that sense.
What are some albums that either got you through the last 2 years or you're looking forward to in 2022?
Difficult question, I’ve been so wrapped up in Erebos for so long I kind of shut off from the world for a short while and my brain turns into Venom Prison mode, hah! Placebo have a new record in March which I’m down for. I really enjoyed that Sleep Token record as well from last year I believe but other than that I was probably blasting Ozzy out my car with the roof down (in Summer, obviously).
Any prospective touring plans for the near future?
We have festivals planned but touring for now we are figuring out, it’s being talked about and planned but ultimately we’ve got so much in the pipeline for Erebos it’s hard to plan too far ahead when so much needs sorting now.
Anything else you would like to add?