Venom Prison - Animus - (8/10)
Published on October 17, 2016
Venom Prison do absolutely nothing to reinvent the extreme metal wheel, but goddamn it if they aren’t a refreshing blast(beat) of fresh air all the same. Animus, the debut full-length from the Welsh crew, is nothing short of a vicious and visceral statement of intent that demands the attention of even the most entrenched, old-school metalhead and extreme hardcore fan alike.
If you take a look at Animus’s cover art you’ll notice that, as well as being equal parts gorgeous and disturbingly gritty, it depicts a bound rapist being castrated and force-fed his own mutilated genitals by a very calm, matter-of-fact-looking, matron while two other women look on in approval. This image is as much a declaration of Venom Prison’s aural aesthetic and political/social agenda as it is a perfect representation of their approach to the stifled and overbearingly machismo-dominated death metal genre. Animus is littered with clear references to genre heavyweights such as Morbid Angel, Obituary, Slayer and Suffocation; yet it does so with a vitality, integrity and urgency all of its own, and which is largely lacking from this now-long established style.
The Welsh quintet, who are lead by ex-Wolf Down vocalist Larissa Stupar and ex-Brutality Will Prevail guitarist Ash Gray, blend a hefty dose of hardcore into their sound. Yet the blend is one that recalls the ‘80s crossover style and the more extreme, bordering on grindcore, proponents of the genre; such as Converge and Nails; rather than anything that might be called deathcore by today’s understanding. What Venom Prison primarily draw from the hardcore side of things – rather than a simple collection of breakdowns and d-beats – is an urgency and aggression that has long been lost amid a death metal scene that has become ever-more brooding and imposing than it has been downright volatile in recent times.
As much as the rest of the band are utterly unrelenting and persistently punishing in their contribution(s), Stupar is very much the focal point of Animus’s sound. Her vocals are every bit as savage as Agoraphobic Nosebleed’s Katherine Katz and make Candace Kucsulain’s recent efforts seem downright adorable by comparison, as well as outmuscling the majority of her masculine peers. Furthermore, the importance and integrity of the anti-misogynist bent she brings to Venom Prison’s lyrical and thematic content cannot be understated – especially in the face of all the playfully accepted depictions of sexism and real-life traumas consistently directed at women within extreme music.
Animus is as declarative and impactful a debut as you’re ever likely to come across, and it’s one which – in equal measures – both celebrates the extreme metal tradition while also essentially pushing back against the out-dated modes most other bands have been too lazy or inconsiderate to correct on their own. Musically, the record is violent, savage, undeniably brutal and relentlessly vital. There might not be anything particularly new here but there is plenty worth celebrating and to ignore either Venom Prison and their debut is done so at your own risk.