Since the release of Animus in late 2016, Venom Prison have had a meteoric rise to prominence, now finding themselves at the very forefront of modern metal. And thank goodness, because their ultra-heavy death metal sound, politically-charged, socially-conscious lyrics and accessibility to young people are exactly what we need. Venom Prison have received a lot of press attention over the past year, and anyone who reads metal magazines will by now know the band’s story. Russian-born vocalist Larissa Stupar grew up in Germany, where she was active in the crust-punk and hardcore scene before moving to Wales, forming Venom Prison with guitarist Ash Gray. A lot of hard work, creativity and sacrifice followed, and first full-length album Animus was released in October 2016 to universal acclaim.
I asked Larissa to take stock and pick a highlight of everything that has happened over the past year. “We didn’t anticipate that it was going to create such a whirlwind of people talking about it. There’s been so much, but it would probably be us winning the Metal Hammer Golden Gods Award for ‘Best New Band’. And this tour, of course.”
By this tour she means the European and UK tour with Trivium, Power Trip and Code Orange, a spectacular and diverse line-up which has been much publicised. “We really didn’t know what to expect from this tour. Because Trivium fans LOVE Trivium, that’s their life. They are always there at the barriers when we come on. And it’s really good because we’re playing to 1,000s of people who have never heard of us before. So it’s a chance for us to go out there and show what we can do. A lot of people might be shocked, but a lot might also dig it. We are really grateful for the opportunity.”
Venom Prison are now at the stage where they have headlined their own tour in the UK, but being the opening act doesn’t affect their performance, even if they’re not always playing to a full house. “We try not to get affected. It shouldn’t matter if you play for 1 person or 1000. We just give our best regardless. It feels even better when the place fills up during the set.”
Check the band’s brutal music video for “Immanentize Eschaton” here.
Larissa’s voice is a true musical instrument, with a huge range of light and shade, which would change the minds of anyone who might think that growled vocals do not require technical skill. With such a punishing tour schedule, how does she take care of her voice? “I try to stay hydrated, which doesn’t always work because I always forget to drink water! I was really scared about losing my voice because this is the longest tour we’ve ever done. But it has been really good, I haven’t lost my voice so far. Warm up, hydration, those are the only two things really.”
Did she ever consider doing clean vocals? “I’ve done clean vocals for my old band and my friend’s pop-punk band, and it was okay, but I just prefer doing this. I just always wanted to make music, I didn’t care what it was going to be. I always liked heavy music, so I started in a crust-punk band, then I did two hardcore bands. I developed my voice and when I was in in Wolf Down I felt I could do more, that it wasn’t working with the music I was doing, and I always wanted to be in a metal band.”
Venom Prison’s death metal sound is technical while retaining an organic feel, and the snarly tones are reminiscent of Cannibal Corpse. The Cannibal Corpse comparison can also be made in terms of gory lyrics, although Venom Prison obviously have a very different purpose in mind. “I love Cannibal Corpse and they are definitely a musical inspiration for this band, but some of the lyrics are quite problematic. Like ‘Fucked With A Knife’. The weird thing is they even used to have girly shirts with that slogan!” Cannibal Corpse are perhaps the wrong example to cite, at least lyrically, given that they sit on the entertainment end of the gore spectrum, as opposed to other bands that have a more sinister side. “I know they wouldn’t actually hurt anyone, it’s just gore, it is entertainment. And in any case I try to take this influence and turn it around and make it what I want it to be.”
And through these feminist lyrics and imagery, through Larissa’s openness about past experiences, and by dint of the fact that she is a female musician in a male-dominated field, Larissa has become an unofficial spokesperson for #MeToo in metal. Venom Prison also found themselves entangled in the #MeToo movement when they were scheduled to tour with Decapitated during the rape case, and took a very quick and principled decision to pull out. It has been an extraordinary year for feminism, both in metal and generally, and I personally am still trying to process whether we have progressed at all.
I ask Larissa what she thinks. Have things moved on? “I want to say yes as in Western culture but no as in metal. There are still so many people, men and women, that don’t want to believe victims and survivors. Because they think these artists they love would never do anything like that because they met them and they were really friendly people. But seemingly nice people can still sexually assault someone, you don’t have to be an obvious arsehole or a rude person. We still need to learn. I’m sure there are going to be more cases coming forward. But if we show that we don’t believe them that they are going to stay silent.”
As well as through their music, Venom Prison make effective use of social media to get their messages across. “It’s a platform by which you can reach people outside of the music, and everyone’s doing it, so it’s necessary, I think.” Larissa uses social media to call out the casual misogyny that appears on those very same platforms. A recent reviewer of a Venom Prison gig decided that there were too many female death metal vocalists and it was boring. Not only that but he sent the review directly to the band members, who picked him up in no uncertain terms. “That’s not a real statement, it doesn’t make sense! Firstly, there aren’t that many female vocalists, and secondly, that’s what makes it interesting. And it was bizarre because this guy actively searched us all out on social media and tagged us!”
Get yourself some “Perpetrator Emasculation” with the below video.
Animus is quite possibly, in my opinion, the perfect title for a metal album. Taken from the final track “Womb Forced Animus”, the word has multiple meanings. It can be used to infer ill will, or determination to do something, as well as referring to the Jungian concept of the inner masculine part of the female personality. What was Larissa’s thinking behind the title? “It comes from the song, yes, but I was thinking of the Jungian reference as well. I don’t know how exactly it happened but I managed to link everything up that I had written and make it this one thing and give it this one meaning that meant so many different things.”
Another perfect aspect of the Animus album is the infamous artwork, in which Eliran Kantor depicts a rapist being force-fed his own genitals, in the style of a beautiful Renaissance painting. It’s an incredibly powerful image as it takes a few moments for the viewer to realise exactly what’s going on. Did anyone in Venom Prison see it and think - maybe this is too much? “I love all his work and I wanted to work with him for such a long time and it finally happened. We didn’t know what to expect at all, because we gave him everything that we had, and we didn’t give him any reference, and he came up with this concept. When we saw it we were like ‘Yeah!’ We wanted it to be more gory, but now I’m glad it’s not. In the end, I love how you just look at it and you don’t see at first what’s happening. I think that’s what makes it more brutal. At first it’s just a beautiful painting, and then you realise…”
The band are planning to work with Eliran again on the new album, and Larissa has a few ideas about where to take the artwork. They have already done lots of work on the album, and “it’s a bit different - it’s more technical, more brutal, it’s also faster. But we also managed to keep the elements that we really liked about ‘Animus’ and just make it better I think. We will be recording it in July, and hopefully it’s going to be released by the end of the year.”
Venom Prison except even more technical, more brutal? I can’t wait for one of the most anticipated albums of 2018.