Samsara is a brutal and hardcore experience. The term hardcore here also has some subtext to it as the monstrous vocalist Larissa Stupar was first introduced to me through the hardcore music scene and specifically the act Wolf Down. Her powerful vocals always stood out in Wolf Down but her gut-wrenching screams feel even better suited to Venom Prison’s grinding, merciless death metal riffs than they ever did with the aforementioned hardcore act.
From the get-go this album shoves a hand up your ass and rips out your insides. This is partially due to it being incredibly loud though that being said it does not feel overly compressed. One of the first things you might notice is the cover art, a strange contortion of limbs and a restrained woman who is pouring an endless stream of eggs out her barely covered genitalia. Pretty death metal. It is not uncommon to see women portrayed in violent acts of torture and debauchery on death metal covers (tor-bauchery if you will), however, this cover has a slightly different twist to it. Once we delve into the lyrics we see something unusual. The themes are overtly political, many of the lyrics dealing with concepts of gender, homosexuality, and social criticism and betterment (with suitable bloody imagery tied in). Though political lyrics are not unheard of in death metal, a commonly heard phrase in many metal circles is “I prefer to keep politics out of my lyrics” and these topics are often left to our punk acquaintances. Many popular bands often prefer to resort to cryptic philosophical and mythological themes or just fall back on the traditional theme of tor-bauchery (is this working?). I personally really enjoy the lyrical writing on this release; it is philosophical, bleak, morbid and manages to be both meaningful and brutal, which I have to recognise as being quite an achievement as it is difficult to pull off. The title itself Samsara relates directly to these lyrical themes. Samsara is a sanskrit word that roughly means death and rebirth and is almost ironic considering that the lyrics criticise the women’s role as a breeder opening with the line “invaded, acceptance of fertility. Like leeches digesting their way into the uterus”, a description, I assume, of women’s physiology being weaponised against them.
Musically this record has many different faces. Most generally death metal is the best description, though we hear some slammy, core breakdowns as well as some more washy ambient sounds that border on black metal. It also features some tense soundscapes made up of wailing guitar and some electronic elements as well. Maybe it is my introduction to the band that gives me this impression but there are definitely some modern hardcore influences buried in these tracks. Anyone who listens to the modern hardcore genre these days will know it is a very Frankenstein’s Monster type of genre that can range from skater punk all the way to grindcore and we find a fair bit of grind weaved into this album’s sound. The record, although relentless, does have some of the dynamic dips and swells that I, oh so love, in heavy records. Nothing quite compares to having your ears beaten by riffs for three minutes then being embraced by the melodic guitar as the drums fade away, only to come back in full force moments later.
Some moments on this album that just blow me away include the lyrical, washy riffing in the chorus of “Sadistic Rituals” as well as the guitar tapping that propels us towards the end of the release, heard on “Naraka”. It is drenched in shrieking and wailing guitar both before, after and in-between songs. The drums on this are also humongous, the technicality and precision of Joe Bills is undeniable. I particularly love the snare sound that makes me wonder how many drum heads they went through considering the beating Bills gives the drums. The guitars on this album, although not extremely original are executed flawlessly. The riffs are mostly reminiscent of a combination of deathcore and slam with a hint of some Cannibal Corpse thrown in. I’m am not a fan of slam music at all, but due to the multitude of influences on this album, it tends not to sound like a slam record, but rather comes across as a fairly progressive death metal release. The riffs may not be pioneering but we can’t malign the playing ability of Grey, Jeffries, and Thomas who are all very competent players. Out of all the guitar work, the lead stands out the most to me. I particularly love the sweep picking breaks that burgeon out of nowhere to smack you in the face, like the violent, insulting outbursts of a drunk uncle at a Christmas party.
I have been reviewing a lot of death metal recently and I can say definitively that Venom Prison thrashes out a unique path compared to most other bands of the genre right now. Samsara’s production is crisp and meticulous and although I generally favour the muddy tones OSDM, this album’s technicality appeals to me. If I was to pinpoint where this band fits into the current spectrum of metal bands I would call them technical death metal with thrash, slam, and hardcore influences with some affinity for progressive writing. The album is so versatile and varied but also feels familiar. It is both technical while also being engaging and lyrically; its themes are a breath of fresh air. Samsara stands above the pack thematically and musically and is a must listen for any death metal fans.