Venom Prison – Erebos Review

In the three years since their sophomore release Samsara, Venom Prison has experienced a meteoric rise to fame. Samsara captured the hearts of both underground metal aficionados and non-sociopaths, by infusing high-energy brutal death metal with a healthy dose of slamming hardcore. Venom Prison’s unrelenting sound earned them a deal with Century Media, and Erebos brings the band to a crossroads as their major label debut. With the vast changes in Venom Prison’s sound between Samsara and Erebos, I’d venture a guess that you’ve already heard countless opinions about the new release – that it’s the greatest death metal album ever, or that they’re a bunch of wimps, or both.

To set things straight: yes, Erebos sounds poles apart from Venom Prison’s past output, but no, it’s not because they went totally soft. While we do get occasional glimpses of vocalist Larissa Stupar’s elegiac cleans (most notably on “Pain of Oizys”), Erebos is still a death metal album at its core. Rather, the overarching change in Venom Prison’s sound is a much larger focus on melody. Guitarists Ash Gray and Ben Thomas still lay down their fair share of hardcore-tinged brutal death metal riffs, but Erebos is also littered with ideas that would feel at home on an At the Gates record. This is accompanied by a heavy use of synth backing, which gives parts of the record a symphonic feel (“Technologies of Death,” “Castigated in Steel and Concrete,” “Golden Apples of the Hesperides”). The much clearer production job on Erebos matches these changes, allowing the band’s melodic sensibilities to shine. As always, Venom Prison’s signature songwriting technique is to switch frenetically among disparate styles throughout the album, leaving you unsure what just hit you and yet unable to resist.

When Venom Prison keeps the blood pumping, Erebos is an explosive success. Many of the brutal death metal segments of the record are predictably powerful, with aggressive riffs that would slay in a live setting and are still creative enough to survive multiple listens (“Judges of the Underworld,” “Gorgon Sisters”). More surprisingly, Erebos’ brazen forays into melodeath work wonders throughout the album, exhibiting an almost veteran mastery of the genre. The Aeternam-laced main riff of “Nemesis” and the Gothenburg openings of “Comfort of Complicity” and “Veil of Night” are as infectious as they are energetic. Meanwhile, Erebos is replete with Mors Principium Est guitar solos (“Technologies of Death”) and hooky choruses (“Veil of Night”) that add variety and hit hard. Behind this all, the rhythm section refuses to be outdone; Mike Jefferies’ bass lines feel more palpable and interesting than on Samsara (“Comfort of Complicity,” “Technologies of Death”), while Joe Bills’ drumming matches the stylistic variety of the guitars and adds emphasis at key moments (“Castigated,” “Pain of Oizys”).

The flip side of Venom Prison’s new sound is that parts of Erebos lack the colossal energy of Samsara. Erebos is plagued by nondescript slow chugging passages worthy of a second-rate hardcore band (“Judges of the Underworld,” “Golden Apples”), which fall flat compared to their more exciting peers. The album’s symphonic backing and softer melodic sections also frequently feel like needless experimentation. The result of these questionable detours is that several tracks feel anticlimactic, by virtue of presenting rock-solid death metal riffs early on and then fizzling out into feeble conclusions (“Nemesis,” “Gorgon Sisters,” “Technologies of Death”). Erebos feels bloated even though every song brings something to the table, because many of them could be edited down without sacrificing their strengths. Still, Venom Prison’s journeys outside of metal aren’t entirely fruitless. Slow burner “Pain of Oizys” is an unexpected success; while its milquetoast buildup (oddly reminiscent of Linkin Park’s “Easier to Run”) overstays its welcome, the song’s climax is punishing, cathartic, and unforgettable. But while Venom Prison’s genre-bending sometimes pays off, their lengthy lethargic digressions often do not.

Still, Erebos rips. Samsara was better equipped to leave you happily injured, but Erebos is more likely to make you wake up in the wee hours with “bow to no one” or “seek justice” pounding in your head. (Trust me, it happens.) The hiccups in Venom Prison’s experimentation shouldn’t detract from their admirable achievement of simultaneously expanding their sound, remaining compelling, and placating the masses despite the high bar they’d set for themselves. Erebos comes out of left field, and it took me several listens to understand and appreciate it. But it was worth the effort.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Century Media Records
Websites: | |
Releases Worldwide: February 4th, 2022

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