Life is dull and painful. Homeostasis demands a cycle of finding food, eating that food, and shitting what’s left of that food to keep your body running. Your job requires that you do the same tasks over and over to stay employed, and if you don’t it makes the whole “finding food” step much more stressful. The foundations of Maslow’s pyramid are banality and suffering. Sometimes it’s difficult to pinpoint why you go on living if this is the human condition. Other times, a death metal album cuts your junk off and force-feeds it to you to remind you that it, above the karmic cycle, above self-actualization, above the promises of eternal bliss, is the highest power and the reason to clock in on Monday and head to the bathroom.
Though the whole dick-cutting-off thing was Animus’s game, Samsara, the second full length from Venom Prison, is no less violent. The band’s grindy, slammy death metal draws many parallels to Cattle Decaptitation, whether it’s their everything-but-the-kitchen sink approach to riffing, their sudden outbursts of groove, or their vicious takes on social injustice. Samsara has no dull edges, no safe entrances, and a complete lack of regard for your safety. “Implementing the Metaphysics of Morals” careens between melodeath riffs, blackened blasting, slams, and even a Dimebag solo in five minutes. “Dukkha” begins with a 911 call reporting a suicide and only increases in intensity from there. This album just doesn’t give a fuck what you think is going to happen next.
While Samsara’s songs rarely follow an easily digestible structure, the band have an uncanny ability to transition almost imperceptibly between different ideas. “Asura’s Realm” moves between searing leads and Pig Destroyer pit fodder as if the two are different notes in the same phrase. Slam flows straight through Nile riffage into a glistening lead to begin the second verse in “Uterine Industrialization.” Beautiful needles of melodic black metal perforate the brutality of “Sadistic Rituals.” It’s at once scrappy and graceful, and listening along is like watching the camera pan through a crowded environment as Jackie Chan drunken-boxes his way through the goons inhabiting it. Except here, the goons are capitalists, bigots, and misogynists, and Chan’s fists and feet are riffs, blast beats, screams and roars.
Ben Thomas and Ash Gray have to spit out axe-acrobatics at a downright unhealthy rate to keep this momentum flowing, but they’re nearly outmatched by the rest of the band. Mike Jefferies plays a grounded, rumbling bass while Jay Pipprell pummels his kit as if every skin is a fascist’s face. The drumming rolls along with the riffs at a breakneck pace, beating the snare with a special contempt. On top of this insanity, Larissa Stupar puts out a diversity and intensity of roars, screams, growls, and gurgles that few vocalists could hope to match, doling out her vitriol in unhinged explosions. With the quintet’s powers combined, Samsara is a godsend for death metal fans starving for punishment.
You could hardly ask for a more exciting death metal release. Like Unfathomable Ruination, Venom Prison salt their winding structures with enough memorable ideas to hold them together and save their most intense material for just when it’s needed. Aside from a predictably disappointing mastering job, I can hardly find an issue on Samsara. These songs are propulsive, inventive, and constantly exciting, and the album sets the bar high for this year’s tech-death output. It’s albums like this that grant both perspective on and momentary release from the suffering and banality of the human condition, and bands like this that challenge the status quo and change the death metal landscape in subtle but important ways. Think on these higher goals while you eat and shit yourself towards death.