Venom Prison – ‘Primeval’

By Ash Bebbington

2020 has given all of us time and space to reflect. With ‘Primeval’, Welsh death metallers Venom Prison have given fans the opportunity to reflect on their earlier material by re-recording EPs ‘Defy the Tyrant’ and ‘The Primal Chaos’, while keeping one eye on the future by throwing in two new tracks for good measure. If you discovered Venom Prison via their two full length albums, ‘Primeval’ presents a perfect opportunity to go back to where it all started.

The last five years have seen the South Wales riff merchants go from relative unknowns to one of the most exciting and acclaimed death metal bands on the planet. 2016 debut ‘Animus’ – a brutal album full of chunky riffing and savage vocals by singer Larissa Stupar – was released to much acclaim in the world of extreme metal. The album introduced fans to Venom Prison’s exciting sonic style, a blend of death metal and hardcore that gave them some crossover appeal outside of the traditional death metal audience, and led to tours across Europe and the USA – including a run of shows supporting Trivium on their UK tour in 2018.

Follow up ‘Samsara’, released in 2019, cemented Venom Prison’s growing reputation, with festival appearances that included Glastonbury and Boomtown Fair – not traditional death metal audiences, a further indicator of the band’s crossover appeal.

But before all that, their 2015 EPs laid out the blueprint; a band whose sound and image lives well within the world of death metal, but with a hefty dash of hardcore punk. According to the band, these releases represent “simpler times where we locked ourselves in a room for days on end to create the early incarnation of what would be our first collection of songs.” The idea behind ‘Primeval’ was to take those early releases, and present them in the way they’d always been intended, with the greater wealth of experience and better resources now at the band’s disposal. They certainly achieved their aim, as the 2020 versions are doubtlessly the definitive versions of these songs. While those original releases are raw and rough around the edges, the re-recorded versions have much higher production values. They are harder, heavier, better produced, and simply superior to the original versions.

The material from ‘Defy the Tyrant’ – making up the first half of the record – will be welcomed by Venom Prison fans everywhere. The original EP is not on Spotify, and physical copies are hard to track down online – although it can be purchased from Venom Prison’s Bandcamp. While dedicated fans will no doubt have tracked down a copy, re-releasing the songs on a more readily accessible platform will surely bring them to a wider audience. In terms of quality, the 2020 versions of these songs are such a massive upgrade on the original release, it’s easy to see why Venom Prison wanted to re-record them in the first place.

Title track ‘Defy the Tyrant’ is a great example of this, an incredible display of Venom Prison’s particular brand of extreme metal; the original, however, is marred by tinny sounding riffs, lacking that satisfying heft the guitar tone has on their albums, while Stupar’s vocals are grainy and low in the mix. Both issues have now been well and truly fixed. The guitar tone on the ‘Primeval’ version of ‘Defy the Tyrant’ will knock your head clean off your shoulders within the first 20 seconds, with Stupar’s vocals much clearer, louder, and easier to understand on the 2020 version. It is a serious display of skill to deliver vocals as harsh as this while still being intelligible, and on the new version of this song – and across the whole album – she pulls this off brilliantly.

While ‘The Primal Chaos’ is already widely available on streaming platforms, the 2020 versions are head and shoulders above the originals. Take the track ‘Babylon the Whore’, for example – the guitar tone on this updated release is superb, and is much more befitting of the quality of the riffs, and again Stupar’s vocals fit much better into the mix. This combination of guitars and vocals battering away at your eardrums makes for a fantastic, visceral listening experience.

By far the most exciting part of ‘Primeval’, however, is the last two songs – two new tracks that offer a peek into Venom Prison’s future. ‘Defiant to the Will of God’, for the most part a crushing and relentless track, features some melodic – almost angelic – backing vocals. At around the three minute mark, the sonic battering ram stops briefly and gives way to a soft, melodic part before the band return to their trademark brutality. This addition of more melody is a welcome development, making the heaviness hit even harder. On ‘Slayer of Holofernes’, there are more melodic vocals low in the mix at certain points. Are these songs a hint that Venom Prison – usually so unyieldingly and unapologetically nasty – could show a softer side in future? That remains to be seen, but these tracks will keep fans guessing until the band release more original material.

These are tough times for touring bands, so if you’re a Venom Prison fan, make sure you stream ‘Primeval’ this week. If you can afford it, buy a physical copy or pay for the album on Bandcamp. In return for your support, you’ll get the definitive version of the band’s formative material, as well as two new tracks that offer a tantalising look towards the future. If you’re a riff hound, you can’t go too far wrong with that.

ASH BEBBINGTON

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