Larissa Stupar is doing all right. She’s about to release another shit-hot record with Venom Prison, has just got married to the love of her life, and is expecting a baby boy in March. It’s all a bit wholesome.
“When I announced my pregnancy on Instagram, someone commented, ‘Uterine Industrialisation’, which is one of our song titles,” the vocalist says. Ah.
“I just replied, ‘Thanks for comparing me to a birthing machine. Very kind of you.’ The person deleted it and commented again, just saying, ‘Congratulations.’”
People get pregnant all the time. Half the human population is female, and as the Bloodhound Gang so profoundly spake, we ain’t nothin’ but mammals. But
matey boy from Cannibal Corpse isn’t carrying a foetus around for nine months. Danzig doesn’t breastfeed, as far as we know. When male bandmembers become parents, they’ll probably miss a show or two. Then they’re back on the road.
“I don’t think this should be treated any differently because I’m a woman,” Larissa adds. “We just don’t see this very often within metal bands because there aren’t that many women. We’re going to have to take some time off, but we still want to make Download festival possible. It means something to us as a band, me as part of the band, and me as a mother. Venom Prison is part of who I am, and I’m not ready to give it up.”
She speaks with that nervous positivity you only really get from parents-to-be, which is refreshingly at odds with her band’s brutal outlook. Formed in 2015, Venom Prison blossomed from Larissa’s involvement in the anti-fascist hardcore scene.
A Welsh band, with a Russian-born vocalist who had spent her teenage years protesting against actual Nazis in Germany? Yeah, they ruffled some feathers and were nails as fuck.
Debut album Animus kicked up a stink in 2016. Its fetid blend of death metal and hardcore was a welcome waft, as was its explicit artwork, which upset conservative death metallers by depicting women castrating a man and feeding him the gloop.
Samsara arrived three years later, packing chonkier riffs, upscaled production and better songs. Across just a few years, they opened for Trivium on a massive European tour, brought all the pyro to Bloodstock’s main stage and signed to one of metal’s most prominent labels, Century Media.
Excluding Primeval – a collection of re-recorded demos and two new songs, released in late 2020 – album number three, Eerebos, is their first ‘proper’ record on Century Media. It doesn’t skimp on the grimness.
“In Greek mythology, Erebos was the very first primordial God that created darkness from nothing,” says Larissa. “From chaos. It fit the themes and how we experienced the last two years – this darkness born from chaos.”
But Venom Prison is as Venom Prison does, and highfalutin concepts about gods and epic shit are ten a penny; that’s what normal metal bands do. When Erebos was announced, the group cited a real-life ‘repetition of the cycle of violence’ that spreads beyond that mythical mayhem.
“There’s so much going on in the world in regards to politics,” Larissa elaborates. “Black Lives Matter, refugees in the UK – they died crossing in that freezer [in 2019, when 39 people died travelling in the back of a refrigerated lorry in Essex]. In America, people are being incarcerated just because they aren’t wanted there. They’re separated from their children. Families are broken up. There was a whistleblower who revealed that women were experiencing medical procedures they never agreed to – their wombs were being taken out.”
This topic of discrimination is something they touch on directly in the record’s lead single, Judges Of The Underworld: ‘Guilty as charged, a childhood of abandonment and desolation/Adolescence filled with guns, institutionalisation/Who is to blame?’
“In America, for example, people are born into poverty, violence, and neglect, and they’re stuck there,” Larissa says. “They’re cheated by the system. They experience it as the victim, the offender and the witness at the same time. Then as soon as they go into the prison system, they’re completely fucked. Because even after you leave, you’re placed back into the same environment you came from, and you have no chance to get out of the cycle.”
This is all worthy discussion material. Thankfully, Erebos rams the message down your throat by being the most diverse, grand and catchy thing Venom Prison have slapped their name on. Sure, it’s still death metal. But it’s immediately melodic, nodding to seminal albums such as At The Gates’ Slaughter Of The Soul and Carcass’s Heartwork.
Orchestral flourishes flit through tracks, composed by the band’s guitarist, Ben Thomas. Solos reign supreme. There are proper singalong choruses.
“With Animus and Samsara, we just wanted to establish our sound because we were a new band,” Larissa explains. “This time around, it wasn’t about doing ‘just another death metal record’. I’m personally not interested in listening to someone who writes the same 10 songs every two years.”
She goes on, quickly citing Bring Me The Horizon. “They’ve evolved from a tiny deathcore band to playing some of the biggest venues in the UK. They keep changing their sound, and they just don’t give a fuck.”
It’s apt that she brings them up, as Venom Prison’s latest work shares one clear trait with Oli Sykes’ Steel City ruffians: the introduction of clean vocals. Larissa had experimented with some strangled, semi-clean lines on 2020’s Slayer Of Holofernes, but they were more in keeping with someone like Cattle Decapitation’s Travis Ryan. They were ‘sung’ vocals in the same way stubbing your toe ‘kinda hurts’.
Clean passages can be found in pockets of Erebos, but most prominently on the eerie, quasi-ballad Pain Of Oizys. Aside from singing in choirs as a kid, this was the first time Larissa had approached vocals from this angle.
“You can’t go in and just sing, even if you’re meeting the notes,” she explains. “You need to have the soul and emotion that connects you to the lyrics. I really struggled with that to start with – I was stuck recording for three hours, and just ended up crying and stopping for the day."
“I’d love to use more clean vocals in the future,” she admits. “I don’t think we’ll make clean-only songs, but I’m planning on learning how to sing properly. I want to connect with my own voice more; I’m confident with screaming, and I want the same feeling when it comes to clean vocals.”
In terms of what’s next, Venom Prison are primed to cleave metal fans’ ears. Erebos is still uncompromising and heavy, but offers so much more. Trivium took a punt on the band in 2018, and Venom Prison were set to open for Parkway Drive at Wembley Arena in 2020 – they’ve since had to drop out of the rescheduled dates.
Popular bands cottoned onto Venom Prison’s potential, and now it’s time for everyone else to play catch-up. “It shows that there is a place for an extreme band in the more mainstream part of metal,” Larissa confirms.
Bigger songs, bigger tours, and a bigger platform mean that Venom Prison’s socially conscious, politically sharp values can reach more people. UK death metal legends such as Carcass, Bolt Thrower and Napalm Death have touched similar nerves throughout their careers, but now the world’s caught up, as issues such as racial and sexual violence are more widely scrutinised by the public.
The latter topic is something Venom Prison have attacked and dissected with a laser-sharp lyrical focus. Despite the ripples caused by #MeToo, the Marilyn Manson allegations and more, Larissa still believes there’s work to be done. “It might accelerate the process, but we still have a long way to go,” she sighs, referencing the Manson case.
At the time of writing, sexual assault charges have been raised against the shock rocker, and the police have searched his home. “I like Kanye West as an artist, so it was disappointing to see him collaborate with Marilyn Manson [on West’s new album, Donda],” Larissa continues.
“I understand where he’s coming from as a Christian. He believes that people deserve forgiveness, and they can find God and, I don’t know, transcend into being a better person or whatever. I wish that Kanye would take the same compassion he has for Marilyn Manson and apply it to the people who accused Manson of doing these awful things.
“Fans often side with artists instead of trying to see the perspective of the people who accused them,” she finishes. “They just don’t care. It’s naive and blind. There
are still people out there listening to Lostprophets; they have millions of plays on Spotify. Some people are just completely fucked.”
It’s a sombre note to end on, but it’s this kind of real-world horror that Venom Prison draw from. It’s what they fight for. Fuck the patriarchy, fuck racists, fuck abusers and fuck anyone who thinks they’re above others.
This attitude brought so much acclaim and outcry when Animus arrived. Hiatus or no, baby in tow, Erebos confirms their relevance. It’s the kind of record that deserves to be heard on the main stage at Download, not the fourth. It’s what will make them the UK’s essential extreme band.
Erebos is out now via Century Media. Venom Prison will play Download Festival on June 11