Hello friends, how are you on this mediocre day? Is life going well? Or does it feel like you’re stuck in a never-ending hell unable to run forwards or backwards and terrified you are going to be trapped there forever? Well, at least we’ve got music! Here’s what I’ve been listening to this week.
I’m saying it every week, but alternative music is at a stage where there’s a flood of new and exciting voices making themselves heard. From Twin Temple to Svalbard, the best music is no longer coming from the same old faces. It’s now being made by people with a viewpoint that those credited with building metal could have never understood, and few bands exhibit that more clearly than Venom Prison.
Because from day one, Venom Prison’s ethos has been clear. Their debut album, Animus, was adorned by a man having his own severed genitals thrust into his mouth by a group of women and if you don’t get where they’re going with that, you’re being deliberately dense. They make extreme music backed-up by the best kind of political views. The only question remaining was when you kick things off at that level of extremity (and the music matched the image), where do you go next?
Well, in the brilliant minds of Venom Prison, the answer was that you go heavier as their second album, Samsara, is the aural equivalent of getting your favourite body part (while still attached) repeatedly smashed in a car door. Except, rather than that being the worst thing ever, it’s a delicious delight of audio torture. It does not give a shit about your feelings, and it’s all the better for it.
It also makes your first listen through a somewhat dizzying experience. There is little to no let up on Samsara, so as ‘Matriphagy’ turns into ‘Megillus & Leana’ and then ‘Uterine Industrialisation’ there is nothing you can do but grab ahold and hope you make it out the other side. It’s pounding death metal, uninterested in turning the critical praise the previous album got into mainstream attention but intent on causing your brain to explode out of your ears.
It’s on a second or third listen that you start to appreciate everything that is going on in this album, though. For all its brutality, the production is incredible. Every instrument is crystal clear, and as you delve deeper into it, you can begin to unpick their paths through these whirlwinds of chaos. That’s never more rewarding that when you zero in on the guitar playing of Ben Thomas and Ash Gray which is astonishing. You begin to pick up on how much flair is hidden away, as there are guitar solos you could slap on a classic rock track with just a smidgen of editing. Extreme metal can be a restrictive genre to operate within, but few are doing as much within their chosen field as Venom Prison.
Which brings us to that new perspective I was talking about as not only does Larissa Stupar appear to be the political driving force behind this band, but she’s the fucking star too. Although not in the selling out arenas version of that word because, well, death metal. Her vocals are incredible. Unclean singing styles are far too often a crutch to metal bands, thrown over the top of tracks because no-one gives a shit. Countless identikit singers could swap bands tomorrow, and no-one would notice. That couldn’t be further from the case here, as Stupar veers from screeches to roars to gurgles. She sounds like a demon, risen from hell to grab you around the throat and scream at you until your eyes explode.
So yea, Samsara is a bit good. I sometimes struggle with this style of music as the brutality wears me down, but if anything, the second half of this album is the best part. ‘Sadistic Ritual’ into ‘Implementing the Metaphysics of Morals’ into ‘Dukkha’ might be the best run of songs this year. One imagines that everyone interested in extreme metal is already all over this, but if you’ve somehow missed out, correct that mistake sooner rather than later.
Want to know a secret? I have no idea who Waster are. My approach to discovering new music is to give it all at least a shot and stick with those who prove themselves worthy of my precious minutes. That usually means my phone ends up with a plethora of albums saved on it that have come at someone’s recommendation. Presumably, one of those people recommended Waster. Who was it? Don’t have a clue. I’m glad they did, though.
Because in recent weeks, months and perhaps even years, I’ve found myself going off metal. Which sounds like a bloody daft thing to say when I’ve just spent far too many words screaming about how amazing Venom Prison are, but let me explain. I’ve gone off straight up, balls to the wall, bang your head, drink a beer and have a good time metal. The kind of metal your Grandad would have made if your Grandad was a fucking badass. It’s, to keep it simple, started to bore me.
But now, Waster’s third album has come along to save me from my malaise. Imagine, if you will, Lamb Of God and Cancer Bats started fucking, but, oh no! They forgot the protection. Being drunk and rowdy, they say screw it and keep going anyway then, nine months later (although the gestation period for an entire band might be slightly different, I’m not a doctor), what should turn up? It’s only fucking Waster! Do not ask me who carried the baby; this mind picture has taken on too much detail already.
Lewd images aside, this album delivers all the things that I was pretty sure I still loved about heavy metal. Tracks like ‘Imposter Syndrome’ provide the growl along choruses that LOG made their own on ‘Redneck’ with an added hardcore bite to its groove metal riffs. And why did I subject Cancer Bats in particular to my demented orgy? Well, crack on ‘Age of Ordning’ and tell me that those things aren’t combined with the sludge goodness that Bats have incorporated into their sound. Damn, it’s good.
Look, there is nothing more to say. Waster is a damn fine metal album with enough little tweaks thrown in to make it stand out from the crowd. It’s reminded me how fun it can be to grab a beer, throw the horns in the air and headbang like a motherfucker. See you in the pit.
I chose a fucking daft week to claim that I don’t listen to much metal any more. Venom Prison, Waster and Anaal Nathrakh. All famously un-metal bands. Bloody idiot.
Anyway, this ain’t about me (ha!), it’s about another fantastic album from last year that I didn’t get a chance to ramble incoherently about. On the surface, A New King of Horror is fucking bonkers. Actually, it’s pretty bonkers underneath too. It throws everything at the wall and doesn’t care whether it sticks or not. That creates an amalgamation of every extreme metal genre going (and a few others too) which may well leave you laughing out loud on your first listen as you marvel at its extremes. Songs like ‘The Reek of Fear’ barrel between pig squeals and operatic sections all to the soundtrack of a music studio being expertly ridden down a flight of stairs.
However, much like the Venom Prison album, the more you dive into A New King of Horror and unpick the themes underneath the musical maelstrom, the more you discover. The perfect example of that is ‘Forward!’ a track which features the click of a gun being cocked in what could be a ludicrous way. However, upon examining the lyrics, you start to find that sound is fitting with the themes of the track as it explores the people behind the soldiers of World War One. The people who ‘Enjoy a good shit with the paper/Class photos/Knowing everyone in the pub’s names/Beaming wives/It’ll all be over by Christmas’. A life in direct contrast to being ordered over the trenches with shouts of ‘Forward! Your country needs you to start killing.’ For a track that on first listen is leaning into its insanity, it’s a remarkably effective look back on the First World War and its horror.
And I adore that. On the surface, Anaal Nathrakh are doing everything that metal’s detractors despise. It’s loud, chaotic music that revels in its ridiculousness. Underneath all that, though, they show what they are, intelligent human beings with something to say. This album references everything from war to Yeats with even ‘Mother of Satan’ – a hurricane of a song in which the only comprehensible lyrics are the word Satan being repeatedly shouted – is, according to the albums own liner notes, referring to an explosive used in terrorist attacks.
I have to admit that before this album I had only dipped my toe into Anaal Nathrakh, but A New King of Horror blew me away. It’s an incredibly layered piece of music, drawing from so much and unleashing it in an intoxicating swirl of music. You stand in the middle of it trying to catch as much as you can while entirely aware that there is no way you are getting it all. That’s why you go back to it, read about it and learn, which means that with every listen you come out with something new. If that isn’t an extraordinary achievement, what is?