Venom Prison Combats Death Metal Misogyny with Brute Force
We spoke to vocalist Larissa Stupar about rape culture, gore, and Russian extremism, as well as the band's new Prosthetic debut.
Part of extreme metal's appeal is its no-holds-barred lyrical grossness. Death metal, by its very name, plays with themes of violence, gore and physical abuse, often at the expense of a female victim—but what happens when you turn that on its head? For Venom Prison, a death metal five-piece from Wales, it means salty Facebook comments from angry fans making grand declarations like that they'll "never take women seriously in metal no matter what," while at the same time denying the very existence of misogyny.
Venom Prison is fronted by formidable vocalist Larissa Stupar, whose jagged, earthy roar is the perfect conduit for lyrics that turn death metal tropes on their head. The searing "Perpetrator Emasculation," for example, which inspired the cover art on their debut full-length Animus, is about a rapist being force-fed his own genitals.
Venom Prison may not be the first band to write from a standpoint of visceral female anger—American death metal supergroup Castrator did similar last year— but their observations feel incredibly relevant in the current political and social climate.Songs like "Perpetrator Emasculation" may remind listeners of Castrator's "The Emasculator," another rape revenge fantasy, but Venom Prison's approach veers away from Castrator's old school death metal approach, instead embracing a furious hardcore stomp.
It's funny, really, that when Devourment sings about butchering and raping women's corpses, few eyelids are batted, but when the genders are reversed, some fans demand that so-called 'social justice warriors' be kept away from metal. That animus towards progress is where the nasty Facebook comments come in, to say nothing of other social media platforms and—god forbid—forums. As Noisey contributor Jill Mikkelson wrote in January, in a piece questioning why death metal (and especially its bastard stepchild, pornogrind, is given a free pass for its misogyny, "culture does not exist nor is it created in a vacuum."
Venom Prison has just wrapped up a European tour with Trap Them and Okkultokrati. When I called Larissa to talk about the themes on Animus, she was recovering from a nasty sickness bug, but still willing to shoot the shit.
Noisey: Hi, Larissa. I hope you're feeling okay.
Larissa Stupar: I'm feeling better now. The Trap Them singer is probably worse off than I am,he's broken both his feet!
Yeah, I noticed he was in a wheelchair when I saw you perform in London. I hope nobody else gets ill or injured on your tour! Anyway, I wanted to have a chat about Animus; when you first started writing it, had you already decided what kind of themes to tackle?
When we started writing the album we didn't really have a theme for it, but both of the other [EP] releases were a bit political. Almost everything I write has a political background, because that's just the way I am. There's so much happening in the world right now like the refugee crisis, everything's kind of breaking down and going to shit, and I felt a bit inspired by it. I don't want that to sound wrong because it's really not inspiring, but it pisses you off so much that you want to talk about it somehow to cope with it.
Yes, it seems like a lot of what you're saying is very relevant to what people are feeling.
Yeah, definitely. Especially because I identify as a woman, and I can see how other women are treated and I experience that stuff myself so I want to speak about it and maybe make other women speak up for themselves, or just make other people realise that these are real issues we all need to face.
So, with the misogynistic and violent imagery in death metal, was it a case of feeling like you wanted to turn that around when you first heard those kinds of lyrics?
Yeah it was kind of like that. I'm not saying that I don't like the bands that sing about that kind of stuff, they are great bands, most of them, musically, and I appreciate their music. But I feel left out as a woman and I know other women feel just the same. I kind of just wanted to give my part to it if that makes sense. I've listened to some podcasts or read reviews of the album where people didn't realise I was female. Which is good for me, because it shouldn't really matter what gender you are if you're in a band. We had an introductory piece about us in Metal Hammer and the Facebook comments… you just shake your head. Why are people wasting their life commenting shit like that, calling me 'sugar tits' and telling me to bend over?
That's so gross. You're right, it shouldn't even be a thing. In that vein,"Perpetrator Emasculation" is a rape revenge song, and I think a lot of women would say rape is minimised and misunderstood in our society. Do you feel that way?
It's just crazy that in 2016 we still teach girls not to behave in a certain way and not to wear [provocative] clothes, rather than telling guys not to rape and to treat women with respect. The concept of consent, every time I think about it or talk about it, I still can't understand how it's not in everyone's head.
I want to ask about the cover art too, which is clearly based on "Perpetrator Emasculation." It's done by Eliran Kantor, who's also done covers for Testament and Sigh—did you approach him directly?
Yes, Eliran is one of my favourite artists and I really wanted him to do the artwork, so I was really happy he had time. He asked for the pre-production and the lyrics for everything, and he came up with the concept because that particular song was the one that inspired him to do the concept of the rapist being fed his own genitals. I felt like the whole theme of the album is fighting against an oppressive force, I felt like this is probably something that stands out the most at the moment for me personally. I thought it was the perfect concept art for the album, and I'm really happy with how it turned out, you can almost feel it when you look at it.
So aside from the feminist themes, what else are you talking about on Animus?
There are songs about mental health issues and the way people with mental health problems are being perceived in society. And there's a song about fascism and how it's kind of coming back. I feel like everything at the moment is moving towards the right wing, in America, the UK and Europe. I feel like something big's going to happen. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but in the future for sure.
Yes, it certainly does feel like a fraught time politically at the moment. Speaking of which, Noisey ran a piece recently about the Russian religious right-wing wanting to silence extreme metal bands in Russia; is that something you've heard about or experienced, being Russian?
I was born in Russia, then when I was ten I moved to Germany with my family because my mum's German and my dad's Russian. Everything in Russia is pretty extreme—the rape culture and religious extremism. I read about Behemoth going to Russia and being attacked by religious extremists at the airport. I know there are bands that sing about Satanism—which is part of Christianity in my opinion anyway—but I don't know how people don't get it into their heads that music is just art and people probably don't mean it in that way. Like we were saying about horror or rape-themed lyrics, it's the same with religion and Satanism. I don't know anyone personally in Russia at the moment who's experiencing that kind of thing, but I know people who experience hate from racists and neo-Nazis at hardcore shows. The last time I was there was about nine or ten years ago; I'm looking to go back next year.
And what about future plans for Venom Prison?
We definitely want to tour a lot more. We're hopefully going to America next year. We want to write another album and hopefully take it as far as we can.
'Animus' is out now on Prosthetic Records.
Thea De Gallier is emasculating trolls on Twitter.