It's always nice to find a group combating the toxic side of death metal while still making really, really good music to back it. That'd explain why 2020's Primeval kept the scene on board with Venom Prison after 2019's Samsara put them there. To that effect, Erebos nails the band's cross selection melody and savagery with a bit of progressive tendencies to keep everyone on their toes.
Venom Prison displays an uncommon approach to atmosphere, in that intro "Born From Chaos" is more than a bloated time-killer before "Judges Of The Underworld" hits. Ash Gray and Ben Thomas know how to bust out Heartwork-style leads without coming off heavy-handed. That type of bombast gives a cut like "Judges" plenty of room to explore an impressive breadth of aggression, from harrowing tremolo riffs and break-neck time changes to NWOBHM-ish choruses… and good grief, those final mosh parts. Even if the styles they're combining are familiar, Venom Prison takes full ownership of their genre nexus.
The single "Nemesis" gets Venom Prison's creative juices flowing, balancing out rousing guitar leads and a fantastic lyrical motif ("I am the damaged one/You deserve all the damage done"), with divergent time signatures and moody ambiance. Erebos can jerk listeners around without sounding disjointed—allowing the concluding melee of dissonant chugs to come unexpectedly yet satisfyingly. "Golden Apples Of The Hesperides" uses this hectic catchiness to its advantage, teetering on the edge of madness as glorious melo-death sheen careens headlong into brutal speed, and bulldozing fight riffs. It should be riff salad in practice, but Venom Prison has fashioned these converging elements into a menacing panorama.
On the subject of jerking listeners around, talking about the trip-hop vibes of "Pain Of Oizys" feels like spoiling Darth Vader's "I am your father" line for a Star Wars newbie. Vocalist Larissa Stupar flexes a more delicate side of her singing, wrestling with negative emotion over a hypnotic drum and guitar loops. But it's her cries of pain amid echoing pianos that bring the song's emotional quotient to a head. The fact it all ends with At The Gates-ish melo-death seems preposterous until it happens. It stands to reason: if At The Gates can put a saxophone solo in their latest album, why can't Venom Prison tip a hat to Massive Attack or Unkle?
Venom Prison succeeds where many newer metal bands fail by pulling off some genuinely incredible guitar solos, like the inventive layering of blistering shredding and dramatic melody on "Comfort Of Complicity." It becomes the perfect transition from the gnarly meat of the track to an inexplicable foray to an almost trad-metal feel—complete with triumphant modulations and a steady four-on-the-floor beat. It's a testament to Stupar's versatile screams for them to work in such a euphonic context, the ever-evolving frenzy of "Gorgon Sisters"—complementing life-ending slams with bestial bellows and eerie soundscapes with delicate melodies.
Erebos never feels like it's killing time before these head-spinning contrasts. Even deeper cuts like "Castigated In Steel And Concrete" remain meticulous and dense in execution. The song has too many twists and turns for passive listening, but each idea also happens to rule. Grooves stay just long enough to stick before getting thrown into a tornado of blast beats and tremolo picking, as each musician finds a way to switch things up while leaving room for memorable motifs and curveball dynamic shifts. In fact, "Veil Of Night" seems relatively normal compared to how much Venom Prison throws into the rest of the album, even though it maintains an infectious riff-a-minute onslaught with strangely hooky tendencies to boot.
Every cut on Erebos is vital and inspired, from the intro to "Technologies Of Death." It brings the album to apocalyptic close, ornamenting moodier chord progressions with foreboding synth ornamentations. After such a frenetic, unpredictable excursion, the it's refreshing to hear Venom Prison milk beefy riffs and ominous atmosphere for all its worth—especially when said beefy riffs are complemented by a chant of the albums name. It's an appropriate full circle moment, the chef's kiss for an album worthy of the Greek primordial god of darkness after whom it's named.
It's not surprising to hear Venom Prison still kicking ass, but the real ass kicker becomes the band's ability to subvert the norms of a genre without relegating itself to nerdy prog circles. Erebos is a blood-boiling rampage of an album, with thoughtful scaffoldings to separate Venom Prison from the pack. They're doing so many things right, staking their claim in a genre fraught with reductive edginess.