There’s normally more than a slight feeling of desperation when a band decides to go back and rerecord classic material. Any fan of 80’s thrash will be aware of a dozen examples of bands deciding to apply updated production techniques or their latest lineup to early fan favourites and sucking all the magic out of them (The Greater of Two Evils by Anthrax was particularly upsetting for me). The fact that a lot of these re-recordings are the product of inter-band spats over royalties only adds an extra sour note.
All of this makes Primeval something of a surprise considering Venom Prison are on top of their game. The band are one of the most ferocious death metal bands in the UK right now, and their last album Samsara was a bona fide masterpiece, so re-recording old material can hardly be considered an attempt to recapture their glory days. Gratifyingly it seems that the album’s main reason for being is the band’s honest love of the songs and their wanting to introduce their earlier material to fans who have come onboard since their acclaimed debut album Animus.
Made up of re-recordings of the band’s first demo Defy the Tyrant and their first EP The Primal Chaos, alongside two brand new tracks, Primeval may lake some of the cohesion of a proper full-length, but it’s still a fiendishly exciting thrill ride that gives the listener an insight of the band’s progress from their earliest days to their world-beating present.
It’s clear from listening that the songs that have benefited the most from the rerecording process are the five that made up Defy the Tyrant. On the original bedroom recording songs like the hardcore influenced opener ‘Usurper of the Throne’ and the blistering title track (both song titles showing a possible Celtic Frost influence) were hampered by a thin, muddy quality that has been completely replaced here with razor precision and a sonic heft which better fits the quality of the tracks. ‘Life Suffer’ in particular is a revelation, with the new sound revealing an intricacy that wasn’t obvious before.
The re-recordings of The Primal Chaos also get something of a production glow-up here, though admittedly it wasn’t quite as needed as on the demo. That’s not to say it doesn’t add anything, the main difference here is you recognise this is now a band much more confident with displaying their strengths in the studio. Larissa Stupar’s unnerving growl is pushed much further forward than on the original, highlighting her skill as a thought-provoking lyricist, while Ash Gray and Ben Thomas’ stunning guitar work feels like it had much more room to breathe here.
The most tantalising part of Primeval for old-school fans is, of course, the two new tracks, and they do not disappoint. ‘Defiant to the Will of God’ is a groove-laden slice of death metal that features some spectacular drumming from relative new boy Joe Bills and riffs that channel Slayer at their most brutal. ‘Slayer of Holofernes’ (a title referencing the biblical tale of a widow who seduces and then murders the general laying siege to her home) on the other hand finds the band experimenting with slightly more melodic textures, perhaps giving us an insight into where they may be headed to in the future.
Primeval is out via Prosthetic Records on October 9th and can be ordered here.
Words: Dan Cadwallader