Venom Prison: Death Metal Against Rape Culture and Misogyny | Revolver

Venom Prison: Death Metal Against Rape Culture and Misogyny

"I wanted to send a massive 'fuck you' to every rapist and every creepy guy"
Venom Prison 2017 JAKE OWENS, Jake Owens
Venom Prison, (from left) Mike Jefferies, Joe Sheehy, Larissa Stupar, Ash Gray and Ben Thomas
photograph by Jake Owens

Larissa Stupar is a political firebrand. Born in Russia, the Venom Prison vocalist grew up in Germany and, as a teen, protested local neo-Nazis and marched for animal rights. Today, at age 28, the self-described vegan straight-edge anarchist is still speaking out — or rather, shouting out — against injustice. Just listen to "Perpetrator Emasculation," a 93-second blast of metallic rage as quick and deadly as a classic hardcore tune, on which she roars: "You rape, beat and degrade/ The time to pay has come/No escape, no escape!"

The cover of Venom Prison's debut album, Animus, brings the song to life in the form of an original Renaissance-style painting by artist Eliran Kantor depicting a man shackled and surrounded by women. Blood drips from between his legs as a woman shoves his severed genitals into his mouth. "It was a bit mind-blowing," Stupar says of seeing the intense cover art the first time. "When I saw it, I loved it so much. It was exactly what I imagined it to be. You look down and realize, 'Oh fuck, he doesn't have a dick anymore.'"

The painting is as extreme as the words and music on Animus, which has propelled Venom Prison, since the LP's release last year, from utter anonymity to sudden acclaim. Stupar, now based in Wales, U.K., and her bandmates crafted a 34-minute horror show of breakdowns and beatdowns that incorporates elements of death metal and hardcore but sounds less like deathcore than something entirely new. 

The singer's lyrics, meanwhile, push back against the casual misogyny and violent rape fantasies too common in both metal and the world at large.

"I have a lot of female and male friends that have survived rape and experienced sexual violence. I have myself as well, and I wanted to send a massive 'fuck you' to every rapist and every creepy guy," Stupar says. "I'm just sick of reading lyrics about women being raped all the time. I just wanted to turn that around."

Her band's bold message has helped put Venom Prison in the spotlight, but so has Stupar's dynamic live presence, which is vividly displayed in the "Perpetrator Emasculation" music video, shot at a particularly gnarly house show.

"As a female in a male-dominated scene, you get to experience things in a very different way than a guy would," she says. "Whenever we play, it's always intense and we try to be as loud as we can. We go onstage, we destroy and we leave. We do the same no matter if we play a festival or a tiny stage in a club."

Stupar was just 12 when she first began imagining herself roaring onstage. She was living on the outskirts of Essen, Germany, and the emotion and energy of Slipknot grabbed her hard. She got herself a Joey Jordison Kabuki mask and paid close attention to the band's frontman. "I was fascinated by the way Corey Taylor was singing," recalls Stupar. "I just tried and it worked. When I started shouting and did vocals like this, I really did not know how to do it. I was doing it wrong and my throat would always hurt after."

She learned fast, but with few metal options in a local music scene dominated by hardcore, Stupar ended up fronting a hardcore-punk band of fellow straight-edge vegans called Wolf Down. The group recorded a debut album, 2013's Stray From the Path, and toured heavily, traveling across Europe and even playing China and Southeast Asia. But as the DIY act became more popular, Stupar felt herself drifting away. "The guys in the band wanted to be massive, and that's something that I didn't want to happen for this band," she says. "I didn't feel like it was right anymore, so I just didn't enjoy it in the end."

Three years ago, she left Wolf Down (who continued with a new singer) and moved to Wales. There, she formed a new group with guitarist Ash Gray, and they chose the most metal name they could imagine: Venom Prison. "I really love metal and I just wanted to evolve as a singer," she says. "With the bands I was in before, I just couldn't reach the maximum potential that my voice has."

Stupar and Gray recorded a five-song cassette demo, 2015's Defy the Tyrant, in her living room and then recruited guitarist Ben Thomas, bassist Mike Jefferies and drummer Joe Sheehy to play on follow-up EP The Primal Chaos. Most of the new members share Stupar and Gray's hardcore roots — and all share their willingness to give up creature comforts to make their art. Indeed, when the group recorded Animus, the bandmates not only worked together in the studio but also slept there for a week of intense sessions.

For Stupar, such sacrifices are well worth it. She's determined to spread her music and message as far and wide as she can and hopes to take the group to the U.S. for the first time next year. Wherever Venom Prison tour, Stupar taps into the excitement of a metal crowd that turns out to have a higher ratio of women than she saw when leading a hardcore band.

"You see the satisfaction in their faces when they start to headbang and put their fingers up," she says of female fans. "I enjoy that a lot. When metal started, it was something from men to men, basically. I think women in metal get a feeling of emancipation and power because they can be feminine, but they can be strong and evil at the same time."