On May the 26th DutchMetalManiac’s Tim van Velthuysen went to Den Bosch to see Fit For An Autopsy, Venom Prison, Vulvodynia and Justice for the Damned perform in the venue of Willem Twee. You can read the live review about that afternoon here. After the shows he spoke with both guitarists of Venom Prison, Ben Thomas and Ash Gray.
Hey, great show!
Both: Thank you very much!
You’re now on tour with Justice for the Damned, Vulvodynia and Fit For An Autopsy, how do you look at those bands?
Ben: Well, they’re all quite different bands. We’ve been talking about how diverse the tour package is. It’s really cool to play with a good bunch of bands on tour, not one band sounds the same.
Congratulations with your new album, Samsara. It’s very nice.
Both: Thank you!
The lyrics on Samsara contain quite some messages, can you tell something about that?
Ben: I can’t speak for Larissa, but I can kind of summarize what she said in the past. Animus was very politically charged, as is Samsara in many ways. Lyrically this album has a lot of personal things to offer. She kind of wanted to explore that instead of doing the same things again and again. I think she just enjoyed exploring a more personal approach to the lyrics on this one.
What is in your opinion the strongest lyric on Samsara?
Ash: Asura’s Realm I would say. It’s revolting against everything that’s wrong with modern day society, that’s kind of what that song is about. It’s a very common thing at home right now, everything going back and forth, it’s quite difficult at the moment for a lot of people.
Especially in the UK.
Ash: Exactly. So, it’s quite relevant to a lot of people there. I think that’s why I like the album so much.
The artwork of Samsara, which is also really nice, is made by Eliran Kantor. He also made the artwork for Animus. Was it a no-brainer to ask him again?
Ben: Yeah totally. We were completely blown away the first time we saw the artwork for the first album, Animus. We liked it so much, we all knew that we wanted to carry on working with him. We have met him a couple of times since the first album being out. It kind of felt like a natural thing really, just to work with someone we knew and understands our message. I think his approach to artwork is as concise as our approach to music. To ask someone as good and talented as him for the artwork of what we think is some of our best work is a perfect match. So, a no-brainer for sure.
Ash: Music and art go hand in hand. If you can’t visualize how something sounds then you will never feel that vibe. It is a whole package that can’t have the one without the other.
It’s a more neoclassical style he uses. Is that something you know you wanted again for sure?
Ash: Consistency is quite important for us. I like how Animus and Samsara may look very different, but ecstatically they both follow each other in the meaning of where the band is coming from, the general idea of the album being quite hateful. Samsara is more the peaceful side of it, all the songs have more Buddhist titles and stuff. I like how the titles and art are always consistent with each other. For me, Eliran would have to do them all, he started it, so he has to finish it. That’s how I feel about it.
Does that mean that you already have some ideas for a next one?
Ash: We are working on stuff, yes, and we will go to Eliran for the artwork.
Ben: We’ve got a theme now and we stick with that.
Ash: It’s part of the art. I think aesthetics are very important. I think a lot of bands forget about that. Music is very important, but you also need to create an imagery around that music to build that vibe, whether it is that Venom Prison being quite ominous or something. It’s all a package, you can’t have one without the other.
For your merch you also collaborated with The Hundreds and Stronghold Tattoo Cardiff. What made you decide to do those collaborations?
Ben: About The Hundreds, we have always been a fan of street wear culture. The Hundreds has been built up from the ground by Bobby. As successful as it is, it’s quite reflective of that hardcore ethos that we believe in. Bobby has built that brand up from the ground and that’s something that we can relate to. Bobby is a big fan of hardcore punk, metal and other subcultures. We reached out to him and it turned out he already was a fan of Venom Prison. He also is good friends with a couple of people from our record label. It kind of worked out really well.
Ash: Stronghold Tattoo Cardiff are friends of us. They always supported bands in Cardiff. For me, it was kind of giving something back. That was more of a friendship thing. I think those collaborations are cool and I wish more people would do those. Everyone always thinks that it’s kind of a street wear culture thing to do, but it’s not. It’s no different than a tour package, you’re just sharing something.
Next month you’re playing Glastonbury, looking forward to that?
Ash: It’s fucking insane, let’s cut the bullshit. How the fuck did we end up on that. It’s cool as fuck. It’s the only festival that we are playing my parents knew before, when I told them. I am really gone answer for that, it’s really cool. Kylie Minogue is playing and we get to support her in a way, which is completely fucked but I absolutely love it.
Do you think non-metal festivals should do that more?
Ash: Yeah. Heavier music is starting to break more into mainstream. You can drive your car to work and you can hear Bring Me The Horizon on the radio. That wouldn’t have happened ten years ago. So, it’s becoming more mainstream whether people like that or not. Not going mainstream in the way of selling out, but people are becoming more accessible to it, they start to actually like it a lot more, that’s why this is happening. It’s getting more mainstream without selling out.
Ben: Festivals have to try to keep diverse and keep evolving. Like a band has to evolve their music or anyone evolving their art, festivals have to offer more and more. Otherwise people get bored.
Ash: I think it’s great for introductions. There may be some young kid there and the only band he ever heard of is Slipknot or something like that. Then maybe he’ll watch Venom Prison and it’ll open up his mind to more extreme metal bands and it will influence him. It influences people. Glastonbury are giving bands like us a chance to do that. It’s a chance for us to maybe influence someone to like heavy metal. That’s pretty cool.
Have you played a festival similar to that earlier?
Ben: Yeah, we’ve played Boomtown, which traditionally is like a dance music festival with fucking ravers and people taking MDMA and dancing techno. That was quite new. I think it was the first year Earache Records had a stage there we played and it was surprisingly packed out. We didn’t know how it would pan out, but it was a good show.
Ash: It was weird. As Ben says, Earache had a stage there, so Venom Prison and Earth Crisis end up playing there.
Ben: There’s something crazy about playing with a band like Earth Crisis that have songs that are about straight edge at a dance music festival that’s so depended on people who take drugs to listen to music.
You also announced some other shows, including metal festival Damnation. Looking forward to that also?
Ash: I am not only saying this right now, I have been saying this for a long time already. Damnation is my favorite festival ever, I don’t think I ever been to a festival where the music is thought through so well, the timings of when each band comes on and the genres. It’s the only festival I have ever been to where I am actually going from stage to stage. This year you get to see stuff that’s really horrible, like maybe you get to watch Venom Prison or something. Then you can go watch Opeth. If Opeth is not enough for you, you can go to Mayhem.
Ben: The attention to detail in that festival is brilliant, my props to everyone involved. Like Ash was saying it’s diverse and they offer a lot of underground bands you probably couldn’t see on the same day.
Ash: It’s the best of the underground’s big bands, if that makes sense. It’s fucking cool. We also have the Parkway Drive shows, the Thy Art Is Murder shows and we will be doing a couple of shows around that as well. Then we go again on tour in September to the US.
Is that already announced?
Ash: Not yet, but people keep asking. We’ve been over there once and we should go back more frequently. That’s where our label is based, that’s where our records are being sold. So, as weird as it sounds, we kind of need to tell people there that it’s then, because otherwise people will start getting impatient, thinking we aren’t coming back but do another European tour. So, we will announce that very soon. Pretty much in the next week or something I imagine.
So, you already know with which bands it will be?
Ash: Yeah, but I won’t say that, because we want to leave something as a surprise.
I understand. About festivals, what do you like more, playing a metal festival or some other festival with different kinds of music?
Ash: I like a lot of things really. I mean that in the least cliché way ever. I do like everything, I like playing in high schools, I like it while practicing, playing on massive stages, playing little stages, playing hardcore shows where people are jumping on top of each other, metal shows where everyone is headbanging. I mean that in the most honest way, I just like playing. Nothing gets me more excited than a house show. Like setting up two guitar cabinets, everyone jumping around on the sofas and stuff, that’s cool as fuck. I can’t say I have a favorite, I love it all.
Thanks for your answers! Is there something you want to say to the readers of DutchMetalManiac?
Ash: Go and listen to Samsara if you haven’t already. If you have, thank you!
Ben: Thank you for your support!
I’m Tim van Velthuysen and I started DutchMetalManiac back in 2014. I’m 29 years old and I live in Nijmegen, The Netherlands. Of course, I like metal, but I can also appreciate other musical styles.
In addition to DutchMetalManiac I also have a personal website on which I’ll post various things that won’t fit on DutchMetalManiac, but might be interesting for you as well. It’s in Dutch though.