Interview: Ash Gray – Venom Prison

UK death metal outfit Venom Prison are set to deliver their highly-anticipated third full-length album ‘Erebos’ on February 4th, guitarist Ash Gray was on hand to talk us through the creative process behind the album. Check-in with Ash, below…

‘Erebos’, the long-awaited third full-length Venom Prison album is almost upon us, what goes through your head in the run-up to the release of new music? Are you excited? Nervous? Both?!

Super excited, honestly I feel very positive about this record, I feel it’s going to show Venom Prison in a new light and it’s creatively pushing the band more and more. 4th Feb let’s go!

Does it bring any added pressure when you see ‘Erebos’ featured in so many publications as one of the most important Metal albums of 2022? Also, on the subject of pressure, what kind of pressure did the band put themselves during the creative process of the album?

I think we used reflection more than pressure with this album, figuring what our goal was and how we would implement it. We knew before even starting the writing process how we wanted to approach this record, it was certainly difficult and a lot of work but this band always said we’d never do the same record twice and we’d push ourselves creatively on each album. I see a lot of outlets mentioning this and I’m pleased, for now, I have to focus on the band more than fixating on worrying myself over pressure. We achieved what we wanted to do as a band so all I can do now is let it get released into the world.

The recording process for ‘Erebos’ ran from December 2020 to the Summer of 2021; what was it like when you all heard the album back in its entirety for the first time? 

Overwhelming, so much work went into this record! So many ups and downs and battling with our own individual demons alongside doing all of this, hearing the final product was quite a huge feeling of emotions knowing what got us to that moment.

Had the band been caught up in the usual cycle of album-tour-festivals-album-tour-festivals-album, and not been forced off the road for two years or so, do you think that the album would have sounded differently?

It’s hard to say, probably not to be honest. I think the time helped us reflect more and tweak things, but I think ultimately we always knew how we wanted to grow and evolve the Venom Prison sound.

What was it about ‘Judges Of The Underworld’ that made you choose it as the lead single for the album?

Everyone picked different single choices for Erebos but we all had “Judges Of The Underworld” on our lists so it was a no-brainer. The one thing I did say to the band was it’s very positive that everyone has a different single in mind, showing that it isn’t an album with JUST good singles.

The album totally slays from start to finish, but the mid-section from ‘Comfort Of Complicity’ through to ‘Castigated In Steel And Concrete’ is particularly mindblowing and intense, when you are as close to an album as you are, can you personally have favourite moments?

Every song for me has a favourite moment; it’s the way we designed the record to be full of surprises and ensure each song told its own story and had its own personality. We look at songs from an album perspective, then treat each one as if they were going to be a single – making sure the quality stays across the board.

In your opinion, what new tracks will be the most difficult to play live?

Weirdly, even though ‘Erebos’ isn’t the technical brutal death metal record ‘Samsara’ is, everything on ‘Erebos’ is so much more intricate and dialled in so generally I feel this record overall will be more challenging from a performance perspective. I’d probably say ‘Comfort Of Complicity’.

‘Erebos’ producer Scott Atkins is renowned for coaxing big performances out of the musicians that he is working with, especially guitarists, what did you take from the whole creative process with Scott? And in which ways did he push you?

Scott pushed the band in all the correct ways and even re our playing abilities, getting us to understand what we were trying to achieve and the difference between a good take and an amazing take. It doesn’t seem a lot but when you see those differences, it becomes eye-opening. Even with the creative process, we had the album pre-produced before going into the studio but when we stepped into it the writing process didn’t finish there – we kept changing and improving constantly.

How does it work with yourself and fellow guitarist Ben Thomas when it comes to writing the guitar parts?

We both have home studios, we live close to each other, it really depends. I write on my own a lot and so does Ben. Then when we feel we have enough ideas we get together and start to reflect, pull apart and dissect until we have what is a finished song.

The artwork for ‘Erebos’ is spellbinding, Eliran Kantor has struck gold yet again, it looks especially amazing on vinyl, have you held the vinyl in your hands yet? It seems having a strong physical product is important to the band, the ‘Born From Chaos’ baby grow is a really cool Idea!

I haven’t yet but I am super excited to very soon. I believe a band is a package and a package that you build your aesthetic around so you can be identified by this. You see artwork, merch, etc you know it’s Venom Prison. I personally love the baby grow, when Larissa [Larissa Stupar, Venom Prison vocalist] presented the idea I thought it was fantastic.

I believe that both you and Ben work in the care industry? Such a difficult challenging job. It must be frustrating for you that issues such as poor wages and lack of investment have been around for decades through multiple governments, and have never really been tackled?

I recently changed work, as of recently I work in arts and creatives doing unit and criteria teaching/planning for college students. Ben manages mental health units and has been doing this for a long time, he has such a great understanding of how that system works, and yeah I can’t disagree, it’s very challenging and respect to anyone who gets out there and helps others. These people are essential and I feel people do overlook this a lot and just pass it off with “I could never do that” but ultimately that isn’t what that sector is looking for; it’s underpaid, it’s a seriously high pressure/stress job and these people are going out and helping other people even through a global pandemic. They’re compassionate and empathetic people. It’s admirable.

What other social issues are you passionate about?

So many different things constantly happening in the world, it’s so hard to pinpoint one thing. I believe no human is illegal, I believe people should be able to express their sexuality and identify as whatever they want to be, people should be allowed that freedom to be the person they want to be. Systematic oppression which we see more than ever, people constantly being discriminated against for their background, religion, class, you name it. The world is dying and it isn’t flat, climate change is actually a thing but somehow people can say it’s not… the list goes on.

What are your own first musical memories? And what was the lightbulb moment that made you go “I want to do that”?

A Motorhead/Iron Maiden gig when I was a kid – my old man got me into a lot of metal when I was younger – then he got into Slipknot, Linkin Park, Papa Roach, etc and shared his CD’s with me… then one day I just asked him if I could have a guitar for my birthday, which he was all about!

The album that you have in your album collection/Spotify playlist that would surprise most people?

I generally think if people looked through my Spotify they’d be surprised, I listen to a lot of Placebo, I like pop music, I’ve been jamming that latest Angele record a lot, a lot of synth-pop, which my mother still gives me all her Human League records or tour books she bought back in the day. I do listen to metal too but I think it would be outbalanced by a lot of non-metal music.

Although 2021 was another year to forget, there were some amazing new albums released, what would be your album of last year?

I really liked that Sleep Token record, honestly I felt so refreshed by it, and from my previous answer you’d probably see why it kind of ticked all my boxes.

Lastly, and this one always causes a debate! What well-known guitarist do you just not get the fuss about? As well as some guitarists saying that they would rather not answer the question, answers have included: John Frusciante, Eric Clapton, Brian May, and David Gilmour!

Still to this day, I don’t have a favourite guitarist, I like lots of different elements from people. Generally, I always find someone will be unique at something that no one else could replicate. I don’t get all this guitar god bollocks, to be honest, you see these shred lords that are like “hey man, I rock” but can’t write a song or has to get someone else to write it for them, I don’t know what their names are but fuck them.

 

‘Erebos’ is available through Century Media Records, pre-order details here.

Interview – Dave

All photos – credit Andy Ford

 

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