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Psilocybe Larvae's The Labyrinth Of Penumbra

[November 5th, 2012]
[Buil2Kill Records]

1. Soul Trekking
2. Haunting
3. Shining Shambhala
4. Trial by Fire
5. Into the Labyrinth
6. Contemplation
7. Fortress of Time
8. River of Remembrance
9. No Escape

Russia is not a country that instantly springs to mind when the term “metal” comes up, although that is not for want of trying. Many talented bands, a rather healthy number of which from blackened and doomy quarters, have emerged from the oppressive state, overcoming censorship and financial difficulties to get their music heard beyond the nation’s borders. Russians’ love of extreme metal is understandable, given the torturous temperatures Mother Nature is capable of inflicting on them. Out of the frost comes a new album from Psilocybe Larvae, a melodic doom/gothic metal quintet from St. Petersburg, who take their eyebrow-raising name from a Tiamat song and a brand of hallucinogenic mushrooms. This explains the eye-catching and befitting artwork, which describes The Labyrinth Of Penumbra more aptly than the band may have intended.

This being gothic metal, keyboard plays a substantial role compared to other metallic subgenres. They light the way for first track “Soul Trekking” to rear its head, with innocent acoustic guitars and toms joining the way. The song gains heavy momentum, and soon the listener is introduced to the  frontman, Vitaly “Larv” Belobritsky, who inhabits a strong dichotomy with his rasping growls and baritone cleans that are reminiscent of Moonspell. The song leans on spoken word for the choruses, providing a strong contrast to the chorus as the song treks on. Then, unexpectedly, the song drops into a Porcupine Tree-esque calm before the song trails off. An off-kilter starting point for an unusual album.

Other tracks on this album delve closer to England for inspiration; “Into The Labyrinth” sees the entrance of My Dying Bride‘s touch and an excellent grasp of dynamics, while “Shining Shambhala” knocks at old-school Anathema‘s door (along with Katatonia‘s) and showcases Ilya “Alan” Piyaev’s chaotic drumming. Speaking of chaos, the keyboards add some creep to the purely Swedish influended “Haunting”, which sees growling à la Mikael Åkerfeldt mix in with Katatonia’s melodic tendencies. “Contemplation”, a short folky interlude, appears to be the band’s homage to Bach with the inclusion of baroque-style strings amid the acoustic guitar and flute. Finally, “No Escape” calls to mind most strongly the hypothetical concept of a freaky doom-metal answer to Pink Floyd as the track floats through heavier and lighter moods.

What comes across strongly in the plus points department are certainly the vocals. Larv is a chameleon vocalist, adapting to whichever situation suits the music best, although his cleans are easily the most striking. The musicianship is also top-notch, and the guitars/keys cannot be faulted for creating some memorable leads and riffs, particularly in the bordering-on-folky “Trial By Fire”. The drums win the instrumental award though, managing to stay on-topic and in view without dominating the record. All of this is wrapped in an appropriate style of production which enhances the atmosphere, without drowning the instruments in one another.

However, Psilocybe Larvae still have room for improvement. Their style, although enjoyable for the whole 42 minutes, still leans too much on their influences, particularly the Brave Murder Day-era Katatonia and Moonspell moments. In addition, The Labyrinth Of Penumbra much resembles its artwork, wandering lost until it reaches the song’s conclusion. “Soul Trekking” in particular suffers from this, and while “Trial By Fire” struggles bravely against it, the overall feeling is one of confused enjoyment. It is nigh on impossible for the listener to predict what will come next, especially when calm bass breaks from Alexey Legotin come out of nowhere. Larv has been quoted as describing this music as “manic-depressive”, which while apt, renders this album more of a grower than an instant love affair.

In short, if you are already familiar with Russia’s melodic and doomy side of metal, or entranced with bands such as Katatonia, Moonspell and Tiamat, then Psilocybe Larvae’s The Labyrinth Of Penumbra should rightly belong on your scribbled post-it note of albums to check out. With some tidying up and soul-searching, these Russians show much promise and potential to deliver on future releases, although this album is certainly a large step in the right direction. Lose yourself in the maze as we head into the bowels of winter.


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