Psilocybe Larvae – The Labyrinth of Penumbra

Psilocybe Larvae is probably not a name that’s familar to most Western ears, (nor is it easy to pronounce or spell). Psilocybe refers to a species of mushroom of which a small percentage are known to have certain hallucinogenic effects. While the mushroom can be found worldwide, the band Psilocybe Larvae hails from Vyborg, Russia. Their first full length album, Stigmata, was released in 2000. However it wasn’t until the release of their third album, 2008’s Non-Existence, which brought a change from the blackened progressive metal of their early work to melodic death doom that they started to garner real attention outside of their home country. After four years, Psilocybe Larvae has returned with their latest effort, The Labyrinth of Penumbra.

“Soul Trekking” opens with a reserved gothic synth and guitar melody, which are soon joined by an ominous foundation of bass and pounding drums as the song builds before finally unleashing the full assault of its main structure. Vocalist/guitarist Vitaly “Larv” Belobritsky’s spoken words give way to gravelly, water-logged shrieks, which are interspersed with cleanly song vocal parts over melodic death/doom riffs. The song repeats this cycle once more before shifting abruptly to its closing structure, an intriguing mix of bass rhythms, synth elements, and a single, repeated spoken vocal phrase that leads into a final barrage of gothic riffs and leads. “Haunting” continues in the gothic death/doom style, introducing keys and heavier, more aggressive riffs before closing with a lengthy, mournful lead refrain.

“Shining Shambahla” is one of the album’s highlights. The melody that opens the song recalls that of “Soul Trekking”, but it’s further explored here, leading into a crimson gothic fabric reminiscent of Swallow The Sun or Daylight Dies. The clean vocals channel a bit of Tiamat’s Johan Edlund, and are perhaps the area where Psilocybe Larvae has most improved over their previous effort. There’s passion and fire in Belobritsky’s bellows that just wasn’t there before. The song shifts into progressive territory about a third of the way into its run time, with an acoustic melody joined by bursts of guitars before returning to its main structure. “Trial By Fire” raises the energy level considerably, shifting to melodic death with strong hints of In Mourning. “Contemplation” is a mournful folk instrumental track that serves as an extended intro to “Fortress Of Time” and “Rivers Of Remembrance”, which mix gothic and progressive metal with spoken and clean vocals that channel Edge Of Sanity. The album closes with “No Escape” which fits surprisingly well considering that it was written over 10 years prior to the rest of the songs. The opening structure returns to the melodic death of “Trial By Fire”, before shifting to a progressive lead melody that flows into charging melodic death/doom riffs and leads.

The Labyrinth of Penumbra was recorded and mixed by Yuri Smirnov and Andrey Chernyshov at studio Kontakt, and mastered by Mats Lindfors at Cutting Room in Sweden. Artistically its a huge leap over Non-Existence, but sadly the same cannot be said for the production. The mix does a good job of keeping the riffs, leads, and synths in balance, but the guitars are lacking in low-end weight, and when the energy level increases, the drums tend to get washed out. The master is likely the main culprit. It’s slammed even harder than Non-Existence, with many tracks exhibiting near continuous clipping from beginning to end. There are still hints at what could be a very good sounding recording buried under the wreckage, but it’s impossible to know for sure without a dynamic release to compare.

I can’t help but feel that if Psilocybe Larvae were Swedish or Finnish instead of Russian, Labyrinth would be lighting up the charts. For whatever reason most Russian metal tends to not make it to this part of the world. For fans of bands like Swallow The Sun, Daylight Dies, Edge Of Sanity, and In Mourning though, this is a must listen; it’s one of the best gothic death/doom albums I’ve heard in awhile. This is a far more confident band than four years ago, and I’m really looking forward to what they come up with next. Highly recommended.

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