The battle isn’t over despite the ravens having had their feast. The mind possessed remains troubled spectre of re-evaluation, coldest self-assessment in retreat and shambling haunt as Oakland, California-based death/doom metal trio Larvae yearn for the void in the solitude of pummeled earth and unburied corpses. The band’s second full-length album, ‘Entitled to Death‘, offers a path beyond perpetual trauma, a grotesquely cyclic tragedian narrative for a death metal record which attempts to path its way beyond mounting existential dread unto some transcendental whorl away from the defeat which pings incessant in the defector’s mind. Through persistence their geist will find its passage, though the way forward is ever-twisting, gnarled in its slow and unsteady process.
Larvae formed circa 2011 with vocalist/guitarist and sound engineer Brad Kobylczak being the main songwriter as far as I can tell alongside members of black metal band Elk. They’d gone with a slow and somewhat melodic form of death metal adjacent style on their debut demo (‘MMXII Demo‘, 2012) where some lightly dissonant notions began to brew into their percussive, momentum based (read: somewhat loose) riffcraft where their general focus was creating a dramatic, sombre mood. Some of that style eventually translated into their interest in both atmospheric sludge metal, funeral death/doom metal and even the melodic side of early death/doom metal with some of the rocking shake of early Paradise Lost (and/or Amorphis) to be found on their otherwise tentative-in-step debut full-length (‘Grave Descent‘, 2014). In hindsight that album meanders a bit but otherwise impresses within its longer pieces (such as “Archaic Circles”) by sheer immersion and a relatively tuneless focus. About a year later they’d record a cover of Amebix‘ “The Darkest Hour” for a compilation and that’d been my introduction to the band before the long gap ’til their next EP (‘Necroptuary‘, 2019), which I’d reviewed that year, with a new line-up that’d focused on a more Boss HM-2 driven sound that’d retained the gloom of past releases, edging towards a more straight forward Bolt Thrower-esque state of mind, still dramatic and seething but now in an almost Swedish death metal sided approach thanks to its guitar tone. Not exactly ‘Resurrection in Blood‘-era Runemagick by design but an approximate result on paper and a vague starting point in describing ‘Entitled to Death‘.
The blackened aspect of Larvae‘s sound will be debatable for most death metal fans depending how you’d interpret their general 90’s death metal influenced directive in developing riffs which stray between fiddly tremolo-picked scrambling to early 2010’s era Hooded Menace sized melodic drawl (“Of Power and Loss”). Kobylczak‘s approach is not as absorbed in its thoughts as something like ‘Mystic‘ from Misery might’ve been back in the day, nor is it too far divorced from the tank-like side of death metal found on ‘Necroptuary‘ but we still find his playing at is busiest when seeking transition from one moment to the next and here we find the most modulation of pacing and phrasing which trades between melodic ideas and black metal influenced movement. The most clear and perhaps distracting example of this is “Obscure Unknown” which is set a bit soon in the running order and from my point of view speaks more to where the band were previous rather than where some of their better work lands today. We don’t get any as-clear hints of this style until closer “The Stars Spelled Death” where it seems these moments are placed for narrative effect more than anything else as some manner of passage. This is less a signature characteristic so much as it represents some additive depth to the experience, this is otherwise an album most concerned with mid-paced death/doom metal and its many variants.
Opener “Entitled to Death” introduces the listener to the off-set melodic voicing of the second guitar position for its first three minutes or so, swerving back and forth between the chunkier riffs which drive the experience and the flailing edge of the verses. The thing that’ll stick in mind immediately is probably the pinched-at riffs which begin firing off around ~3:07 minutes in, a hint of the light Immolation-esque burrowing this album indulges sparingly throughout. We find the introductory melodic voice of Larvae expanding on “Of Power and Loss” while also leaning into what the average fan will hear as something (again) Hooded Menace influenced in general register. To be fair these are busier, restless compositions which do their best to continually throw new ideas, quick turns and plenty of variable pacing into each song and this feels like the best step forward for the band in terms of flitting between the throes of melodic dramatism and heavier bounding death metal riffs. The ‘peak’ of this comes with “Open Tomb of Nightmares” which builds up momentum for the second half with an earlier Desecresy-esque opening riff which makes way for a more declarative, twisted yet very readable expansion upon what we’d heard up to this fresh high point. It still feels like the wheels could come flinging off their machine at any point but the pro Earhammer render really does a lot for this album in terms of remaining readable in all aspects while bearing some underground grit and gunk under Larvae‘s nails.
In terms of the theme developing over the course of this album, it certainly centers around the plight of the defender, the inevitable traumatized state of the enduring individual and how temperament might be more key to survival rather than the random draw of circumstance on some level. The lyrics are both sensationalist in their dramatic statement and empathetic in general, especially as we find a more direct assessment of the debilitation which post-traumatic stress brings over the course of the album. Everything ends in death’s transcendental siphon, naturally, but ‘Entitled to Death‘ seems to be more about parsing what weighs upon the soul, understanding the torment of existence rather than wallowing in the muck of self-pity, that, and relinquishing control over all but the self. Not exactly a pep talk of a record but one which deals with existential dread and the cyclical nature of traumatic process in a wise way. To illustrate this narrative we do not so much get the battlefield in action so much as its rotting fields, filled with cawing crows, corpse wagons wheeling, crackling fires and unearthly synth set around the edges (typically in preamble) of most every song here. This is the primarily atmospheric component of the music and its implied setting beyond the dreary melodic voice of the guitar work, which remains its most enduring point of focus throughout its ~36 minute run.
The point of devastation before a welcomed death arrives, the groaning progression of “The Last of Living” paired with the grand conclusion of “The Stars Spelled Death”, represent both a necessarily “big” last gasp into the aether per an already sullen, dire listening experience and a point of excess which again takes us back to the early 90’s melodic side of death/doom outside of the Peaceville spheres. “The Stars Spelled Death” is particularly strong, introducing some new guitar textures and a slightly more prominent bass guitar tone before we get some more ‘old school’ feeling riffs, a divebombing lead or two and a stomping pace in passage. These two songs paired up in conclusion represent the involved language Larvae lead with throughout this album well, here there are no overtly simplified tics or glaring redundancies and this makes for a full listen which is initially a bit odd and, with a bit of familiarity, a curiously repeatable and engaging death/doom metal record. The bass could use a bit more growl to it, the vocals could be a hair louder, the pinched struggle of certain riffs could be expanded into signature… that is to say that there is yet room for improvement but we can now see Larvae as a band with a much clearer point of view, a more lucid voice, and still clarifying aesthetic. A high recommendation.
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