Guitar, guitar, and more guitar: that's the dominant sound of the first incarnation of Larval heard on the band's eponymous debut CD. The axes belong to Bill Brovold, Erik Gustafson, and Beth Wilusz, and the way they clash and smash comes courtesy of some ideas Brovold brought to Detroit from his no wave New York days. Like no wave experimental guitarists Rhys Chatham (in whose band he played for five years) and Glen Branca, Brovold is a man who likes weird tunings, thick sound layers, ringing overtones, hypnotic ostinatos, and relentless beats that hammer listeners into submission. Larval is instrumental New York no wave transplanted to the land of the MC5 and the Stooges, a sound that in another, pre-techno era might have taken the Motor City by storm. "Madagascar" and "The Entity" are heavy highlights, the first with a pounding rhythm and a steadily building chord progression that prolongs tension by holding off its resolution seemingly forever, and the second with dissonant chords piled over a contrasting five-beat ostinato, creating a suitably ominous effect. The three guitarists filling every available nook and cranny with sound and the bulldozer rhythm section of drummer Wil Osler and bassist Dean Western gave the first Larval a characteristic sonic architecture that for the most part discouraged displays of soloing prowess. So, ultimately, Larval might not have been the best place for Gustafson -- a fiery guitarist with serious blues, jazz, and hard rock chops -- to show his stuff. Gustafson's avant streak was certainly well suited to the Naked City-inspired jumpcutting style of Blue Dog, another skewed Detroit band, but he probably needed a few more opportunities to cut loose than Larval could provide. For whatever reason, the band's original lineup, including Gustafson, lasted only long enough to record a few tracks for Larval 2 before coming apart at the seams, and Brovold recruited a new batch of musicians, many from the Ann Arbor avant jazz scene, to finish the second LP. Henceforth, Larval would feature a wider range of instruments -- including violin, cello, and saxophones -- to give life to Brovold's multi-layered avant rock compositions. All the versions of the band have had their particular merits: Some view the Larval incarnation as classic, with the three-guitar front line tossing out sequences of seriously bent chords or building layers of dissonance until the ears beg for mercy; others find signs of Brovold's growth as a composer in the later bands with their more varied instrumentation and stylistic influences from minimalism to country music. Perhaps most notable is the fact that, from the first Larval album onward, Brovold continued to find more label support for his endeavors through his East Coast connections than from anybody in the Detroit area -- Larval was released on John Zorn's Avant label, the subsequent three CDs by the band were issued by Knitting Factory and Cuneiform, and Zorn's Tzadik imprint released Brovold's solo CD, Childish Delusions. Detroit would certainly seem to be one of the best places anywhere for the guitar, guitar, and more guitar of Larval to take root. One expects that more than a few Detroiters may someday look back and wonder how this band and this LP escaped their notice. One more killer band remaining essentially a cult phenomenon on its home turf -- a common story throughout rock history, actually.
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AllMusic Review by Dave Lynch