Written by: Continuous Thunder
If you told me at the beginning of the year that one of the best sludge metal albums I’d hear in 2020 would come from two Japanese girls… I’d lean in closer and ask you to tell me more. I don’t know about you, but in my experience, when women are involved in making hard rock and metal on the doomy side of things, it tends to be pretty damn good more often than not. Some of my favorite albums from the past couple of years have been from bands like Windhand, Castle, and Electric Citizen. And this year we’ve already had great albums from Konvent and Lucifer. Well, get ready to add BlackLab to the pile.
As mentioned, BlackLab is a doom and sludge duo from Japan, made up of guitarist and vocalist Yuko Morino and drummer Chia Shiraishi. Abyss is their second album. Being a duo in the doom metal world requires some sonic creativity to get your sound sufficiently heavy and thick. I’m not sure what witchcraft Morino has employed, but her guitar tone is freakin’ huge! And these riffs aren’t just fuzzy, they’re downright filthy. We’re talking trve slvdge, Houdini-era Melvins levels of nasty. Along with down-tuning, a sub-octave can be heard filling out the bottom end. I don’t know if Morino dubbed in a bass guitar or if she split her signal into an octave pedal, but there is certainly no lack of low end here. She’s also the kind of guitarist who uses feedback to her advantage.
Shiraishi’s role as the duo’s drummer is no less important, and she also fills it well. She hammers the kit with the power and authority of a hardcore drummer, providing a solid backbone for Morino’s riffs. And the album is mixed so well that the drums don’t get lost behind the wall of distortion and you can hear every hit.
Moving onto the songs themselves, the riffs on Abyss are just as huge as the guitar tone. The album starts with “Insanity,” an 8+ minute, pummeling doom track that kicks you right in the face with ponderous riffs. Things pick up a bit, with “Fade And Melt” being more mid-tempo and “Weed Dream” having more of a hardcore punk edge, kicking off with a heavy breakdown. Next is “Amusement Park Of Terror,” an instrumental track that incorporates spooky synths along with the heavy riffs. After that, things kick into high gear again with “Forked Road,” a blistering hardcore burner that has a flawlessly incorporated mid-tempo bridge, perfect for slow headbanging in unison.
“Chained” slows things down a bit with a swaggering, Southern-style riff and straight forward, no-nonsense verses. Up next, “Sleepless Nights” kicks off with a jungle drum beat and the guitars are about as rockabilly as down-tuned sludge riffs can get without losing definition. The album closes with “Sun,” another long and slow doom track that’s just plain oppressive in the best way. Throughout all of this, Yuko Morino’s vocals range from haunting to harsh, sometimes traveling the full spectrum within a single track.
And again, I can’t emphasize enough the incredible strength of the hooks in these songs. They grab you instantly and even the secondary riffs and hooks in the songs are strong enough to keep you engaged through the whole track. If I had to criticize anything about this album, it would be that “Amusement Park Of Terror” is definitely the weakest track here. The hooks aren’t as sticky and cutting it out would only reduce the run time by three minutes. But it does serve a purpose as a brief intermission between the fastest two tracks on the album.
I don’t think I could gush about this album any more and retain my dignity. Abyss was a pleasantly surprising find and is easily one of the best, if not the best doom and sludge release I’ve heard all year. If it’s not a front runner for Album of the Year, it’s definitely a candidate for my year-end list.
BlackLab - Abyss was released on May 8, 2020 on New Heavy Sounds
Continuous Thunder reviews even more music both inside and outside the realm of metal on his own blog, conveniently entitled Continuous Thunder. Now that you're done reading this, you should head over there and check it out!
We provide thoughtful reviews of music that is heavy, gloomy...and loud enough to wake us from slumber. Written by a highfalutin peasantry!