Although BlackLab, Osaka’s ‘dark witch doom’ duo (their words, not mine) made quite the impression with Under The Strawberry Moon 2.0 back in 2018, it still felt like a step towards something bigger and even more ambitious. It begs the question – what would happen when they deliver a full-length from scratch, one composed as a single entity and executed with all the volume, intensity and chaos that they could muster? Abyss. That’s what happens and in short, this album is a titan of psyched-out, freewheeling doom that will be fondly remembered in a year that we’d all prefer to forget.
Solely the work of guitarist/vocalist Yuko Morino and drummer Dr Chia Shiraishi, they take a maximalist approach to rock by adopting purest Sabbathian doom as a skeletal frame and then liberally splashing chunky dollops of black metal, psychedelia, shoegaze, grunge, thrash and sludge on top, building up an album that feels sprawling and surprisingly compact. Each cut takes a solid riff or two and draws its natural essence out, harnessing its natural identity and fusing it with the two players’ distinctive sonic fingerprints.
The thrashy Forked Road takes a grimy, Stooges-esque riff and drowns it in distortion, Morino’s grunts and predatory croon perfectly matching the rollicking tempo and when her voice cuts out for a bout of downbeat sludge that practically smells like Louisiana, the flow between extremes is seamless. Sleepless Night also opts for a relatively swinging beat, Shiraishi’s drumming bouncing effervescently along to a groovy garage riff that sits somewhere between the witchy rock’n’roll of Jess & the Ancient Ones and the weirdly hallucinogenic fugue that comes from watching Carnival Of Souls for the first time; it’s odd and unpredictable, utterly unclassifiable but mostly it’s just a helluva ride that you’re left itching to get back on.
It’s an unequivocally massive album, not exactly catchy but with enough memorable riffs to merit repeated (if not constant) play, and in Yuko Morino and Chia Shiraishi, the world has been gifted the loudest duo since Jucifer…
Much of the album’s versatility rests on Yuko Morino – specifically, on her voice. Her range is impeccable, not merely in terms of control and power but mostly in the huge span of emotions that she can cover. Her screams tap into a profound sense of rage and disgust, but she can flip abruptly to a high, broad register that is near-religious in its elegant ease, and when she does choose to approach a more traditional singing style, there’s a syrupy-sweet clarity that offsets the album’s general sense of off-kilter grime. Paired with guitar work that is almost supernaturally loud and skewed, Technicolor-hued bursts of six-string wizardry, it gives Abyss the impression of always teetering on the edge, sitting perilously close to losing balance but never quite losing its footing.
Which all comes back to that word from earlier – ambition. It’s one thing to put half a century of heaviness into a blender and draw something new from the soupy mess, but it’s another to make the result palatable, and yet Abyss is flat-out delicious. It’s an unequivocally massive album, not exactly catchy but with enough memorable riffs to merit repeated (if not constant) play, and in Yuko Morino and Chia Shiraishi, the world has been gifted the loudest duo since Jucifer. God knows what this will sound like live, or whether we’ll ever recover after we find out.
And after reading this, check out the interview with the ‘dark witch doom’ duo here.
Scribed by: Dave Bowes