What is it about Japan that means they can produce such good doom bands? Hailing from Osaka, BlackLab is made up of duo Yuko Morino (guitars, vocals) and Chia Shiraishi (drums). Though technically the pair’s debut, the ‘2.0’ is to highlight the fact this is the band’s original demo give a polish and a re-release on a proper label. The core sound is still intact though; rough around the edges doom with plenty of creepy atmospherics.
The usual doom touchstones can be heard amongst the noise; Black Sabbath, Sleep, Electric Wizard, the odd nod to the Melvins. Able to move between in your face aggression and more eerie atmospherics, the album at times sounds like the soundtrack to a 70s horror film, and other times closer to a bong-fuelled mass of violence. ‘Hidden Garden’ has a creeping, swampy Sabbathian vibe. ‘Spoon’ moves from minimalist sounds backed up with Morino’s eerie vocals and builds into a hypnotic into a rite of circumambulation. The headbanging gallop of ‘His Name Is’ is one of the most direct tracks on the album and has a satisfying groove.
While the ‘2.0’ version has given the band’s songs a bit of a tune-up, the album retains a rough around the edges. The sound isn’t too polished and retains a live, in-your-face feel. ‘Symptom of a BlackLab’ isn’t quite a cover of Sabbath’s ‘Symptom of the Universe’; it’s more of a garage practice session where they’re trying to figure out how to play it. It’s a bit rough around the edges but works. ‘Warm Death’ shows off both sides to Morino’s vocals; she’s able to swing from haunting and distant to in your face black metal retching and i’s ‘middle eastern’ themed solo only adds to the mysterious vibe. Nine-minute closer ‘Big Muff’ is a dirty instrumental of pure distorted riff filth.
At just under 40 minutes, Under the Strawberry Moon 2 (New Heavy Sounds) and doesn’t outstay its welcome. But in that time they’re able to squeeze in plenty of action for what seems on the surface to be a slow doom record. Heavy, creepy, and enjoyable. BlackLab joins the likes of Boris and Church of Misery on the list of quality Japanese doom.