Sludgy riffage isn’t exactly the first thing that springs to mind when you think of ambitious concept albums revolving around fantastical tales, but as Sleep‘s notorious third album showed, the genre can actually be a fairly fitting host for such endeavours. Kurokuma‘s latest EP is no Dopesmoker, clocking in at just over thirteen minutes, but it puts that time to good use, presenting a trippy take on the western genre directly inspired by the Dope Rider comic strip printed in High Times in the 70s and 80s.

Ever since drummer Joe Allen co-directed the Doom Doc, Sheffield’s Kurokuma have become the face of the UK doom underground despite only mustering a handful of releases so far. Whilst past output has hinted at their potential, Dope Rider suggests just how enticing a full-length offering could be from the trio. Aided by fully licensed artwork from the strip’s creator, the EP splits its tale across two parts, managing to convince you of its trippy wild west setting through narrative lyrics and psychedelic tinkerings that instil hallucinatory overtones without ever compromising the release’s intensity.

On 2016’s Advorsus, the band showed a knack for cleverly constructed songs that took a lefthand path away from sludge’s conventional middle-ground into proggier realms. Here, these two elements – the meaty guitars and the spacey experimentation – run in tandem, allowing the release to highlight the quality of the riffs whilst retaining a latent progressive nature.

The result is a sound that’s more straightforward than past material but entirely more cohesive, something that proves important given the release’s conceptual backbone. Indeed, Dope Rider is a delightful blend of gritty sludge and kaleidoscopic psychedelia from one of most integral cogs in the Steel City’s doom inner circle.

Dope Rider is out July 30th. Purchase here. The CD and cassette version will be on sale via Doom Stew Records. Vinyl will be on sale from September.

Words: George Parr

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