Forming in 2012 and hailing from Japan’s third largest city Osaka, the two musicians who make up BlackLab have created a thunderously menacing sound on their debut full-length release, Under The Strawberry Moon 2.0. An updated mix of their original demo, the album is packed full of beefy stoner-infused doom riffs, eerie subdued passages and vocals that range from a whisper to a scream.
Melding several sub-genres, BlackLab have produced an album of varied textures and sounds, a style the band themselves have dubbed “dark witch doom”. Indeed, one can hear the inevitable influences of bands such as Black Sabbath, Electric Wizard and even the Melvins throughout the album, but there are also nods to other genres too that help take their sound to new places. Over Chia Shiraishi’s earth-shattering drums, vocalist Yoku Morino’s vocals occasionally bring to mind PJ Harvey and Bjork, especially in the albums quieter, more sinister moments.
We put some questions to BlackLab guitarist/vocalist Yuko Morino to find out more about their origins, influences and what’s next in store for the band.
Tell us more about the music scenes in Osaka, and how Blacklab came to be formed.
In Osaka, there are not so many doom/stoner rock bands. In these circumstances, we’ll end up doing a lot of shows together with bands such as Hemipenis, Technocracy, Hibushibire, Birushanah etc. and doom/stoner bands who come through our city on tour from the provinces.
The punk scene is more active over here. Crust bands such as Framtid, Nightmare, Ferocious X and Zyanose are especially popular. Also, the crossover with thrash has gained momentum. Myself [Yuko] and drummer Chia are also members of a female three-piece hardcore band called Depth. I’ve been in that band for a long time, but I wanted to form a new band which had a different approach; a female band which has the sound like Black Sabbath was the idea and with that BlackLab was formed. After several member changes, we became the current line-up you see now.
What were your favourite bands and artists growing up?
When I was a high school student, I was an ordinary girl who liked Japanese pop music. I began to listen to rock music such as Guns N’ Roses, Mötley Crüe and Bon Jovi etc. after graduating from high school. I met a friend after that and she recommended The Velvet Underground, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, The Stooges and more punk music. I was shocked and excited while listening to them. Especially for the Velvet Underground, I never knew there was such music being made.
Encountering these psychedelic rock bands had a huge influence on my taste in music at the time. After that I started to explore the grunge scene more through Nirvana, Sonic Youth, Helmet, Smashing Pumpkins, Faith No More and Rage Against The Machine. The first time I heard Sabbath’s ‘War Pigs’ it was actually the cover by Faith No More, not the original. Then I listened to early Black Sabbath. So you could say I’m a ‘late bloomer’ when it comes to heavy music.
What were the main reasons behind the decision to remix your original demo, and how pleased are you with the results?
The original mix of this album is finished to an analogue-like sound using not only PC but also cassette MTR. That original version was acclaimed by the cult listeners but I was interested in reaching out to a wider audience. At the same time, I met New Heavy Sounds which was a lucky coincidence. They wanted to work with us and had Wayne Adams remix and Jeff Mortimer remaster the tracks and it sounds awesome.
You used to be a three-piece before your bassist left the band. How did this affect the dynamic of the group?
First of all, it is easier to communicate with each other when there are just two of you, and I can control the bass sound by myself. As a result our style is unique and attracting peoples’ interest. To make a heavy and intense sound with just two people makes people excited and surprised.
What bands have had the biggest influence on your sound?
Early Black Sabbath had a big influence on us. In terms of the guitar riffs themselves, I take some influence from Sleep too. And I’m incorporating elements of punk, grunge and psychedelic rock into our music as well. My fuzz-guitar sound is influenced by The Stooges, Smashing Pumpkins and other grunge bands. Me and drummer Chia also play in a hardcore band so my screaming vocal style comes from that. For the distorted bass sound, it was influenced by The Dead Weather. I make my bass sound with an E / H base synthesiser, which they also use.
Doom is one of the more long-standing subgenres of metal. How do you approach pushing boundaries without losing doom’s signature sound?
We describe ourselves as “witch doom”, but I don’t think that sounds like a typical doom band. As I mentioned before, we are influenced by music of various genres such as hardcore, grunge, psychedelic rock and more. We want to naturally incorporate these elements into doom metal and create unique music.
Can you recommend any bands from Osaka that you admire that people in Europe may not have heard yet?
Ananas – female vocal thrash hardcore punk
Hemipenis – sludge/doom rock
Cycosis – crossover thrash punk
Tsuka & Maro – two piece trance rock
There are many distinctive bands in Osaka not listed here.
What’s next for Blacklab, can we expect a visit to Europe and more music in the future?
We’ll do some live shows for this album in Osaka, but we won’t tour to other districts in Japan and there’s no plan to tour or shows abroad at present moment. But that is our dream and I pray for it to come true. I would like us to appear on some festival bills if possible. A lot of Japanese bands do tour around Europe so we also want to follow in their footsteps. And, I’ve started to write songs for our next release. I still don’t know what it will be like. I only write songs as I feel them, so we shall see.
Under The Strawberry Moon 2.0 is out now on New Heavy Sounds. Purchase here.
Words: Adam Pegg