We touch down at Narcissus Studio in London – a tucked away gem of a space that is also used for TV and film recording, the walls lined with instruments and gear in every direction you turn. Sheffield, UK-based psychedelic sludge trio Kurokuma are halfway through recording their much anticipated full-length debut album. The song being recorded today is something a bit outside of Kurokuma’s comfort zone – a raw, riff-heavy thrasher drawing from the likes of Slayer, Sepultura and S.O.D.. It’s their shortest song to date and a faster number that still manages to pack in Kurokuma’s trademark bottom-feeding tones, psyched-out guitars and primal drums.
Joining them for this very special occasion is legendary metal producer Sanford Parker, who has worked on a myriad of beloved metal records from the likes of Pelican, Darkthrone, YOB, Eyehategod and Voivod to name just a few. Kurokuma were originally scheduled to fly to Parker’s studio in Chicago this July but had their plans cancelled due to the Covid outbreak. Fortunately, Parker agreed to fly out to the UK instead, in line with health and lockdown guidelines. “Jake [Mazlum, guitar] emailed me with a link to some older recordings and I was definitely into it,” Parker tells us. “This is the first record I’ve done in the UK, it’s been rad.”
As we spend the day observing Kurokuma and Parker forging metal together, what we see is a very meticulous process of creativity, but also a meeting of minds. Before each bass and guitar track is laid down, a huge chain of pedals are tested obsessively to capture the perfect tone for each riff and layer of the song. Sometimes takes are re-recorded in order to make sure they compliment the parts captured previously and to ensure that tones are blending together in perfect harmony. A similar ethos is enforced by the band members themselves, pushing each other to do multiple takes in order to lay down precision-perfect guitar and bass tracks, in a completely supportive and workmanship kind of way.
Though this process may sound arduous, it is essential for the band to seek a higher level of ambition to what they have recorded previously. “This is our first full-length; we’ve been a band for seven years and we felt it deserved special treatment,” says Mazlum. “It’s a case of how high do you want to set the bar,” adds drummer Joe Allen. “[Sanford Parker]’s work has really stuck with me and he’s made some of my favourite heavy releases. Being part of the UK scene, it’s been really refreshing to have someone from outside to take a look at our sound and show our music in the best light.”
As our day at Narcissus Studio nears an end, things take an experimental turn as Parker envisions a sound that couldn’t quite be captured by the drums. After searching the studio and the nearby street, banging shutters, ladders and bells, the band and producer settle on recording Jake beating a steel dustbin with a chain in what looks and sounds like experimental noise performance art. Who knows how these primal sounds will end up sounding on the final cut of the song, but it certainly captures the raw aggression of Kurokuma’s live performances.
With just a couple of hours before time in the studio wraps up, work begins on recording another song much more in Kurokuma’s usual domain, perfectly capturing their defining sound with tribal-influenced drums and tripped-out electronics already laid down. Bassist George Ionita is fully immersed and in the zone, laying down bass tracks with full confidence, flying through takes even with the others closely observing the rigidity of the performance. With a bassline so groovy that it provides the main meat of this track, nailing a tight synchronicity with the drum rhythms has even more emphasis than on the former song. The band and Parker fly through it on what promises to be an icy cool krautrock-influenced number that builds into Burning Witch levels of crushing, earth-devouring doom riffs.
Kurokuma’s long-awaited debut full-length will follow a string of critically-acclaimed EPs – plus a split 7” released by our own Astral Noize Records – as well as successful tours in Japan and Europe, and will hopefully see release in 2021. “It happened organically, when we looked at the songs we had to record there was a theme running through them. A lot of people know us for the more rhythmic, percussive, primitive stuff we’ve done and that’s what this collection of songs is about.”
Words: Chris “Frenchie” French