If the witch on the cover of seminal metal album Black Sabbath ever made music, it might sound something like the output of Japanese sludge duo Blacklab. Their brand of psychedelic stoner doom has been updated and ever-so-slightly polished for their third album In A Bizarre Dream.
Straightaway, it’s clear the duo take a lot of inspiration from early Black Sabbath. But it would be deeply wrong to simply call them Sabbath-worshippers and leave it there. It would also be an oversimplification to simply leave things at “they are a mix of Sabbath and Stereolab,” from both of whose band names they have taken their own. Their music has all the groove of Clutch, the hefty propulsion of Allfather, and a hint of psychedelia that’s reminiscent of bands like Mooner or Purson. It’s the kind of heady mixture that fans of the above should enjoy – though like many heady mixtures, it may be best in small doses rather than guzzled.
The riffs and drums drive everything forward. Vocalist Yuko Morino makes her guitar snarl in a manner as menacing as her harsher vocals, while the drums of Chia Shiraishi are suitably thunderous. Musically, the album is great fun. I genuinely cannot fault any aspect of the musicianship on display: the riffs are groovy, anchored by superb drumming. However, the only sticking point is the vocals. Morino’s furious growls complement the overdriven guitar sound perfectly, but she doesn’t quite land the cleaner singing. Maybe it’s that there’s a grungy, almost punk edge to them that cuts across the music too much. Maybe I’m just being fussy, but they just don’t quite sit right.
This isn’t to say that they’re bad across the album. The juxtaposition between harsh and near-spoken-word vocals on album closer Collapse is great. The guest-spot from Stereolab’s Laetitia Sadler on ‘Crows, Sparrows, and Cats,” is genuinely fun. Morino’s growls and howls genuinely send shivers down the spine, and if they were the only style used across the album, it’d be a more solid proposition. As it is, it feels like it doesn’t quite stick the landing.
However, it is a more cohesive album than its predecessors. The sound is cleaner and less distorted, which makes for a more pleasant listening experience. The riffs flow together more easily, making for a tighter sound. It’s definitely their most well-realised album so far, and it’s all the more impressive for having been made just by a duo. I’m a big admirer of small-scale bands who make do with what they have. At no point does the music on the album feel thin or in need of additional instrumentation. The pair make a huge sound out of a distorted guitar sound from Morino, Shiraishi’s humongous drum sound, and some help in the mixing from Jun Morino and Wayne Adams.
In all, Blacklab are an impressive duo, and In An Abstract Dream is their best work so far. Here’s hoping we all get to enjoy more of their strange musical dreams in the future.
In a Bizarre Dream is out now on New Heavy Sounds and can be purchased here.
Words: Nick Dunn