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BlackLab Offers A Glimpse Into The "Abyss": An Interview With Japanese Doom Metal Duo, BlackLab

Photo of BlackLab

Band Photo: BlackLab (?)

Doom metal truly is a fascinating sub genre. Detractors may point to the surface and say it's something stuck in the past and derivative from Black Sabbath only, but there's so much more to it. Since progenitors of the seventies such as Sabbath, Pentagram, Sir Lord Baltimore and Buffalo, the style has evolved and given the world some amazing artistry and seen some of the most creative and ambitious works from any band from the metal plains. This indeed still rings true today, with many festival favourites and cult heroes keeping the flame of counter culture burning brightly and in Japan, two women have poured their love of the music to create one of the finest albums of 2020 yet. Their name is BlackLab and their sophomore album, "Abyss" serves as both a reflection of the world in it's current state, and a vicious, pulverising lesson in doom metal.

Recently, I had the pleasure of putting some questions to the duo of Yuko Morino and Chia Shiraishi and found out all about the band, "Abyss," their previous album, "Under The Strawberry Moon," how the past has shaped their sound and much more.

Diamond Oz: Thank you very much for taking the time to speak with me today. Congratulations on your new album, "Abyss." It's an incredible album. Why did you choose "Abyss" as the title?

Yuko Morino (guitars/vocals): Thank you for giving us time to speak. I'm so happy you liked it. The title of the album was the last thing we decided on. When the cover art was finished, I saw it and came up with the album title "Abyss". There were a few other ideas that combined "Abyss" with other words, but eventually, after we discussed it, we came to the conclusion that one simple word would be more affective. I really love this album title, and I think it's a good representation of the world-view of the album.

Oz: What do you think makes "Abyss" different from your debut, "Under A Strawberry Moon"?

Yuko: Soon after "Under The Strawberry Moon" was released, I started to write the songs for the next album. I thought that I'd try to create a bit more variety to the songs compared with the previous album, but still keeping the elements of hardcore punk and lo-fi. I also thought about channeling more traditional stoner rock elements like Kyuss. I had ideas like these, but there was no change in the recording method or our attitude. In terms of sound, most of all, the guitar sounds are getting more mad, the vocals are rawer and the drum sounds are more clearly defined. These are due to little changes in the mixing and mastering.

Oz: Could you tell us about the music video you made for "Insanity"?

Yuko: We created this video totally by ourselves. It was shot and edited by our recording engineer (my husband) Jun Morino, and the girl in this video is Chia's daughter Hanaka. I directed it with the help of Jun. And finally, Ged from New Heavy Sounds added film grain and widescreen borders on it. We shot it at Lake Biwa and Mount Ko-jin in Shiga prefecture. (Ko-jin means 'raging god'.) The day we shot it we were blessed with the weather. It wasn't too sunny but slightly cloudy, and it was exactly what we wanted. And we were be able to catch the marvelous sunset on Lake Biwa.

Chia Shiraishi (drums): For this video shoot, my daughter joined us for the first time. I think I was worried about my daughter's scene and said "Is it okay? Do you understand properly?”.
I'm a noisy parent. I think it was a good memory for her. And the sunset on this day was very beautiful and impressive. I will never forget it.

Oz: The cover artwork is beautiful. How well do you think it represents the album?

Yuko: When I listened through the album, I thought of the dark forest in the night from some tracks. Then I told Chia that idea and asked her to draw a picture for cover art. And, the designer Andy Garside, who worked on the artwork for this album, drew a concentric circle on that pictuer and digitized it. I think this cover art accurately expresses the music contained within the album. Especially, "Insanity", "Weed Dream" and "Sleepless Night" fit perfectly.

Chia: Thank you for praising the cover artwork. I spent several days completing this without drafts. Basically, I put together the image of the song and drew it to match up, but this time it was a bit difficult because I was in the process of making the song at the same time. An image of color is similar to that of “Sleepless Night”. Feeling that neon colour is scattered in dark color. After that, I continued to draw with my intuition. From the beginning I didn't think of drawing an owl. I think I finally made something that fits the image of the song, and I am satisfied.

Oz: What would you say are the themes of the album?

Yuko: I didn't have a specific theme when I wrote the songs for the album. I think that I can only make music based on what comes from within. Therefore, songs written over a certain period of time naturally have a sense of unity. Maybe that appear as a theme. If I dare to say, that theme is about like liberation of emotions.

Oz: Why do you think BlackLab works best as a duo?

Yuko: One of the biggest reasons is that it is we can communicate easily and deeply. It can be said that because of this format, the songs needed for the album could be created smoothly like this time. And in terms of sound, I can decide the tone of the bass myself. Thanks to that, I can make incredibly heavy bass sounds as I so desire. And I think that our music doesn't need technical basslines. It's enough if it accentuates the guitar sound. And one more reason, it's unique and cool!

Chia: Yuko and I have a long relationship, so we can understand each other well and our tastes are similar. It's easy to communicate with each other, so it's a smooth process when making songs and making plans. There is no problem with the sound. I think this is the reason why "Active & Powerful" is doing well.

Oz: One of the things I really like about the album is it sounds modern but also a little 1960s. It reminds me of old Japanese counter culture icons like Koji Wakamatsu, Nihon Sekigun and the student protests. What influences you as a band both musically and in the outside world?

Yuko: I’ve loved the music of the '60s to '70s since I was young. For example, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, The Stooges, The Ramones and The Velvet Underground, etc. And, when I first played in a band, I covered songs from The Stooges and The Velvet Underground. I like 90's alternative rock as well, but most of those bands have the taste of '60s to '70s hard rock. Needless to say, I love early Black Sabbath. And, I also love the fashion of the '60s to '70s. If I guess why you associated the Japan's 1960s counterculture icon from our music, I was absorbed in the early works of Haruki Murakami and Ryu Murakami during my youth, and I used to be strongly influenced by thats world-view. Many of these works are based on such historical backgrounds. I think these factors have a strong influence on our music and our world-view.

Chia: I also love 60s music. I often heard about Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, The Stooges, The Kinks. I also like the Japanese "GS" of that era. I think the 60's and 70's are a golden era with a lot of good music. I think I was lucky to have been born around that time.

Yuko: "GS" means the band sound of the movement that occurred when rock music was first imported into Japan from the West.

Oz: How has the pandemic affected Japan? Are you still able to perform small shows?

Yuko: Fortunately, there are not so many deaths in Japan. However, if we look at this situation lightly, it may cause serious problems, so the government is requiring people to limit social activity. Especially live shows have a high risk of infection, so the limit will be lifted last. Most of the concert venues, clubs and bars are closed. We haven't been able to do live shows for four months, and it's likely to continue for some time. We really miss live shows!

Chia: The pandemic is slowly settling down, but shows are likely to be far off. Since the Japanese government is reluctant to give subsidies, I am worried that more people will die because of financial reasons. I think the Japanese people have come to understand the importance of elections because this is happening.

Oz: Once the COVID-19 situation is over, do you think it will be possible for BlackLab to perform in Europe and North America soon?

Yuko: If invited, we'd like to play in any country. I hope things get better soon. I wish we could perform at the Desert Fest next year... However, in the post-COVID world, it's expected that travel costs will rise and international movements will be restricted.

Chia: As Yuko says, I would love to go anywhere and play if invited. Let's wait together until the time comes. And please support us.

Oz: Thank you again for your time and I wish you only the best for "Abyss".

BlackLab: Thank you so much too. We hope you enjoyed.

Physical copies of "Abyss" can be purchased at Cargo Records Direct or for a digital copy, click here.

Diamond Oz's avatar

Ollie Hynes has been a writer for Metal Underground.com since 2007 and a metal fan since 2001, going as far as to travel to other countries and continents for metal gigs.

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