Review: Kurokuma/Under – Split 7″

Given the unofficial, romantic pet name ‘Kurokunder’, this split release sees two of the brightest sparks in the UK underground doom/sludge scene unite under the power of the riff, with each band managing to push themselves into new terrain across one track each.

Right from the off it is clear that this far from your average stoner-by-numbers doom release (a fact true of any release by either band). Rather than pen an original, Sheffield’s Kurokuma have chosen to cover the theme music from the second instalment of Sega’s Ecco video game series, from 1994. As if to prove that even soundtracks don’t have to be outside the remit of nasty, heavy bands, the trio certainly go more atmospheric here than they have on any of their existing, sludgy work, more than matching the impressively ominous tone of the original track. The nautical arpeggio lines are slowed down from their 8bit roots to a deeply doomy tempo, and when things get properly heavy after a brooding intro, you could certainly argue that there’s a helping of post metal at play here; slap some screaming over this track and it wouldn’t sit out of place on a Cult of Luna album. This could, of course, be down to the chord-heavy gloom of the source material, but regardless it suits the band surprisingly well.

Despite the lack of vocals, this is still recognisably a Kurokuma track, owing largely to Joe Allen’s distinctively continuous drumming keeping things thrumming along just below the crest of the wave created by the dense guitar layers. There are even some synths buried beneath the tirade; another new element to the KK repertoire. Whilst there’s none of the typically jaunty, danceable or grooving riffs that you’d expect from a Kurokuma track, what this soundscape does show is that the band have more breadth of style in their arsenal than might have been expected up to this point. Between this and releasing an EP on Sheffield dance music label Off Me Nut earlier this year, all signs point to a very intriguing prospect for a full length album – there’s a lot to live up to here.

Under are undoubtedly one of the most inventive, exciting and talented bands in the UK right now. Never content to be a doom band (which they could easily pull off brilliantly), on their 8min track ‘Abyssal Gigantism’, the Stockport trio continue to smash together sickening avant-garde sounds and big riffs, with a psychedelic prog mindset and the frenetic, restless energy of Mr Bungle. This track pushes their sound even further than the already wide palette of sounds on their debut album Stop Being Naive, and it’s clear that the longer run time of this track is merely a playground for more ideas to be thrown around than before. This goes into deeper into extremity in all the directions – noise, blasting metal, psychedelia – and it’s horribly wonderful.

There is a definite comparison to be made to avant-jazz-metal overlords Shining (NOR) during the unison riffs here, and the whole swirling trip into the void is absolutely inspired. Guitar effects echo all around throughout, but with an inescapable groove in the jazzy drums locking things down, there’s zero chance of escape or sobriety.

The prolonged riff around 4:40 in Under’s track actually isn’t too far off a more typical Kurokuma riff, linking together the two surprisingly different tracks in a bond that belies the recent fake online beef between the two bands. These are a pair of true power trios taking the doom/sludge sound hostage and forcing it to work for their own means, in poor working conditions for no pay. Put the two together like this and the these riffs will have to unionise.

Richard Spencer

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