The brilliance of Kurokuma's debut full-length relies heavily on its grand ambitions. There’s a truly 'widescreen' quality to Born of Obsidian and its channeling of ancient Mesoamerican mythology. 'Widescreen' applies here because the album's aesthetics are so meticulously arranged and rely on such a richly-developed psychogeography that it’s hard not to discuss it without using such cinematic signifiers. Sludge metal rarely exists in these sorts of spectacular, exotic vistas. Born of Obsidian drags the genre into expansive new shapes, ones that exude palpable atmospherics and effortlessly conjure up Kurokuma's imagined landscapes.

While the Sheffield band approach Born of Obsidian's Mesoamerican-themed concept with requisite reverence and respect, the album's imaginings of blood-soaked temples and dark, shamanistic magic are firmly based in the speculative, hallucinogenic realms. This is not a history lesson. Kurokuma focus on emulating the dreamstate of a ritualistic psychedelic trip, one that invokes evocative, moody imagery–kinetic movement through the dark jungle, sacrificial ceremonies atop fire-lit temples. The hypnotic instrumentation is designed to resemble incantations, lulling the listener into an impressionable daze wherein these images reach into our world and haul us back into theirs.

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This conceptual core is remarkably realized, especially given the fact that Born of Obsidian is Kurokuma's debut album. The three-piece's slender discography only hinted at the band's ability to pull this ambitious project off. Their debut might only be five songs long, yet its 38 minutes are densely-packed with formal sophistication and structural nuance. Across the album, Kurokuma's most effective compositional device is this use of structural repetition. “Sacrifice to Huitzilopochtli” linear riffs or "Ololiuqui'"s churning rumble invoke a krautrock-like hypnotism that, while savage and scorchingly-intense, simultaneously manages to entrance and mesmerize.

This kinetic, linear drive comprises Born of Obsidian's beating heart. The sinister centerpiece "Jaguar" encapsulates everything great about the album’s formal approach. Kurokuma have referred to the track as "more of an incantation than a song" and explained that it’s intended to provide a soundtrack to the Olmec ritual where a shaman transforms into a jaguar. This premise is undeniably intriguing, and "Jaguar" more than delivers on its potential. The eight-minutes move from a groovy, skulking introduction towards a tension-filled middle and then into a transcendent final stretch. The musical language undergoes a transformation that adroitly conveys the ritual, methodically but elegantly taking the listener through each step of this fantastical transfiguration.

Kurokuma's lofty intentions reach a crescendo on closer "Under The Fifth Sun." Born of Obsidian’s most spacious and epic track, this almost-nine-minute behemoth completes the album’s goal of channeling the cultures of ancient Mesoamerica in service of music that is similarly resplendent, violent and enigmatic. Its introduction, leaden with tribal rhythms and an oscillating, trance-inducing bassline is a thing of beauty, as is its final, sun-shattering sludge riff that continues for an eternity. Like sludge and stoner pioneers before them, Kurokuma's ability to meditate on a gradually-developing riff requires real skill and pathos. This prowess is plastered all over Born of Obsidian's architecture, and makes for a compelling and rewarding listen.

As the album progresses, Kurokuma's deeper intentions gradually reveal themselves, like a dagger slowly opening up a chest. The band are attempting to tap into something grand, something more insightful than just co-opting historical aesthetics. The way they channel the beliefs and rituals of these ancient civilizations gives Born of Obsidian a truly universal purpose. While the album's signifiers place it in these specific spatiotemporal zones, it’s fundamental concerns are with humanity’s communion with the divine. Kurokuma draw parallels between their own hallucinogenic metal and the rituals of the ancients as a means of stressing the significance of psychedelic communion. This gives Born of Obsidian a uniquely cosmic focus, and makes for a uniquely rewarding listen.

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Follow Kurokuma on Bandcamp.

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