Boris

Boris

Boris

Takeshi: guitars, bass, vocals
Wata: guitars,
Atsuo: drums, vocals

Boris

Named after a Melvins’ song from “Bullhead”, & hailing from Japan, Boris have been lurking around the experimental edges of the extreme metal scene for the last decade or so, gradually evolving in terms of both intensity & volume. Their early material veered towards the stoner/drone end of the spectrum - but with the arrival of 2003’s incredible “Akuma No Uta” - with it’s Nick Drake “Bryter Layter” parodying artwork – they began stealing other group’s fans from all corners of outsider rock’s diverse genre pool with their total & utter brilliance.

Boris are what some casual observers might label a power trio – some kind of genetic experiment involving Motorhead & Earth - but Wata, Takeshi & Atuso are so much more than that. In the space of 12-odd-years & a dozen or so releases, they’ve dropped sides stuffed with pure noise, total drone, stoner rock, garage punk, distorted pastoral ambience, symphonic controlled feedback, heavy & humble doom rock, psychedelia, sludge - & even the odd sublime moment of ‘almost pop’! Rule of thumb: if the sleeve says boris (lower case) – expect noise. If the sleeve says BORIS (upper case) – expect to be rocked!

As it happens, Boris seemingly refuse to be constrained by such conventional concepts as genre. They bump & grind effortlessly between modes with a deftness in each traditional discipline that demands respect. Total authenticity, whatever the groove. Boris represent the best bits of the last 30-years of outsider rock & roll (redux) at the same time as giving us a glimpse of the future. That’s a neat trick if you can pull it off. Boris can. By some considerable distance.

Their most recent collaboration, “Altar” – with hooded Gods of drone doom, Sunn 0))) (pronounced Sun) - Stephen O'Malley (Khanate, Burning Witch) and Greg Anderson (Goatsnake) – is widely accepted as being one of the most amazing releases of 2006 (see reviews section elsewhere in this issue).

Sunn 0))) - named after the Sunn amplifier brand, whose logo includes a circle next to the "SUNN" banner with waves heading off to the right – play slow & heavy drone decorated with multiple layers of feed back & effects. Sunn 0))) leader & Southern Lord head honcho, Stephen O'Malley, has stated the name was also chosen as a play on Earth's name, reasoning that Sunn O))) "revolved around Earth".

“Altar” is a ‘true collaboration’ between Sunn 0))) and Boris that is the result of ‘both bands conceptualizing, writing and recording the album together as one entity’: they entered the studio together with the LP’s title & two riffs! Also contributing ‘additional entrancing textures’ to “Altar” are fellow collaborators Jesse Sykes (vocalist - Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter) vocals on “Sinking Belle”, Kim Thayil (Soundgarden) guitar on “Blood Swamp”, Joe Preston (earth, Thrones, Melvins, High on Fire) vocals on “Akuma No Kuma”, Bill Herzog, Phil Wandescher (Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter), Rex Ritter (Jessamine, Fontanelle), Tos Niewenhuizen (Beaver, GOD) and Steve Moore (earth).

Another recent Boris release is the extremely limited & luxuriously packaged “Vein” - a double-sided, screen-printed 12” vinyl disc which holds ‘special significance’ to the group’s members & immediately joins the existing list of Boris rarities at the bottom of the discography below (there are two versions: a 12-track hardcore/thrash release - & a 2-track noise platter). They are already changing hands on Ebay for silly money – I should know – I bought the 2-track noise version myself for far more than I’d care to admit!

Boris Discography (with thanx to The Pole Of Justice @ www.stonerrock.com

Albums:

Split Release With Barebones (1996)

Early stuff, tortured, and with little of the cock rock (or trippiness) that would come to be trademarks. Of the four tracks Boris contributes, three are thrashy and not particularly memorable, and one is a Melvins style one-riff-until-you-start-throwing-shit-at-us gruntfest.

Absolutego (Southern Lord, 1996)

OK, the glorious beginning (LP-wise, anyway). Earth’s Dylan Carson called this album the "sound of two slugs fucking," and he ain’t wrong. Not wholly unlike Electric Wizard’s "Supercoven" (the track, not the album), although it’s broken up a bit more structurally. While the frequencies are quite powerful, this is a low-fi recording, particularly in relation to the drum sound. They’re really wearing their Melvins influence on their sleeve, although the super dry sense of humour isn’t in evidence (at least, not according to Western ears. If my Japanese was better, I might have a different take). 65 minutes of grunt and duh.

OK, that’s the first (title) track, which on the 2000 Southern Lord reissue is followed by "Dronevil" (not to be confused with the 2000 LP of the same name). This is maliciously ambient, kind of like the sound of a killer robot’s mind. A six-minute comedown.

Boris/Keiji Haino - Black (Implication Flooding) (Inoxia, 1998)

An improvised session with the legendary Keiji Haino. Pretty rough going – low-fi to the max, actually closer to the four tracks on the Barebones split than anything else in the Boris catalogue. There’s a feeling of low budget hardcore throughout a lot of this, almost like a more guitar-oriented version of the early Boredoms cassettes.

There’s some serious rock to be had in the murk, however. A track with the catchy title of "It Should Be Watched, Not To Fail to Notice These Flashes of an Accusation from Inside" could slide right into one an early Melvins disc without too much hassle. The kind of art damage and tortured post Sabbath filth that you either love or hate.

Amplifier Worship (Southern Lord, 1998)

Every bit as sludgy, but more traditionally structured, this album boasts a whopping five songs. The first, "Huge," is a distillation of "Absolutego," although the mix isn’t as keyed to destroying your speakers with quite the same efficiency. Next comes "Ganbou-Ki" (which might mean "To Wish" - again, my Japanese is shaky). This is a churning, trippy run through the Krautrock jungle not entirely unlike Acid Mothers Temple covering Damo Suzuki-era Can.

Next comes "Hama," which is the earliest example of the rock out with your cock out pummel that they serve when not droning. It’s a bit of a kick in the nads after the twenty plus minutes of the first two tracks, but still feels right. "Kuruimizu" ("Painful Water"?) is downright prog in its structure - balls out rock, formless thrash, and semi ambient grunting all take their turns before the first example of the delicate, interlocking guitar filigrees that they would perfect with Feedbacker five years later.

Last comes a return to the fuzzy sludge, with the charmingly titled "Vomitself." While this is slow, painful, and rough, it does have a somewhat narcotic effect (with no drums to harsh the dirty mellow)

Boris/Choukoku no Niwa - Split CD (Inoxia, 1999)

Boris contributes two tracks here: "Kanau" ("Wish Come True") Parts One and Two. Part One is a low, fuzzy bass drone, relaxing in a dark kind of way. Part Two kicks into a layered, almost new wavey cross between Neu! and ‘80’s goth before it explodes with a screech. Quite a great track, it would be discussed much more frequently if it wasn’t located on a relatively obscure split release.

Flood (Midi Creative, 2000)

Boris drops the snot, dirt, and BO of the first two albums and delivers something... well, maybe not completely different, but you could be forgiven for thinking you had an album by a totally different Boris. Kind of like if Meddle-era Pink Floyd, Philip Glass, and debut era Ash Ra Tempel got together to make a concept album about drowning. Don’t let the numbered tracks fool you: this is one long song, and a glorious song it is. Beginning with a simple riff that echoes, mutates, and relays itself from a drizzle to a rain shower, it then follows the exact kind of build you would expect of an album about a flood, and suddenly the trademark amplifier scuzz finds a context: holy shit, it really DOES sound like a flood!

After the initial, minimalist opening and the subsequent rush, it blisses out into possibly the most placid, gentle thing in their catalog. Like floating in the pool in the sun with the opening of "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" playing on your headphones, it then goes into a simple, gently fuzzy guitar workout that would make David Gilmour raise an eyebrow in approval. Eventually, it mellows even more, and watery, breathy vocals lull you into a false sense of security. Then...

BOOM. The tidal wave hits. Thing is, while this bit definitely gets its power from the rumbling fuzz of overdriven amps, there’s nothing dark about it. It’s almost uplifting, despite the identifiably doom derived riffs that follow the breathless, howling vocals. A bit like a heavier, more guitar oriented Question-era Moody Blues.

Lastly, it leaves you floating, ravished, adrift at sea. You’ll probably drown, but you’re OK with that. The sun feels nice.

Where in the HELL did this album come from? Previous work showed the band to be a fine, solid psych/sludge/metal hybrid that was undoubtedly crushing live. While all the familiar pieces are here (leaden riffage, droney feedback, vast sonic atmospheres) the context is so profoundly different that it seems like a different band borrowed their equipment. It’s also the single strongest unified idea, concept through execution, that the band has yet released. While I’d hesitate to recommend it to someone who was looking for a typically Boris record, I wouldn’t hesitate at all in recommending it as a great album. To ANYONE, stoner fan or not. If this album had come out in 1973, it would be truly legendary, and geeks all over the planet would be paying hundreds of bucks for the original vinyl without a second thought. Outstanding.

Heavy Rocks (Quattro UK Discs, 2002)

Following the Amplifier Worship blueprint, Heavy Rocks opens with "Heavy Friends," a sludgy, fluid glob of a track that features a spoken word bit from I believe Lori King. Then bang into the uncut cock rock of "Korosu" ("Murder"), their most straightforward rock song yet. This runs full tilt right into "Dyna-Soar," another ‘70’s inspired, one foot on the monitor rock blast.

"Wareruraido" is next, a screechy punk number (try as I might, I can’t translate this one... it’s written in katakana, which means it’s a foreign word, but I just can’t figure it out. Something “rider.”) It’s followed by "Soft Edge," a trippy, somewhat Maggot Brain-esque wah-wah workout.

Then comes what may well be their most concise kick in the nuts, "Rattlesnake." An adrenaline fueled instrumental, it’s essentially the sound of a mid ‘70’s Camaro peeling out of the 7-11 parking lot. Fuck yeah! This segues into "Death Valley," another Geetar God cock rock number, with added static and insanity provided by Merzbow. The riff to this one is downright Fu Manchu, except for the weird, disorienting flow. That one must have taken a lot of practice.

"Orphan Projection" and "The Bell Tower" follow, the first being yet another arena rock screamer, the second being a more psych, extended piece. I swear there’s a UFO hovering over the middle part of this track. The album closes with "1970" (no, not that one.) Another Fu Manchu-esque hunk of Camaro rock.

As much ass as this kicks, it must be said that some of Heavy Rocks seems a bit interchangeable. "Korosu," "Dyna-Soar," "Rattlesnake," "Death Valley," "Orphan Projection," and "1970" are definitely cut from the same cloth, and while it is indeed a fine cloth, the daring side of the band takes a bit of a breather here. Not a criticism per se, but those who got off on Boris’ out of nowhere approach aren’t going to find much to chew on here... there is awe, but no surprise. Still, this is one of their most well regarded albums, and with good reason: it crushes.

Boris/Merzbow - Megatone (Inoxia, 2002)

Very, very minimalist, closer to Merzbow’s work than Boris’. Three tracks, each with distinct aesthetics. "Headronefish" is a muted, quiet rumble. "Water Fuzz" is maddening. An attractively sinister underwater ambience is accented with stern, Fripp-esque guitar and odd, random noises. Unfortunately, Merzbow likes to do that "intensely shrill sound that immediately gives you a pain behind your eyes" thing at random intervals. This may well be a nice, conceptually intriguing idea, but in execution, just let me listen to the damned track, willya?

The superlatively named "Texas Spaceship" is the best track here. Sounding like a better recorded Flying Saucer Attack, it really does carry the ambience of an otherworldly occurrence in a country setting. There is some screeching here, but it’s not of such a pitch that it produces a physical sensation in your sinuses.

Akuma No Uta (Southern Lord, 2003)

The title means "The Demon’s Poem." I don’t know enough of the lyrics to explain how that ties into the album as a whole (heh).

It kicks off with, appropriately enough, "Introduction," which consists of a now familiar slow build that leads into "Ibitsu" ("Warped"), another cock rocker. As is "Free," which is followed by "The Tune Which Is Not," a track that begins with a dark, gentle guitar. It then progresses into a slightly weary, broken down, bass driven riff that eventually grows into another howler. The longest track on this relatively short album (or long EP - it’s just over 30 minutes).

"Volume Of That Woman" is next. At this point, it becomes a bit difficult to discuss individual tracks, because Boris is getting a bit more traditional with their structures. A mid-tempo rocker, and solid enough, but nothing that sticks out. The album closes with "It Is the (?) Of The Pause You Open," a mighty grunt that goes from a fuzzed out Thin Lizzy rip into a galloping freight train of fuzz.

The mix of this album bears mentioning. There’s hardly any middle range to it, making it sound like a cleaner High Rise album, or a less shrill original Raw Power. Some people love it; I prefer a bit more of a full bodies wallop. To each their own.

Feedbacker (Diwphalanx, 2003)

Feedbacker is, like Sleep’s Jerusalem, one big song. Also, like Jerusalem that one song is indexed into a few chunks, just to mark its progress, or something. The five "parts" of Feedbacker are segmented according to the different stages of intensity: the first "track" is nine minutes of feedback/buildup, the second "track" is the Meddle/Maggot Brain portion of the proceedings, the third "track" is the sound of the whole thing crashing like the bottom of Niagara falls, the fourth "track" is the orgasmic finale, and the final "track" is the afterglow.

If anything, it reminded me quite a bit of a bastard cross between Godspeed! You Black Emperor, Blue Cheer, and (as hinted at before) Meddle-era Pink Floyd, with some definite channeling (in "track" two) of the great one (Eddie Hazel) thrown in at some choice moments. Feedbacker is certainly the most cohesive of the Boris albums I’ve ingested thus far (Amplifier Worship, Heavy Rocks, Akuma No Uta, and the one they did with Keiji Haino).

It’s difficult to explain exactly why this album is as fucking good as it is. It’s hit me as hard as GSYBE!’s Raise Your Skinny Fists did, and for similar reasons (like GSYBE!, Boris hits a climactic chord/note for several minutes at a time,) but it’s a fuck of a lot more rocking and heavy. It really does feel like an epic journey; if you’re not exhausted at the end, you haven’t been paying attention.

Wata is on the front cover alone, and not just because she’s hot. She’s front and center for the whole album (about a third of it is just her goin’ at it). Feedbacker is all about the textures (even the pummeling is about the sound as much as the whomp.) She alternates between getting seriously psychedelicized screech out of what sound like about 274,275 pedals to just plain noise to those intricate filigree guitar parts she’s so friggin’ good at. The group playing is as solid as I’ve heard from ’em, but this is Wata’s show.

This might well be the least controversial (around here, anyway) release of theirs: EVERYBODY loves this fucking album.

The Thing Which Solomon Overlooked (2004)

Three tracks of pure, rumbling, guitar ambience. This whole album is of a piece: there’s not much by way of audio cues that breaks up the tracks into identifiable "parts" (aside from the gap between the tracks themselves).

Difficult listening, to be sure. This is the kind of thing people who don’t like drone will absolutely detest. Those who like drone, however, will find a very bleak, monotonous (in a good way) slab of atmosphere, although putting the shrill song ("A Bao A Qu") in the middle can harsh one’s mellow. The opener is sinister but muted, the closer sounds like a goat being roasted on a spit over an open fire. Not for the faint of heart.

Dronevil (2005)

The explanation of this release can overshadow what’s recorded in it. Two discs, made so that they can be played separately, or in unison. Two albums for the price of one!

There are some now familiar builds, stops and rumbles, with much ambience interspersed throughout. The interplay between the two "different" tracks as they play together can be quite interesting, as it results in a depth of sound that can really suck you in.

The problem with high concept is that while listening, the brain can’t help but run through the intellectual side of what’s going on, and I genuinely don’t know if these are four separate pieces written to interlock together, or simply tracks with a lot of layers that got split into two at the final mixing stage. An impressive technical achievement, and there’s certainly a lot to recommend the music itself, but I always end up thinking and not listening to this one.

Soundtrack to the film Mabuta No Ura (Catune, 2005)

A bit controversial, this one. The "soundtrack" to a film that doesn’t exist (if it did, the title would mean "Behind Closed Eyes," by the way.) Much of this is not identifiably Boris: gently stroked guitars, hints of piano...some of it sounds like a Brian Eno album with guitar (and not Fripp guitar, either.)

It does sound like a soundtrack in places. In others (like "Your Name,") it sounds like home recordings of rehearsals of half finished ideas. There are some rumblings that this is just an assortment of leftovers cleverly packaged to look like an album (and there’s more than one version of it, which, if you buy into the scraps theory, is really annoying).

Easily the least coherent of their releases, although it’s not bad by any stretch. "White Warmth" could be an ambient out take from Can’s mighty "Tago Mago," and "Amber Bazaar" introduces some uncharacteristically African sounds. A good listen, but definitely not a place to start.

Boris/Merzbow - Sun Baked Snow Cave (Hydra Head, 2005)

A one-hour, one-track collaboration with Merzbow. More structured and varied than Megatone, it starts with the simplest of acoustic guitar riffs (more of a note, really) and gradually takes you through, well, a sun baked snow cave. A bit annoyingly minimalist at first, but once the pattern emerges in the ultra simple guitar line, the piece begins to take shape. Merzbow does that "harsh sound in the middle of a mellow trance" thing again, but it’s not too intrusive. My favorite of the collaborations thus far.

Pink (Southern Lord, 2006)

OK, first off, most of the titles are in Japanese, so if you see a title in parenthesis, it means that it’s a translation. The translation comes from a combination of Google and my funky Japanese, so not only am I gonna state that the translations probably aren’t accurate, I’m gonna say point blank that they’re probably way off. But since the only Japanese person in my vicinity is currently having sex with my roommate, it’s gonna have to do:

1. (Parting): Nice, trippy beginning, about seven and a half minutes. Starts out with a Sigur Ros/shoegazer kind of floatiness, then levels out into something that sounds like a slightly less sinister version of that Jesu album. I could take a whole album of this track. A blissful little ditty that goes directly into...

2. “Pink”: ...the first kick in the nads. Sounds like Black Sabbath trying to cover “Communication Breakdown” and “Shoot You in the Back” simultaneously. Oh yes, the mix on this album is about as dirty and bottom-sludge heavy as any you’ve heard, so it’s a rude awakening from the first track, indeed.

3. (The Woman On The Screen): FUCK. Sounds like the first Mudhoney album, but sped up, and with more bottom end. Seriously, there’s a level of ‘60’s ass shaking in this that is not something I normally associate with Boris. Fucking spectacular, my favorite track on the album.

4. (It’s No Different, Regardless): More kick ass, breakneck sludge, much like “Ibitsu” off Akuma No Uta. I’m not 100% sold on this track, as the vocals here are kind of one note hardcore shouting thing that I’ve never been particularly enamored with, but I’m not gonna complain.

5. (Blackout): WHUMP. Electric Wizard with a little more anger, a little less codeine.

6. “Electric”: A quick (under two minute) instrumental kickass that calls to mind “Rattlesnake” from Heavy Rocks. Uses one of those galloping Motorhead beats that occasionally shifts into this sideways beat that would be almost disco if it didn’t sound like Godzilla smacking you in the ass with a steel girder.

7. (Fake Food): Sounds like the kind of straightforward stoner rock you would have found on Man’s Ruin a few years ago. The “Sympathy For The Devil”-esque "Woo-Hoo"s don’t hurt, either.

8. (Painted With Flame): “Children of the Revolution” with hygiene issues, trying to sprint through cold molasses.

9. (Six To Three): A "typical" Boris track. Fuzzy as hell.

10. “My Machine”: A gentle two minute blissout that leads to...

11. (When We’re Gone): ...the final, epic (ten minute) torrent. This track is as breakneck, bottom heavy and loud as any, but there’s something about the mix and chord changes that bring to mind the louder end of shoegazer, rather than metal. It’s not a fight in a mud pit with chains and rocks. It’s the sound of an endless skydive, where you’re flying through the clouds at a million miles an hour, but it’s oddly peaceful.

Summed up, this is probably the most complete cross section of what Boris is capable of. If I was going to introduce someone to Boris, and wanted them to experience all the aspects, this is definitely the one I’d hand ’em. There’s not a duff track on the disc, and it zips by in no time. It’s over 45 minutes long, but it feels like an EP.

That said, it DOES feel a bit schizophrenic. The two digressions (tracks five and ten) are great in their own right, but they do feel a little interruptive.

You won’t be disappointed, God knows, but the chips are down. There aren’t any barriers broken here. There don’t need to be, but considering what Boris can do, you’ll be thinking about them anyway.

DVDs:

Live at Shimokitazawa Shelter (Diwphalanx, 2003)

Great live show at the tiniest of hole in the wall rock clubs from the suburbs of Tokyo. This is hard rock Boris, not experimental Boris. Also has four videos: "Ibitsu," "Free," "Korosu," and "1970."

(WARNING: my DVD had really screwed up sound, really bad clipping...sounded like a helicopter. I haven’t seen any complaints about it, so I’m guessing I just got a bad copy, but fair warning.)

Wizard’s Convention: Japanese Heavy Rock Showcase (2005)

Boris contribute six live tracks: "It Is The (?) Of The Pause You Open," "Ibitsu," "Free," "Dyna-soar," "Death Valley," and "Korosu."

The other bands are Green Machine, Church Of Misery, and Eternal Elysium. It’s a great cross section of Japanese rock, well worth picking up.

Heavy Metal Me (Diwphalanx, 2005)

Quite an oddity. Heavy Metal Me is a very abstract short film that is in both Japanese and English versions. As with much of their music, the film is very minimalist and a bit impenetrable. "The Evil One Which Sobs" is a remix video, there’s also a video for "A Bao A Qu." The real selling points, though, are the two live films of slightly shorter versions of Flood and Feedbacker.

The live footage aside, the visuals are extremely "arty." Long shots of unidentifiable things are the norm, and it does admittedly feel like a collection of student films. I like this stuff, but then, I used to be a film student.

Not Covered Due to Extreme Rarity:

Boris/Merzbow - 04092001 (2005)
Boris/Tomsk - Split (1997)
Boris/The Dudley Corporation - Split (2003)
Three live CDs from aRCHIVE (2005)
Bootleg Feedbacker DVD (Inoxia, 2005)

Boris plus amps
John Lenin/The Pole Of Justice – tMx 27 – 11/06
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