Retrospective: Boris – Absolutego

Ask anyone how to make it as a successful band and absolutely the last piece of information you’re likely to get is to make your debut studio album a single hour-long song full of bulldozing riffs and impenetrable fuzz, but Boris aren’t your average band, and Absolutego isn’t your average full-length. Anyone who’s heard anything from the incomparable Japanese outfit knows better than to expect the ordinary from the group, and their first album established this precedent early on.

Whilst the 23-year-old album is far from the band’s pièce de résistance (though don’t ask us what is – there’s a good handful of candidates), it’s a ballsy release from an unknown band worthy of praise for sheer audacity alone. The production is shoddy and the drums tinny, which initially seem like downsides to an otherwise powerful release, but in truth their fuzzy nature serves only to bolster the thick atmosphere that lies over the track. The enveloping aura Absolutego carefully constructs is maintained throughout, making it one tough listen, but it helps to ensure that, taken as an entire piece, the track is a magnificent example of just how powerful slow-building, noise-driven compositions can be. 

When Sleep emerged from the studio with the 63-minute-long Dopesmoker, the label quickly cut down the run-time and hamfistidly separated it into individual tracks, the result only souring the impact of the final product. The same would simply not be possibly for Absolutego. It is digestible only as one movement, with the slow build-up serving to build anticipation and make the impact of the crescendo that much more colossal. When the track does finally kick in, the band quickly establish themselves as a sludge powerhouse to be reckoned with, but when you take a step away you realise that the captivating atmosphere of the noise elements and the minimalist intro are just as memorable.

The opening minutes favour minimalism, with bassist Takeshi Ohtani holding down the fort. His weighty bass chugs ever onward as noise elements creep in and out of the foreground, eventually picking their moments to take the limelight. The drums serve only to bolster this build at first, stuttering forward like rusted machinery whilst Wata’s guitar belts out waves of distorted wails that rise and fade like distant sirens. The long droning passages soon summon forth the meat of the song, though, when the band open a Pandora’s box of pure audial filth. Almost half the track has passed by the time any vocals come in, their subdued growls feeling apposite for the atmosphere, and it’s here where the main crescendo plays out, with gargantuan riffs rising over the wall of noise to offer something more tangible. The mix is poor, but amongst the bedlam the songwriting subtleties can be uncovered. Their presence ensures that the release unveils more of itself upon every revisit, but more notably suggests something that we now know as truth – this band could be something special.

As the release comes full circle, ramping down just as carefully as it constructed tension early on (minute 50 onwards is pretty torturous), it’s easy to reflect and see how this is the band who went on to become masters of their craft, looked up to by all and imitated by many. The influence of the likes of the Melvins (from whom the band take their name) is clear, but the band forewent their namesake’s reliance on traditional song structures, instead opting to craft vast soundscapes whilst forging their own unique strain of drone-ridden chaos. Looking back, it’s easy to dismiss Absolutego and admit that it’s not Boris’ finest (literal) hour, but its place in their history is vital. It was the sound of a young outfit merely flexing their creative muscle, brimming with ideas and a need to experiment – even if not all of those experiments hit their mark, the album still remains eons more imaginative than most bands of the time.

For more slow-building songs with cathartic crescendos, check out our piece on environmentalist drone-doomers Bismuth.

Words: George Parr

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