Individuality has always been the holy grail for musicians. In order for your art to reach the widest audiences you have to stand out from your scene. Hell, you have to stand out from every scene. This is the secret which has made legends of everyone from Motorhead and Godflesh to David Bowie and Kendrick Lamar. Luckily for Japanese experimentalists Boris, standing out from the crowd has never been an issue. Erroneously pegged as doom or drone when they first appeared on the scene in the 90’s, the enigmatic trio have incorporated everything from bubble-gum pop, post-punk, ambient and garage blues into their sounds over the course of over a dozen albums.
The band’s latest album W is a companion piece to 2020’s No (combining to create Now) and their first release for the acclaimed Sacred Bones label. While No was a brutal expression of the band’s heavier tendencies, sort of High on Fire mixed with MC5, W is the gentle antidote, focused on intense melodies and ambient moments. According to the band, the two albums represent a constant cycle of harshness and healing and were conceived In an effort to sublimate the negative energy surrounding everyone in 2020. This metaphysical approach to heavy music is something that weaves itself through Boris’ catalogue of releases and ties the disparate sounds together.
The album opens with ‘I Want to go to the side where we can touch…’, a track which incorporates the melody from No’s ‘Interlude’. It’s a beautiful combination of gentle feedback drones, Wata’s (guitar, vocals) repeated, whispered vocals and discordant percussion, all of which perfectly sets the tone for the rest of W. ‘Iceline’ is an eerie, ambient pop song, with sparse, trip-hop inspired production, while ‘Drowning By Numbers’ is laced with touches of industrial funk (think Too Dark Park-era Skinny Puppy) and a very Bjork-esque vocal. ‘The Fallen’, on the other hand, represents the heaviest moment on the album but is more transcendental than moshable. The instrumental centres around a series of doomy Sabbath-esque riffs which ebb and flow like the tide. It’s reminiscent of Earth’s early recordings which took a much more ambient approach to drone than their later, bluesier efforts.
‘Beyond Good & Evil’ manages to be both sweet and menacing at the same time. Its lullaby-like melody is offset by an iciness reminiscent of Cocteau Twins melded with My Bloody Valentine; the track slowly grows into a feedback drenched epic. The instrumentals ‘Old Projector’ and ‘Jozan’ both have an Americana feel to them, reminiscent of Neil Young’s soundtrack work, and between them is sandwiched the sublime ‘You Will Know (Ohayo version)’. The track has the feel of a shoegaze torch song, the plaintive vocal lines drawing you further into it as it progresses through nine minutes of evocative guitar noise.
Boris are a band who are unrestrained by old-fashioned ideas of genre or scene. They remain an enigmatic creative force in a world that can all too often seem constrictive. Whatever musical left turn the band make next, you can be assured the results will still be unquestionably Boris.
W is out now via Sacred Bones Records and can be ordered here.
Words: Dan Cadwallader