Album Reviews

Boris: W – “merging old and new sound worlds”

The genre-bending odyssey return with their twenty-seventh LP.

Boris have been one of the most inventive bands during the last twenty-five years.

Since their humble beginnings during the ’90s, for the most part, the Japanese experimental overloads have genre-hopped to great effect, morphing into different shapes and wild colours along the way.

Through the portal of doom came drone-metal classics, Akuma no Uta (2003), Pink (2005) and Smile (2008), as Boris trail-blazed through the golden decade of alternative metal. Finding tribal kinsmen such as ISIS, Pelican and Earth on a path originally paved by sludge punk titans, Neurosis, at the time it felt as though the best music was here. Even today, these sounds remain referential, maintaining the same emotional force held all those years ago.  

However, Boris aren’t just another in the metal pantheon dispensing dirge-y mutant blues. Not content to solely bludgeon their listeners with scorching grooves and white-hot drones, Wata (vocals/ guitar), Takeshi (vocals/ bass) and Atsuo (vocals, drums) also spent a great deal of time guiding us through the thorny terrains of esotericism: most notably via the multiple collaborations with Japanese noise legend, Merzbow, Michio Kurihara (Rainbow – 2006), The Cult’s Ian Astbury (as BXI in 2010) and, indeed, their fellow amplifier worshippers, Sunn O))) (Altar – 2006).

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Dotted throughout Boris’ lengthy discography are a host of experimental-based LPs of their own, too: 1996 debut Absolutego, Flood (2000) and Mabuta no Ura OST (2005) – the latter still standing as Boris’ most underappreciated LP. These explorations establishing Boris as a band never tied down to one core idea.

Granted, their creative restlessness and cause to move forward at every opportunity hasn’t always proved fruitful. Even the staunched followers will admit the last 10 years have seen the band produce mixed results.

This can’t be said for the band’s 2020 release NO, which marked a searing return to form. Paying homage to their hardcore roots, the end result was arguably their finest work put to tape since Smile.

Just when you thought Boris employed a back-to-basics approach with bludgeoning riffs delivered with hostile force, the U-turns continue with their latest and twenty-seventh LP, W – the band’s first for New York label, Sacred Bones.

Boris - W

W picks up where Boris left off on NO’s final track, Interlude, with Wata taking centre stage as lead vocalist.

With her lullaby charm (Icelina), W is also filled with riffs that are like satellite echoes arriving from various orbits. It’s space-conquering Boris, reaffirming the band’s ethos to not make the same record twice.

Opening song, I Want to Go to the Side Where You Can Touch, is infused with an ambience which resonates the tenderness of My Bloody Valentine’s To Here Knows When. Meanwhile, later with Invitation, Boris stretch the sonic framework of one of their finest cuts, Farewell. It’s Boris looking inward, extracting beauty from the ruins.

Drowning By Numbers and Old Projector are weighed down with thick blankets of feedback and tremolo, paving the way for the more aggressive moments of W, most notably with the sludge-laden The Fallen.

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With Beyond Good and Evil and album highlight, You Will Know (Ohayo Version), we find Boris merging old and new sound worlds with blissed-out soundscapes tailor-made for film scores.

Wata’s vocal performance is vital, enabling the band to explore their own grains of sound. By doing so, Boris challenge us like never before.

While we’ve been accustomed to the band grinding us into submission with a mixture of warp-speed riff-a-rolla and sludge driven bass weight, with W Boris find a different way, taking us on a deep-listening journey where new threads are stitched together to form a striking new patchwork.

Only time will tell, but in time W may go down as one of the band’s most important dispatches.

W is out now via Sacred Bones. Purchase from Bandcamp.

By Simon Kirk

Product from the happy generation. Proud purple bin owner surviving on music, books and LFC. New book, Welcome To Charmsville, available from all major vendors.

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