Boris aren’t a band who can be pigeonholed by any particular genre more than they can be defined by a musical philosophy; that philosophy being experimentation. The ‘experimental’ label can be applied to just about any style of music, leading to the term being amongst the broadest phrases commonly used in the music world, in that it covers everything from clipping. to John Coltrane and from FKA twigs to Meshuggah. Whereas such artists can be narrowed down to experimental hip hop or experimental rock or experimental pop, however, such specifics could never pin down Boris’ comprehensive reach across the experimental music map, with the band typically covering more stylistic ground in one year than other avant-garde artists would throughout their entire discography. In fact, the Japanese trio has explored more musical territory in a single day than other experimental outfits have throughout the course of their whole career, with the group releasing Heavy Rocks (2011), a sludgy heavy metal record, on the same day as Attention Please, a dreamy J-pop album that was often as abrasive as it was saccharine. You should hopefully be starting to get the picture now as to why it’s practically futile to compartmentalise Boris on any stylistic basis, with their experimental philosophy applying even to the physical aspects of their artistry. Case in point, the three-piece’s previous project from last year,『現象』(pronounced “gensho” and translated into English as “phenomenon”), was a double-album collaboration with fellow Japanoise savant Merzbow, in which each artist recorded a disc of their own material, with the two recordings meshing together and the intention being that the listener has the choice of either experiencing each record individually or playing them at the same time. Although similar endeavours had previously been pursued before by The Flaming Lips with their polarising project from 1997, Zaireeka, and even by Boris themselves on their 2008 album Dronevil, I’m unaware of any other undertakings to have seen two separate artists each provide a disc of material that could be played simultaneously, and certainly not to such success. With such a propensity to reinvent themselves so often, no one could ever predict where the trio will find themselves exploring next, including Boris themselves. With the first track from『現象』being a reworking of a song from their seminal stoner rock opus from 2005, Pink, and with an expanded version of the album being released the same year, Boris had embarked on a tour wherein they brought Pink to the stage in its entirety, with plans of returning to the studio afterwards to record a final album. Released to mark the band’s silver jubilee, Dear is the resultant record, but a farewell album it is not. An exceptionally fruitful series of recording sessions yielded three records’ worth of material, with half of the album’s original tracklisting being cut and the leftover recordings being shelved for future releases. So, instead of a departure record, Dear is more of a celebratory album, or rather a thankful one. Indeed, as the title suggests, this is a record dedicated to Boris’ listeners, fans and patrons, for 25 years of attentiveness throughout the band’s boundary-breaking experimentation, with Dear being an album of destructive doom metal, in a similar vein to the trio’s classic and most beloved material. Put simply, the end product is one of the most consistent, dynamic and utterly arresting albums from Boris in recent memory.
Whilst it is made abundantly clear that Dear is a throwback to Boris’ early drone-infused doom metal and stoner rock stylings even before hearing the album, with its lead single, Absolutego, being an eponym of their debut record, the trio’s stylistic reach across the course of the tracklisting harks back to some of their more recent undertakings as well. From the prominence of power electronics throughout many of these pieces, which is reminiscent of Boris’ dedicated harsh noise and drone material, to the frequent incorporation of the orthodox clean vocals to have been employed by the group since their first foray into straight-up J-pop on New Album, one of their three 2011 releases, Dear stands as one of the most sonically diverse records of the trio’s entire career. With this heightened stylistic breadth comes an exceptionally vigorous and vital sound, arising from just how cohesively and seamlessly Boris bring together all of these milestone stylings from throughout their discography into one gargantuan beast of an album. Taking the clean singing as an example, many of the trio’s soothing vocal performances will lull the listener into a false sense of security, only to blow them away with the full force of the band’s steadfast sludge, as is the case on Beyond. The verse sections read like a shoegazing song sans the swamps of reverb, with Wata’s wistful, breathy vocals being supported solely by some soft guitar tinkering and a drum pattern that sounds like a drastically slowed-down marching beat that has been recorded 10 feet away from the microphone. As such, the ensuing eruption of one of the most evil doom metal dirges on the entire record is made all the more impactful, as Wata’s tremolo-picked guitar wails out in pain and Takeshi Ohtani’s bellows reach perhaps his most emotive heights across the tracklisting, all whilst Atsuo Mizuno’s destructive drumming seems to be heralding doomsday. D.O.W.N -Domination of Waiting Noise- sees a similarly forceful collision of contrasting tones, with the almost comically slow pace of the dominating drums, the glides of grumbling guitar and the spliced electronic gurgles supporting a surprisingly soulful sung performance from Takeshi, which hits an almost choral-like hue at times, and certainly comes across as a sort of religious experience. The singer’s falsetto vocals atop the bruising growls of Kagero strike a similarly chilling juxtaposition, whilst the unhinged structures of both of these compositions make for a handful of striking demonstrations of the band’s tightness, perhaps topped only by the closing title track, in which Boris cogently convey the same crushing cataclysm, despite the drums being largely absent throughout much of the cut. Instead, blazing guitar drones and peeling feedback dominate the sound waves with an oppressive, oscillating causticity that cuts through the space left by the song’s sluggish speed like a razor-sharp knife. Indeed, with Boris employing some of their most stylistically varied and sonically detailed songwriting to feature on a single album to date, Dear strikes a spirited sense of dynamism, even in spite of the fact that the trio utilise their usual gritty sonic stylings that consistently retain a degree of dirt and sludge, even under some of the more serene and plaintive soundscapes.
Whilst the majority of the aforesaid pieces are made so powerful through Boris’ usual ear for nuance and subtlety, the trio’s willingness to pen some of their most forthright and instantly arresting cuts of their career makes Dear all the more intense and invigorating. One need look no further than the aforementioned lead single Absolutego as a prime example of this, with the prominence of Atsuo’s groove-driven drum work making the song easily the most uncharacteristically toe-tapping track on the entire record. The downright dirty riffs and Takeshi’s soaring vocal delivery demonstrates directly that the group’s knack for stoner rock and doom metal covers not solely the most esoteric corners of these genres, but that their airtight musicianship and compositional nimbleness lends itself just as effectively towards a more congenial tone. Although a much more mammoth and lumbering piece, the album’s second single, Memento Mori, strikes some similarly accessible points, especially as the glistening synth chords seep through the despairing dirge, whilst an exceptionally impassioned and expressive performance from Takeshi sees the mountainous moments of catharsis of the singer’s delivery woven amidst some anguished murmurs. On the other side of the spectrum, songs such as DEADSONG and The Power are similarly upfront and unforgiving, albeit in a very different fashion. The whirling, deathly howls of DEADSONG, in conjunction with Takeshi’s macabre moans, are unabashedly morbid, as to play directly into the song’s themes of the withering death of nature, whilst the entirely instrumental track, The Power, employs groans of searing power electronics that bubble hotly under the dramatic drones of chromatic guitar chords. Undoubtedly, the versatility and dexterity on display across Dear, regardless of the tone pursued by the band, is almost entirely unwavering, demonstrating Boris to be the avant-garde powerhouses that only their most lauded material has proven so potently.
Ultimately, for all the tortuous motifs and stark dichotomies worked into, and buried underneath the surface of, Boris’ ruthless funeral doom stylings across Dear, the trio seems to have placed intensity and vitality side-by-side on their list of priorities for the album, making for a remarkably well-rounded record that seldom falters amidst all of its extensive and extreme experimentation. Even in spite of its audacious length and daring twists and turns, the release remains anchored in the keen appetite for artistic adventure that has constantly kept clear a spot for Boris at the top of the monolith of experimental music, even across some of their less successful ventures. For this, Dear stands as a comprehensive conveyance of all that has made Boris such a spectacle across their expansive and industrious career.
The Vinyl Verdict: 8/10