Monday, 11 January 2021

Boris - NO (2020)

Country: Japan
Style: Stoner Metal/Punk
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 3 Jul 2020
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Boris have been around for a long while and they've released a lot of music across a much wider set of genres than most bands even listen to, but this one garnered more praise in 2020 than anything they have released since Pink in 2005. While much of their work is experimental, including collaborations with Merzbow and Sunn O))), this is much more accessible, though still notably varied. The final track feels like it's on a completely different album to everything else but this is a band who veer between dream pop and drone metal, via pretty much everything in between.

My favourite track may be the first one, Genesis, which is a slow and heavy sludge metal instrumental, as controlled as most of the rest of the album isn't. It could easily have been intensely boring but it's full of feedback that's ridden like a bucking bronco and refuses to let my attention wander. Anti-Gone starts out that way but soon ramps up into a punk onslaught and is over in three minutes. I've seen a lot of descriptions of this album as hardcore and I'm not seeing it, because the vocals aren't shouts. A punk sound doesn't have to mean hardcore.

In fact, with all three members of the band now contributing their voices as well as their instruments, the vocals encompass a number of styles, as is very obvious on Non Blood Lore. Mostly the vocals are clean on this one with a neat echo that I presume is a second simultaneous voice, but there are angry vocals too and some wilder stuff during a slower but impatient section. I like this one too, because of how the guitars threaten to be wall of sound but the bass can still almost solo over them. Everything here works, from the energy to the tone, via the solos.

So far, so good but I don't like everything here. My least favourite song is Zerkalo, which slows down a vast amount from the Misfits-esque blitzkrieg of Temple of Hatred to find sludge metal territory with the drums stubbornly slow and the vocals as raw as anything else here. I'm not very fond of HxCxHxC Parforation Line, which eventually feels like the band are performing on a runway as a convoy of jets land behind them.

It really is an odd combination of songs, but then this is a Boris album and we shouldn't expect them to care about consistency, especially on an album written relatively quickly and recorded in isolation during lockdown for COVID-19. One minute there's a frantic cover of nineties Japanese band Gudon's Fundamental Error, which is a blast, especially when it drops into punk pop melodies but without any pandering to commerciality at all. The next there's Interlude, a strange title for the final song on any album but appropriate here given that it's a shoegazy post-rock song with clean and whispery female vocals.

It's almost a love letter to American punk, ripping its way through the various genres, some extreme but others conventional. For every Temple of Hatred, easily the loosest song here and one that wraps a while before its two minutes are up, there's a Kiki no Ue, a fascinating piece that starts drum heavy but eventually lets the bass take over and define it. I like a lot of this, but I don't like all of it and, as energetic and fun as it gets, it just feels like a good and varied album, and one that's more accessible than the double album they released with Merzbow in December.

However, it doesn't feel like best of year list material, even though it made five of those I'm tracking thus far, including two top tens and a top five, which was a third place in Treble Zine's list right after the Oranssi Pazuzu album that blew me away. I'd just call it a generally enjoyable release that's more appropriate as an entry point to Boris's discography than pretty much anything they've released in a decade and a half. If you want to find out what all the fuss is about, this is as good a choice as any.

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