All the Rage

Washington City Paper | March 3, 2006
Sometimes-retro power trio BORIS was metal before metal was cool—or at least before indie-rock labels started releasing the stuff. The cult-inspiring Japanese act, which takes its name from a tune by Kurt Cobain fave the Melvins, has been making records in its current form since 1996 debut Absolutego, an 65-minute drone that went unreleased on these shores until 2001. In Japan, the album came out on the band’s own Fangs Anal Satan label. But aside from that forced reference to Lucifer, these former art students signify metal effortlessly. In addition to making what the band calls its “heavy” records as BORIS, it also releases just as many or more “experimental” sessions as boris.

Two examples of the latter, soundtrack Mabuta no Ura and Merzbow collaboration Sun Baked Snow Cave (both from 2005), display a selection of nonmetallic influences: groovecentric art rock, freak-flag-flying folk, and not-really classical music that sets the controls for the heart of the sun. But no amount of experimentation, apparently, will dissuade fans—or the band itself—from thinking of the “heavy” records as the main attraction. That, no doubt, is why American indie Southern Lord licenses only the heaviest of BORIS efforts, such as the band’s latest full-length, PINK. Like the Sword’s debut, BORIS’ new disc, which gets a domestic release in a matter of weeks, sports its share of ’70s-centric, stonerific hard rock. “Sukurin no Onna” in particular is so successful at channeling Led Zeppelin’s heavy blooz that Southern Lord probably ought to add Page & Co. to its royalties database.

In a recent interview, bassist/vocalist Takeshi claims that BORIS is nobody’s throwback; the band, he says, wants “something to connect us to now.” Accordingly, even the most classic-rockin’ all-caps-BORIS record is shot through with a sense of modernity. Perhaps the best illustration of this is PINK’s opener, “Ketsubetsu,” easily the most melody-rich tune in the band’s catalog. That track, which suggests a wilder, woollier My Bloody Valentine, retrofits the shoegazer genre with some real horsepower, creating the kind heavy ethereality that only Justin Broadrick’s postmetal act Jesu has also achieved. Elsewhere, too, the band is adventurous, revisiting Earth 2 (“Burakku Auto”), banging heads with Young Team (“My Machine”), and, ultimately, pledging allegiance to Daydream Nation (final track “Ore o Suteta Tokoro”).

That none of these songs are sung in English may be a stumbling block for some potential listeners. And the import’s lack of a translated lyric sheet is certainly a problem for any thorough criticism. But a look at the band’s previous Southern Lord–licensed disc, 2003’s Akuma no Uta (released here in 2005), which included English translations, gives at least a sense of the band’s unorthodox approach to metal songwriting. Sure, on “Ibitsu,” Takeshi, a punkish vocalist who nonetheless contributes a significant amount of melody, sings about “evil intentions” and “this wicked formation.” But on “Ano Onna no Onryou,” he intones some approximation of “I only hear persisting echo/With her hair waving la danse des morts/‘I’m gonna be taken away.’”

That kind of impressionism might seem alien to those who buy into the Sword’s rather old-school idea of metal. But anyone with any all-caps-BORIS experience is unlikely to quibble with the band’s cred. Real metal bands, after all, are both defined and limited by what were once the most marginalized aspects of their sounds: sludginess, speediness, a preference for the symphonic. So why not record a postrock soundtrack or get your drone on with an infamous noise artist? It’s all metal in the end. Takeshi and his bandmates get this; they know they don’t have to try all that hard to be what they already are. PINK may not encapsulate the entirety of their on-record interests, but as bold-faced metal goes, few records are this satisfyingly inclusive.

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