Getting into Boris is about as hard as getting into quantum physics. Consisting of nineteen studio albums, ten collaborative EPs, five live albums and a whole plethora of other releases, by far the most striking thing about the band’s back catalogue is that all of it has been published over the span of a mere eighteen years. Nevertheless, it’s been three years since their last proper album — or albums, since they released three over the course of a single year — with last year’s Präparat being a mostly obscure vinyl-only release. Throughout their career, Boris have been many bands, from the stoner metal juggernauts of Heavy Rocks to the nihilistic punks of Vein, and from the ambient noise-smiths of Flood to the droning doom-mongers of their debut Absolutego, but their albums can always be easily classified in either of two categories, based on how they spell their name. Lowercase boris is the avant-garde darling of the
pretentious twat connoisseur, releasing 45-minute long ambient tracks on vinyl records and collaborating with experimental noise artist Merzbow. Uppercase BORIS is a more accessible hard rock group, releasing epic headbangers with riff upon riff of shredding insanity and drawing inspiration from every genre of heavy rock music from the 1970s up to now. Noise is by all means an uppercase BORIS record, yet one that has been explicitly made as a sort of introduction to the band. During its nearly hour-long length, Noise shows off every band Boris have been during their tumultuous lifetime, resulting in not only their most diverse, but also most conventionally enjoyable and, most importantly, best album to date.
Stylistically, Noise is closest to a significantly brushed-up version of 2005’s Pink, an earlier successful attempt at summarizing what Boris is all about. In the years following that release, however, the number of styles the band have tackled has nearly doubled, resulted in Noise being even more divergent. Despite what its title might imply, the production on Noise is crisper than Boris have ever been, eschewing the relentless brickwalling of their earlier material in favour of a widely dynamic sound. Don’t let this fool you into believing Noise isn’t loud, however. The distortion on guitarist Wata’s wailing, bellowing axe reverb through flesh and bone. Noise is physical, euphoric and epic in its craftsmanship, yet never dark or self-indulgent in the way a lot of metal is. Despite the burrowing sludginess of their music, the Boris of Noise don’t really seem care about doom and gloom. They simply want to make the best songs they can make, whether these are drum-machine backed pop songs like “Taiyo no Baka” or nineteen-minute-long droning epics like ‘Angel”. In a genre known for its conservatism, Boris’ progressiveness has stood out for more than a decade, and on Noise, it finally pays off, as any open-minded listener will discover an honest, polished and audibly enthusiastic gem, exempt from any preconceptions about what ‘heavy metal’ should sound like. It’s the perfect way to grasp what fans have been saying about the band for so long.
With only 8 tracks, Noise hardly ever outstays its welcome either. Opening track “Melody” and lead single “Vanilla” serve as a rabid, raging double whammy, layering melodic riffs and anthemic synths onto one another into ten minutes of orchestrated chaos. It’s seventies psychedelic rock for the 21st century: daring, heartfelt and deeply engrossing, played with such verve the technical prowess of Wata’s guitar work goes nearly under-appreciated. After a euphoric opening salvo, Noise dives straight into a slower, darker passage, with the gothic-infested, nearly orchestral “Heavy Rain” as a droning highlight. “Taiyo no Baka”, on the other hand, invokes the shocking genre shifts of 2011’s New Album, with whispered, dreamy vocals, drum machines and a surprisingly poppy chorus. It’s a perfectly timed little mood whiplash between the brooding “Heavy Rain” and the slow-burning “Angel”, and though it stands out like a sore thumb amongst the heavier material the rest of the album is comprised of, it hardly feels like an obvious cash grab the likes of which have recently started rearing their ugly heads on many an alternative album. If anything, it reflects Boris’ honest dedication to constantly reinventing themselves, and most importantly, not take themselves so damn seriously.
The cathartic post-rock steamroller “Angel” serves as the album’s backbone, yet reaches its gorgeous climax rather prematurely, sizzling out and dragging on for a few more tedious minutes after unleashing its euphoric breaking point. It’s a pity, because no track on the album better flaunts Boris’ intensity, from Takeshi’s powerful, versatile vocals and sharp bass licks to drummer Atsuo’s widely diversified rhythms. Nevertheless, it fails to encapsulate the essence of an album meant to encapsulate the essence of its band, a challenge the demented, otherworldly “Quicksilver” manages to complete with top marks, cross-pollinating scorching hardcore punk with Atsuo’s whispered shrieks and ravaging trash metal into one insane masterpiece. Booming drones, chilling shoegaze, you name it; if it’s loud, it can be found somewhere in this song, yet like everything else on the album, it melds together in the most fascinating and overwhelming ways possible. With opinions ranging from self-indulgent showmanship to pure, unadulterated genius, whatever your impression is of “Quicksilver” will most likely represent your opinion on Boris as a whole — making it the perfect centerpiece for this album and its aims.
Noise was marketed as “an amplification of Boris’ endless pursuit of musical extremes”, an aim in which it joyously succeeds. While it may not (luckily so, maybe) tackle the more abrasive and experimental spectrum of their music, it successfully summarizes the essence of the band — daring, dynamic, innovative, yet surprisingly catchy — in its most enjoyable work to date. The cover art for Noise features a black cat seated on an ornate baroque chair, a perfect symbol for its contents: grim and foreboding like the former, yet elegant, subtle and classy like the latter, with just the slightest dash of quirkiness that cats often bring to the table in this day and age. Its title as well is both fitting and ironic: it’s noise because it sounds distorted and often chaotic, but on the other hand there is a musicality to Noise that cannot be denied. It stands as a far cry from the guttural growling and horror-themed ugliness often associated with metal, which makes sense, since Boris stopped wanting to be a metal band years ago. They don’t make albums within a genre anymore, they make albums based around a premise — so much was obvious from the three widely distinct, yet internally still varied albums they released three years ago. Noise makes this even more obvious, and I don’t think anyone would want it any other way.
Verdict: Boris’ nineteenth album is thrilling and varied, yet surprisingly accessible, bringing the band’s technical prowess and rich musical history together in a roaring tour de force.
Standout tracks: “Melody”, “Taiyo no Baka”, “Angel”, “Quicksilver”