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Winning the Drone Wars 

Boris rises above the din

Wednesday, Oct 18 2006
Since its inception, metal has evolved because of a certain stylistic one-upmanship. Whether you're talking about the constantly rising bar for amp wattage and guitar virtuosity during the '70s, thrash and death metal's fixations with speed and blasphemous subject matter, or the ever-escalating sonic shitstorm approach and church-burning, bandmate-stabbing, Olympic-caliber mayhem of Norway's black metal scene, the embrace of extremes has historically pushed the music into new territory. One of the few subgenres that actually scales back elements of metal's faster, more satanic templates is the experimental drone-doom movement spearheaded by the likes of Sunn O))), Asva, and veteran Japanese power trio Boris.

Formed in the early '90s when members Wata (guitar), Takeshi (bass/guitar/vocals), and Atsuo (drums/vocals) meet at a Tokyo art school, Boris definitely qualifies as the senior exponent of the drone-doom sound. Taking inspiration from the early work of sludge progenitors the Melvins and slow-motion Sub Pop headbangers Earth (who in turn were inspired by the lumbering menace of Sabbath's most monolithic dirges such as — duh — "Black Sabbath" and "Hand of Doom"), the band attempted to distill heavy riff science down to its barest essence. Erecting massive walls of hyper-distorted guitar and rumbling bass splintered through with shards of feedback that drift glacially from power chord to power chord, Boris brought a minimalist sensibility to metal with the huge, hour-plus title track opus to its debut disc Absolutego in 1996. At the same time, the band held close to the principle tenet of paint-peeling volume that made experiencing its music live so mind-shatteringly visceral.

With the prolific output of releases following that first effort, Boris left its doom-metal contemporaries in the dust through a constant quest for new sounds. Touching on everything from expansive, Meddle-era Pink Floyd space jams to corrosive collaborations with legendary Japanese noise terrorist Merzbow to more traditional stabs at fuzzed-out psych punk and stoner rock, the band refused to be limited by genre expectations. Boris even went so far as to issue Dronevil, a two-disc set from last year that could either be listened to one CD at a time or simultaneously on separate stereos (perhaps a nod to the Flaming Lips' outlandish four-CD album Zaireeka, which was designed for the same kind of multiple-system play). In many ways, the wide-ranging nature of the trio's experimentation laid the groundwork for the avant-metal path later heard in the subharmonic epics of Sunn O))) and eclectic instrumentation and radical, La Monte YoungÐinfluenced minimalism of Asva.

For a long time, most releases by Boris were expensive if not impossible to obtain because of the band's penchant for limited editions and lack of domestic distribution. Happily, a deal with Southern Lord — the imprint run by Sunn O)) principals Steve O' Malley and Greg Anderson — has led to reissues of several classic Boris albums as well as the group's most recent stunner, 2005's Pink. An amalgamation of the many modes the trio has explored in the past, Pink veers from the beatific, shoegazer drone of gorgeous album-opener "Farewell" to frenzied mayhem of Blue Cheer/Mudhoney-style salvos "Woman on the Screen," "Electric," and "Six, Three Times" to the lurching, Sabbath-channeling heaviness of "Blackout" and "Afterburner" with equally brilliant results.

Some longtime Boris fans might decry the commercial accessibility of the tunes on Pink, despite the band offering up the 18-minute, half riff rocker, half gargantuan feedback meltdown juggernaut "Just Abondoned My-Self" [sic] to close the album. Those loyal followers will likely find appeasement this Halloween when Southern plans to issue Altar, a new collaborative album between Sunn O))) and Boris featuring guest spots from Earth founder Dylan Carson and Thrones/High on Fire bassist Joe Preston. The record reportedly enters new realms of dark weirdness for both groups.

About The Author

Dave Pehling


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