For a record its creators started work on in the belief it might be their swansong, this album doesn’t half seethe with energy, rippling with a vigour more typical of a group in their infancy rather than in decline.
The sessions that yielded Dear – whittled down from three albums’ worth to this set of 10 cuts, which still weighs in at more than an hour and occupies four sides of vinyl – also resulted in a renewed conviction that there are galaxies in the heavy music universe that Boris, a group currently celebrating their 25th year, have yet to fully explore.
And while Dear pulses with long-established characteristics such as bombast, abrupt shifts in EQ, extreme sonic juxtapositions and abysmal sustain, all of which underpin the Japanese trio’s tribal affiliation with Melvins, Sunn O))) and Sub Pop-era Earth, there are new stars being born here, new bridges to rock absurdity being built.
Perhaps the defining factors that single out the album from more recent predecessors such as Heavy Rocks and Präparat are an emphasis on the rudiments of rock music composition – the chord, the drum fill, the strained vocal – which elevates their importance almost above the music itself, and the adherence to a pace that, while nimble by the standards of Sunn O))), remains extraordinarily slow for the most part.
The vocal performances, which are significantly greater in number here than on previous releases, come mainly from guitar and bass player Takeshi Ohtani and drummer Atsuo Mizuno, with a brief, fragile contribution from guitarist Wata on the benumbed and deconstructed pop of Beyond, a second cousin of The Sinking Belle (Blue Sheep) from Altar, the high-water mark collaboration with Sunn O))) from 2006.
The bulk of these songs emerge from a simmering broth of guitar so titanically mangled that the notes almost play second fiddle to the sizzle of the valves the signal is fed through, after it’s gone through a fuzz circuit so cranked it ought to come with a health warning.
Opening track DOWN -Domination of Waiting Noise- sets the (lack of) tempo from the off, with an immolated power-chord shaking the life out of the speakers for what feels like an eternity, the accompanying metallic rattle hinting at serious technical damage. On Kagero, as he does on DOWN and elsewhere on the album, Atsuo enters the fray with spasms of percussion and washes of orchestral gong as downtuned guitars throw control to the four winds and spiral chaotically into space.
Amid the haar of drone and bug-eyed metal excess, on Biotope Boris’s affinity for a peculiarly skewiff variant of shoegazing surfaces, bringing with it welcome contrast. The song unashamedly follows a template outlined by My Bloody Valentine but lathers on a degree of guitar noise that even Kevin Shields might have stopped short of.
The 12-minute Dystopia -Vanishing Point- starts from a queasy lullaby played out on melodica and accordion before Takeshi sings a trippy ballad over Space Echo-hazed guitar meanderings. Peace at last, you might think. But seven minutes in, the band unleash a berserk vision of power rock gilded by a caustically bonkers guitar solo that Prince would surely have approved of, the notes cocooned in a batter of fuzz before being plunged into foaming oil. It’s exhausting – which, you suspect, is largely the point.
After this, the title track sucks the air out of the room with a crunching, dismal riff topped by a malevolent vocal, fluttering drum fills doing little to puncture the gloom. Eventually the group begins to lurch as one amid crashing gong and sickening feedback, the overall effect being that of a purgative ritual, ridding the listener of any bloat brought on by the preceding hour of excess. Ideologically it’s at one with the sonic code the band perhaps inadvertently christened on the earlier sturm und drang of The Power, a paean to the riff that rivals the very best excursions into maxed-out heaviness.
Dear could have been the end of the trip. But a quarter of a century in, Boris remain alert at the controls as they pilot their craft into uncharted galaxies, boldly going where no group has gone before.
Watch the official live video of The Power below:
This article first appeared on The Quietus website.