Boris – Heavy Rocks (2022)


The many faces of Boris sounds like a documentary about Britain’s former Prime Minister, but it’s an apt description to describe the Japanese noise experimentalists of the same name. Now on album number twenty-eight, the trio that produced the shoegaze textures of January’s W record are back with their second album of the year and are ready to rock. The only problem is that they revisit the MTV2 era of indie garage rock for inspiration, but that might be because they have a 2002 album called Heavy Rocks. Is this a 2022 update? What is going on here?

W saw guitarist, Taka, swap the guitar plectrum for the e-bow to create a dream pop soundscape of brooding pedal loops and early morning ambience. On Heavy Rocks (2022), she does the opposite, leaving the ethereal sounds behind in favour of pentatonic rock & roll clichés. Opener, ‘She is Burning,’ is like a noise rock interpretation of Kings of Leon and The Hives with punk rock drums and a chalky bass texture. You’ll admire the energy but will lament the indie rock aesthetic. Follow up, ‘Cramper’ is just as disappointing with its messy guitar licks and predictable stoner rock fills in between the high energy drums. By track three, you’re asking if they have anything to offer beyond a heavier version of The White Stripes.

Thankfully, Boris do what they do best as the album progresses, which means they soon grow bored of anything conventional. ‘Blah Blah Blah’ is a homage to the Kraut rock of Can and the noise generation of Sonic Youth. The screeching out-of-key violins and distorted bass riff will give you shoulder ache. They dispense with the awful garage rock and lean towards d-beat punk on ‘Question 1’. This is where the album becomes interesting. It may not feel like the same band that produced the sludge metal of their earlier career, but the atmospheric guitar tone and multiple layers of amp noise work well with a more tuneful vocal harmony. Listen how they reset to a doom rock tempo with guitar feedback in the place of ringing fifth chords. A rush of agonising death metal screams hit you from nowhere at 03:40 seconds. They continue the doom tangent on ‘Nosferatou’ with a rumbling bass and a succession of dramatic drum accents that never settle into a regular beat. Out goes the garage rock and in comes the lively introspection of Jane’s Addiction’s ‘Up the Beach’ with the structureless approach of no wave. Now we hear the slow palm-muted downstrokes of Eyehategod. Are they getting into gear at the mid-way point?

You’d think this was a split album with another artist on the second side. The songs are closer to hardcore in tempo and ferocity, yet the band’s progressive tendencies shine through. ‘Ruins’ could be from a Black Flag record; ‘Ghostly Imagination’ works an electronic dance beat into the punk hostility. There’s never a dull moment with Boris, which is why even a mediocre album like this one has repeat listening value. Indeed, the chaotic switch from doom metal to d-beat punk on ‘Chained’ challenges your initial judgement – maybe this isn’t mediocre. What the hell are they thinking on closing track, ‘(not) Last Song’? A poignant grand piano piece with sporadic infusions of harsh guitar noise and glitch effects provides a delicate background for the pain and longing of the vocals to pierce through like the shivers of a Sunday morning hangover. There’s a tragic element to this song, where raw emotion usurps the traditional ballad voice and produces something far more frightening.

They might be in a race with Merzbow to see who can produce the most albums, but Boris remind us here that their definition of rock is an eclectic one. The first quarter might hark back to the awful indie rock of the early 2000s, but the second half is worth your time.

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 12/08/2022

Record Label: Relapse Records

Standout tracks: Ruins, Ghostly Imagination, (not) Last Song

Suggested Further Listening: Queens of the Stone Age – Rated R (2000), The Jesus Lizard – Goat (1991), Melt Banana – Fetch (2013)