Album Review: Boris – W

The Breakdown

Japanese experimental metalheads mellifluously counterbalance their loud, heavy material.

In July 2020, Tokyo experimental metal trio Boris released ‘NO’, their fastest, loudest, heaviest album for several years, one that eschewed the drone metal elements of much of their recent material and re-embraced the hardcore punk influences of their early work. The album was hard, fast, and unsubtle, made for rip-roaring countryside driving music, and was a resounding critical success, topping the author of this review’s year-end list. For the album’s follow-up, the band’s 27th non-collaborative studio full-length, Boris have released a set of ethereal and more subtly heavy post-rock tracks that are designed to complement the hard-and-fast nature of the songs on ‘NO’, with the two albums forming a complete work titled ‘NOW’.  

I’ll say right out of the traps that this album (as was clearly intended) lacks the sonic power and muscularity of ‘NO’. However, guitarist Wata’s vocals have a quietly haunting quality to them on tracks like ‘I Want to Go to the Side Where You Can Touch…’. The effect they have on the listener (probably intentionally) is the polar opposite to that which bassist Takeshi’s yelling on ‘NO’ had, but they are still powerful in a less immediate, more slow-burning way. The addition of electronic instrumentation has mixed results, working far better on ‘Drowning by Numbers’ than it does on ‘Icelina’ or ‘Invitation’.

‘The Fallen’ and ‘Old Projector’ see Wata’s sludgey guitar sound make a welcome return. ‘Beyond Good and Evil’, with its post-rock guitar sound and haunting, lullaby-style vocals, comes pretty close to providing an apotheosis of ‘W’’s sound, before ‘Old Projector’ sees Boris experiment intriguingly with reverb-heavy shoegaze, something I’d like to see them do more of in the future. I would have preferred a re-ordering of the tracks on ‘W’ as ‘You Will Know (Ohayo Version)’ and ‘Jozan’ make for a pretty anti-climactic pair of closing songs, but ‘Old Projector’ would have been a great point on which to end the album.

‘W’ is an interesting and mainly enjoyable companion piece to ‘NO’. If they are effectively two halves of the same concept album, then make no mistakes about it, this is definitely the more rambling, less focused and tight half. Its songs don’t have the same sort of kick-you-in-the-shins immediacy as those on its predecessor, but they retain a subtler sonic power. It is not one of Boris’s strongest albums, but the band still display the musicianship and mastery of their craft that fans have come to expect from them. A post-rock album will inevitably be a difficult thing for fans of an experimental metal band to digest, but ‘W’ is a record that is worth sticking with. It may fall short of the very high musical standard set by ‘NO’, but it would have been a very difficult task to record an LP that equalled or bested that album. It will likely prove to be a minor point in Boris’s overall discography, but don’t let that deter you. It would serve as an ideal entry point to the band’s oeuvre for listeners unfamiliar with their heavier work, and existing fans of Boris should find it interesting to hear the band perform material that is far more ethereal than that which they will be used to hearing them play. ‘W’ is available now via Sacred Bones. Order it here.

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