You wake up to the smell of gasoline and diesel, catch sight of a decaying gas pump out of the corner of your eye as the backseat of the pink and orange muscle car you fell asleep in impresses itself upon your skin. The tires are already squealing, the engine roaring, a feral growl and hoot and shout that reminds you of eternal (and eternally departing youth). Boris are a magical band. Most groups would be happy to have one clear aesthetic vision within them, to carve away the clouds and find that solid object lurking in a set of musicians. So few have even that one, let alone the multitude that Boris do; remember, for instance, when it seemed Dear and its return to their sludgy noise rock was going to be their swan song? Only to turn around and produce records of hardcore punk and avant-rock. That they would then announce this, the third installment of their long-running Heavy Rocks series, always self-titled and almost always a decade apart, feels like another of millions of small defiances about who or what Boris is or is allowed to be.
There are certain things here that are givens. First, that this is a killer record; Boris has, inexplicably, over their 30-year history never dropped a single bad record, with more great records than most bands have records at all and a near-perfect record in numerous genre spaces. Second, like all previous Heavy Rocks installments, this is an ode to the more straightforward, well, heavy rock that makes up the core of Boris’ pre-punk influences. The casual chemical and biological stain of groups like MC5, Motörhead, Black Sabbath, Mountain and more are the lifeblood of this music, the same nitro-burning force that powered groups like Kyuss and Queens of the Stone Age and which these days propels groups like Mutoid Man. Third, the playing on this is insane, a masterclass of both virtuosity and song-oriented decisions, with the trio pivoting on a dime between acid-drenched overdubbed guitar solos like a Hendrixian inferno to simple and tight rock grooves. Their playing is, this many decades in, telekinetic, a single mind controlling multiple bodies. Boris has long been the best rock band going and arguably the greatest rock band of all time; nothing about that has changed, nor do I expect it ever will.
There are a couple new additions, however, to intrigue and excite the long-time listener. For instance, Boris has hopped on the saxophone rock bandwagon, integrating the horn into a large number of the tracks here. At first it seems like it will only serve as an occasional soloing instrument, just a new type of color on the palette after years of exploring drones and noise and such. But then, as the album creeps on, it starts appearing to reinforce riffs, to drive melodies, to nail down the fundamentals of songs while other instruments jam over it. Boris isn’t overindulgent in its use, perhaps one of the few critiques I could level at this album if I really wanted to (I don’t, for the record). The uses of saxophone here are so tasteful and, frankly, tasty that it’s hard not to imagine what greater use would bring. Their recent work exploring hardcore punk makes a firmer presence here than on the previous Heavy Rocks as well, producing a prominent punk vibe even on the more straight-ahead rocker. This aspect feels like perhaps the best justification for a new Heavy Rocks record. This installment reads less like merely more songs in a well-explored format but instead a summation of lessons learned and now applied in a hard rock environment, a kind of state of the union.
There are a couple shocking moments on this disc as well. “Ghostly Imagination” for instance reads almost more Rammstein than Boris, indicating a strong potential future industrial rock disc that, I beg to God, I hope we receive. “Nosferatou” meanwhile creates a vast and programmatic progressive rock soundscape of skeletons scoured by sand in the desert as a caravan of camel-back travelers wanders past, like Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” redressed to take place in the bowels of Hell. Closer “(Not) Last Song” is a kaleidoscope of ideas, having shards of the J-rock from New Album, glitch influences, portentous piano, shoegaze and more in an experimental and fascinating close to a record that in most other ways feels dedicated to its title thesis. These diversions are, for those not initiated, precisely what makes Boris so thrilling album after album; you can summarize what a large portion of any given record might be, but the band is always intent on including a few hair-raising genre turns, clashes of form, that show their genius-level recombinatory capacity and mastery of seemingly every iteration of rock music. Boogie woogie record when? Symphonic prog when? There is no doubt Boris can do anything they set their mind to.
Heavy Rocks may not be their greatest album but it is at once greater than most albums most rock bands will ever put out, well-earning its position in this legendary group’s storied catalog. The delightfully trashy and slutty album cover doesn’t hurt either, a move clearly done in celebration rather than judgment or irony. Long may they reign.
Langdon Hickman is listening to progressive rock and death metal. He currently resides in Virginia with his partner and their two pets.