Few bands can top the heaviness that Boris creates, and even then, it’s nearly impossible for any artist to so artfully and creatively wield such churning, demonic low-end rumble. They may not necessarily be a `metal’ band as most traditional Valhallans would classify them, but their unholy thunder could shatter the foundations of entire metropolises. Or so it would sound anyway, particularly on such sprawling destructive drone-core masterpieces like Akuma No Uta. With last year’s Pink, Boris not only maintained such cranium-concussing levels of heaviness, they made it pretty accessible…at least as much as a Japanese doom outfit possibly can. Even with a few foreboding trips to the underworld, the album still rocks hard enough to elicit a head bang or two.
Within Boris’ heaviness, there is diversity, from their nearly ambient collaboration with Sunn0)) to their noise experiments with Merzbow to their shorter blasts of Sabbath-influenced riffage. Still, one could hardly have expected the outcome of the group’s collaboration with Ghost guitarist Michio Kurihara, titled Rainbow. Unlike Pink, which I still think sounds brown or a dingy, sooty greyish-black, Rainbow actually represents a startlingly diverse spectrum. Where Boris typically wraps their music in abrasive sheets of distortion and blood-curdling bass, this album finds Kurihara’s psych-rock influence seeping into their approach in what comes off as the most accessible record either artist has produced to date.
Suffice to say, Rainbow is amazing. The dynamic between Boris and Kurihara is a truly awe-inspiring sound to behold. Both artists give outstanding performances, Boris with their diverse array of rhythmic permutations, and Kurihara with his insane axe freak-outs. Yet rather than a collision of two over-the-top forces, Rainbow is rather a true artistic collaboration, with styles merging into one distinct animal, one with its own uniquely ferocious fangs, horns and thick tufts of fur.
With opener “Rafflesia,” Boris recalls Pink‘s opener “Farewell,” only much less contained and far less bound by rhythm. It seems bound to fall apart and implode at any moment, swirls of distortion encircling each other in a cosmic Marshall stack nebula. Yet within that unwieldy craziness, there is a calming sense of melody. It sounds ridiculous, but there is serenity within the chaos. The title track, however, has a laid back, distortion-less progression. It’s restrained and gentle, like mid-period Velvet Underground or Galaxie 500, rather than Sabbath or Sleep. Kurihara breaks the chill atmosphere with some of his sizzling fretwork mid-song, and it transitions back to its mellow, bluesy ambience.
“Starship Narrator” offers more of a rocking psychedelic fare, shuffling with a menacing, albeit good-time strut. Atsuo’s cymbal-heavy drums keep this track bottom heavy, but Kurihara’s noisy guitar solo inferno launches it into another stratosphere entirely. In just less than two minutes’ time, “My Rain” reveals just about the most gorgeous and delicate piece of music that Boris has ever had the pleasure of participating in, while “Shine” is ambient folk-drone, the likes of which Kurihara’s own Ghost is best known for mastering. Once again, Boris settles into a groove with the easy, yet still tense rock anthem, “You Laughed Like a Water Mark.” Once again, there’s a delicate prettiness abound, yet one that settles into a fierce rock song with a healthy bit of muscle to it. The album reaches its most intense psych freakout with “Sweet No. 1,” a song that never quite loses control, yet unleashes a torrent of wild guitar soloing and effects-laden madness. It’s a little wanky, but who cares? It’s still incredible.
Boasting a long and accomplished career, Boris has covered more ground and collaborated with more artists than just about any of the group’s peers could possibly dream of. With albums like Rainbow, though, one wonders if a band this inventive and powerful truly has any peers. There may be bands that sound similar, and there may be bands who have been around as long, but as far as creative output goes, Boris is in a category all its own.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.