Calling a particularly good album “the band’s best in years” doesn’t mean much when the band in question follows the standard release schedule of one LP every two or three years. When applied to Japan’s genre-hopping experimental rockers Boris, however, that phrase really means something. With zero lineup changes, the band has churned out twenty-four albums as a trio since 1996, and that’s not even counting the vast number of collaborations, EPs, and splits they’ve recorded. Yet satisfying material from the band has been in short supply as of late, their most recent releases being an unfulfilling trio of drone / ambient records in 2015. Perceiving a creative decline, Boris had originally slated Dear as their final album, but ultimately changed their minds after finding themselves inspired by their recent Pink tour. This couldn’t have been a better call; Dear isn’t just Boris’ best album in years, but also one of the most impressively composed records of their career.
Dear is a diverse, monolithic work of experimental doom that sees Boris revisiting the slow, crushing riffs of their early years while implementing the poppy, accessible singing styles they’ve tinkered with since 2011’s New Album. These vocals lend the lighter cuts a dreamy, melancholic vibe akin to Radiohead in their melodic atmosphere, but the record crushes just as often as it soothes. Even the most peaceful passages tow an unsettling undercurrent evident through droning background guitars, otherworldly feedback and creaking axe-strings. Considering Boris built their career around manipulation of amplifier ambience, it comes as no surprise that these effects, right down to the exact pace at which a guitar pick scrapes down a string, feel precisely planned despite appearing random at surface level. Indeed, the band seems to have taken great pains in planning Dear’s construction, resulting in an album that’s remarkably consistent in atmosphere while exploring countless compositional tangents.
Subtle though Dear often is, it has absolutely no reservations about grabbing the listener by the throat and dragging them into a well of despair. Make no mistake; what Boris has accomplished here sounds, in its heaviest moments, like the inevitability of the end. The aptly named “DEADSONG” is an aural representation of slow death via forces of nature, with tar-like funeral doom chords forming its foundation as squealing guitars mimic cicadas and something not-quite-human howls in the distance. The slow, dread-inducing buildup to the chainsaw riffs in instrumental “Power” is the auditory equivalent of a convicted man’s wait at the gallows, and the discomforting, manic roaring in the closing title track recalls Swans at their most vocally unhinged. Yet Dear isn’t totally pessimistic; the cathartic vocal peaks of “Memento Mori” and the gorgeous, bittersweet extended guitar solo in “Dystopia -Vanishing Point-” are prime examples of Boris’ emotional versatilty.
The only obstacle barring Dear from being an outright masterpiece is the poor production, a problem endemic to Boris itself. The band simply doesn’t care about making a dynamic sounding record, which I suppose is to be expected at this point. Yet the mix is undeniably wonky; the vocals are mixed a bit too high and the drums are confusingly buried. This is fine for most tracks, where the drums either make a minimal showing or are completely absent, but it weakens the more traditionally rhythmic cuts (see “Absolutego,” which has nothing to do with Absolutego). Looking past the mixing issues, however, there are beautiful moments of production ingenuity. The engineering of the background effects in the aforementioned “DEADSONG,” for instance, excel at accentuating the atmosphere of dread. Elsewhere, the persistent, distorted bass drum of “Biotope” that acts as the track’s sole mode of percussion is an intoxicatingly simple way of framing its shoegaze-y vocals and chord progressions.
Dear is, at nearly seventy minutes, a monumental effort, and is the kind of record where the listener has little choice on first exposure but to let the music completely overtake them. Once one grows accustomed to its sheer density, however, it quickly becomes apparent that Boris has crafted an admirably varied array of songs that somehow work perfectly together. This collection exemplifies the band at their very best, working with several genres and experimental styles while also being a welcome return to unabashed doom metal. Dear is so diverse and consistently great that, at the time of this writing, it’s difficult to think of a better starting point for Boris newcomers, but I have no doubts that it will be hailed as a high point of their extensive career in years to come, as well.
DR: 4 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Daymare Records (Japan) | Sargent House (Rest of the world)
Websites: borisheavyrocks.com | boris.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/borisheavyrocks
Release Dates: JP: 2017.07.12 | WW: 07.14.2017