Boris with Merzbow – Gensho Review

Boris with Merzbow - GenshoTo write about Gensho, the latest in a 15 years long series of collaborations between illustrious Japanese experimental metal, rock, and everything in-between trio Boris and legendary noise musician Merzbow (alias Masami Akita), is to write about three different records: a Boris shoegaze-cum-drone meditation, a Merzbow harsh noise attack, and a mammothian combination of the two.1 A fragmented, deceivingly isolated approach brings forth two parts of equal length that can be listened either separately or simultaneously and reveals Gensho as a remarkable continuation of the artists’ recent individual musical explorations and a new permutation of their ever-changing, yin-yangish complementation.

The first half of the release is dedicated to Boris revisiting and deconstructing various moments from their discography. It’s an atypical album when compared with their entirely instrumental, thickly experimental, and very noisy 2015 releases (Asia, Warpath), but still rather expected from a band that never really had a “typical” sound. Jumping from drone reminiscent of Sunn O))) to dream pop and fuzzy shoegaze that will make you think of My Bloody Valentine – not by chance, a post-rock Mono-like cover of “Sometimes” found its way onto the album – for Gensho they’ve reworked nine songs collected from all stages of their career and molded them into drumless, roaring and soaring shoegaze-drone pieces that teeter between crushing heaviness and a spiritual, jovial warmth. It’s an enjoyable journey, a “best of” that captures that elusive something that makes Boris Boris, regardless of which musical and stylistic path they choose to take. A few of the cuts are rendered especially captivating and imposing in their new versions. “Huge,” for example, is a quasi-stoner doom cut which marches bleak and tired through a never-ending wilderness. “Heavy Rain” is haunted by mournful vocal melodies, a stark contrast to the heavy drone (think Electric Wizard) of “Vomitself” and the blues-inspired lead on “Akuma No Uta.” In general, this is material that can stand on its own but that still feels consumed by a void in its midst. Intentionally so, perhaps.

“I don’t know why people expect art to make sense. They accept the fact that life doesn’t make sense.” This quote by David Lynch might be the most appropriate retort to the usual reactions that Merzbow’s music elicits. Akita’s portion of Gensho consists of, quality-wise, very solid harsh noise and power electronics that have clearly been affected by his recent collaborations with free jazz and free improvisation masters (check out Cuts of Guilt, Cuts Deeper and Flying Basket). It’s almost accessible in form, with a sense of inner rhythm that emerges from the chaos (“Planet of the Cows”), yet it also delves very deep into abstractions and strident found sounds. Merzbow uses an interesting timbral palette on this release, not afraid to venture into realms of digital and white noise (“Goloka Pt.2”) and repeatedly reaching for caterwauling and shrill tones which he arranges into cogent structures and distorted, almost ambient pieces (“Prelude to a Broken Arm”). Still, Merzbow’s part of Gensho is the less accomplished one when observed as a solo work. It feels rushed and aimless at times and does not quite reach the heights of noise music championed by himself in the past and the likes of Prurient, Ramleh, Jason Lescalleet, or Kevin Drumm today. This omission might be explained by the record’s genesis and imposed restrictions: Merzbow conceived his work as a direct reaction and accompaniment to Boris’s songs.

Boris with Merzbow 2016

But everything falls into place and a powerful sonic presence is shaped once the two parts are played at the same time. The empty canvases in Boris’s tracks are filled with rich, seeping textures while Merzbow’s bedlam is further fleshed out and enveloped with compositional structure. Depending on the volume level one chooses for each part, wildly differing results can be attained.2 Merzbow’s loud noise might reduce Boris’s guitars to a whisper and produce a claustrophobic, distanced effect. Or Boris might assume the role of the dominant act accompanied by Merzbow’s noisy effects that emerge between deep, quivering riffs. While Gensho doesn’t quite come together as some of their earlier releases (Rock Dream), there are some synchronistic, harmonious moments (“Heavy Rain” + “Goloka Pt.2”) that are absolutely chilling, gorgeous, and rivaling anything that Boris with Merzbow had created in the past.

This record will be a hard sell for most traditional fans of metal music, but I’d still suggest to try and immerse yourself into this album. Abandon your prejudices and expectations. Let go. You might just find something beautiful.

Rating: Very Good
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Relapse Records
Websites: | | | |
Releases Worldwide: March 18th, 2016

Show 2 footnotes

  1. Mammothian is not a word, but it’s also a good adjective to use for that fucking opening sentence. What’s with guys who like drone and run on sentences? – AMG
  2. I found my personal sweet spot by lowering the volume of Merzbow’s part of the album by 4 dB.
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