Friday, January 30, 2009

Boris. Pink (Southern Lord, 2005)

"Agonizing noises are now put in a line."

Prolific Japanese garage-drone maestros Boris specialize in high-volume, paint-peeling noise, handcrafted using Gibson humbuckers and towering stacks of Orange, Sunn, and Ampeg amps cranked to 12. Theirs is a heavy '70s stoner sound tinged with punk, worshiping at the altar of droptuned pioneers like Sabbath and Blue Cheer but borrowing from the blitzkrieg rhythms of Black Flag, exulting in mammoth riffs and bruising tempos, cranky and belligerent.

And exceptionally pulse-quickening, especially on an album as masterful as 2005's Pink, which manages to expertly blend the trio's more avant-garde and experimental impulses with a hook-heavy, Motorhead-huffing, amphetamine-fueled metal attack.

Boris (who, in a nod to their influences, take their name from a track off of the mighty Melvins' 1991 doom touchstone Bullhead) have been around for a while, going through several lineup changes since releasing their 1996 debut LP Absolutego on their own (very metal monikered) Fangs Anal Satan label. In the decade-plus since, these dudes have put out a ton of records and collaborated with loads of folks (Sunn0))), Merzbow), never staying in one place stylistically too long, alternating between highly theoretical, nearly ambient noise-smithery, stoner/doom in the Kyuss-Sleep-Queens of the Stone Age mold, and blistering hardcore.

The fact is, Boris have serious chops, and as long as it's loud, they own it. In fact, it's safe to say that Boris have a significant piece of the loud market cornered.

Pink is one of Boris's most accessible records, incorporating undeniable melodies and infectious riffs into the usual maelstrom of swirling sonic chaos (and
2008's Smile is great for the same reasons). It's a punishing listen, but in the best way. The drums and bass (provided by Atsua and Takeshi, respectively -- Takeshi also handles the vocals, but don't bother trying to decipher them, 'cuz they're buried in the mix and sung in Japanese) stay locked in the pocket regardless of the insanity guitarist Wata gets up to, which keeps the music from drifting inexorably into boring. Each of the eleven tracks here is a tune -- some lumbering, most rushing -- more than capable of holding your attention.

The LP starts off with the leviathan Farewell, a down-tempo beast which takes its own sweet time building but delivers a huge payoff. As the guitars gently echo and sway in the first minute, the drums slowly, menacingly pick up force and form. At 1:18, Boris bring it, unleashing primal ruckus, cymbals crashing, snares snarling, chords washing. The song uses volume as an instrument in itself, reveling in decibels but keeping one foot squarely in the tuneful. The simple melody is beautiful, majestic, breath-robbing. A tour-de-awesome, and nearly reason alone to buy the album.

But the fun doesn't stop there. While there are several more monolitihic drone fests here (see the terrifying "Blackout," especially) Pink is jam-packed with rockers, as well. The title track uses a sweet palm-muted thrash riff as its centerpiece, the rhythm section sprinting ahead in a mad dash, punctuating the guitar stabs with their own overdriven flourishes. Mid-tempo masterpiece Afterburner takes a lazily funky, staggering drum part -- with some half-hearted handclaps thrown in for good measure -- and lays the groundwork for some furious face-melting, acid-blues in a bad mood. And Electric smacks you in the face repeatedly, the high-voltage arpeggios gorgeously distorted, the rhythms ponderously nimble.

Boris are masters of their craft. And their craft is punishing volume employed in the pursuit of threatening, angry rock'n'roll. Next time you want a break from saccharine pop/rock, tune into Pink and give your ears a spanking. Your ears will like it.