There’s a reason why fans keep coming back to Boris again and again and again I can’t think of many other bands or musicians who have been active for over 20 years that have an audience that looks to their new music as much as Boris. Normally after even 10 or so years a lot of acts are just expected to play the hits and new albums are just excuses to make some tour money. While of course there are many exceptions to that rule, none really make the point that season veterans still have a lot to offer the world of sound and art as much as Atsuo, Takeshi, and Wata. Over their 23 years and 25 album span, which doesn’t even include all the collaborations and side releases and whatnot, the group’s released hard and heavy rock and roll albums, abrasive drone and noise metal releases, and even a couple forays into a more pop ‘Jrock’ sound. I adored the ‘Tears E.P.’ the group dropped earlier this year which I think is a great place to start if you don’t know where to begin with the iconic trio’s massive collection. Now, with ‘LφVE & EVφL’ their 25th mainline album, they’ve added a piece to their collection that really showcases how much they can do.
Before we get into the meat and potatoes of ‘LφVE & EVφL’, and believe me if I’m going to keep making tired food analogies this is one hearty stew, I want to comment a little about how this release marks a new level of international collaboration for the band. While Boris wouldn’t be called famous in either Japan or the west, they’ve definitely got sizable cult audiences on both sides of the pacific. I’d wager their overseas fan-base may be even bigger than their Japanese one as they’ve always been seen as part of the music nerd and underground metal nerd canons more than being Japanese music fanboy essential, although that’s begun to change. Earlier in their career, the band released a number of albums of the U.S. ran Sargent House who normally deals with Math Rock and Noise Rock releases. They’ve put their newest baby out on Third Man Records, owned and operated by the White Stripe’s Jack White; A man whose music has been featured in iPod commercials of past and currently is performing at a Bernie Sanders rally. This now makes Boris label-mates with The White Stripes, Beck, Willie Nelson, and Insane Clown Posse. If that’s not making it on the worldwide stage, I don’t know what is.
Now, a more foolish reviewer might say that ‘LφVE & EVφL’ packages a lot of sounds and styles Boris has done their hand at before, that’s its just repeat territory for the band. While on some technical level that’s not untrue, claiming that the group is just ‘doing what they’ve done before’ really overlooks how the album brings these styles together. Usually, Boris picks one or two genres for an album and runs it to its natural conclusion. ‘Feedbacker’ is all drone and post-metal, ‘Flood’ is mostly ambient-drone and post-rock, and heavy rocks is just dirty rock and roll from to start to finish. ‘LφVE & EVφL’ is definitely another drone territory album from the band but unlike the group’s 2017 return to form Dear, there’s a ton of variety in the seven songs here that all blur into a comprehensible and cumulative journey. A side note; Seven songs may not sound like a lot, but that album runs at over an hour. This is nothing new for Boris, as Flood, for example, is a four-track album that pushes past the 80-minute mark.
The opener on ‘LφVE & EVφL’ is a smooth little number called ‘Away From You’. It’s really a nice way to ease into the album because you’re not just immediately assaulted by booming, slow sweeps. Instead, you’re slowly cradled by angelic and ambient guitar as Atsuo lulls you with gentle vocal passages floating on top of the riffs. It gets a little louder, picking up just a bit more energy as it goes along letting you know you’re about to enter free-fall. ‘Coma’ is immediately louder and scarier, a song that continually embers into ash. A classic drone cut by the band, but it maintains a good sonic balance. It’s loud, dark, and reverby but never crosses the line into abrasive territory. Despite being heavy, there’s a softness to the tune that keeps it palatable. Textured and nuanced instead of just a wall of sound, there’s even some faint drawn-out vocals (or something that sounds similar to that) that really exemplify the beauty here.
‘EVOL’, one of the two title tracks, is a 16 and a half eclectic and constantly shifting alternative metal banger that’s a perfect example microcosm of what the album’s trying to do on the whole. The first three minutes of the track are as lively as the album gets. A smattering of the band’s rock and roll era, which never really sounded like classic rock but an ideal version of what conventional guitar wizardry could be. The drums are fast and all sorts of fuzzed-out vocals mingle in the introduction; it’s a real party. The commotion fades into a slower blaring riff that with the additions of vocals drums and later some otherworldly sonic bursts start building into this larger monster. At the halfway fully unfurls into what I can only call an anthemic slow post-metal jam. It’s gorgeous, a little over the top with some arena-sized riffs, and totally isn’t what you’d expect from the first three minutes of the thing. Across its 16:30 run time, I feel like you get a whole album’s experience in the one song.
‘uzume’ brings ‘LφVE & EVφL’ back into full drone and doom territory and this time, it is abrasive. It’s eight minutes of grinding rhythmic walls of guitar noise that make me feel like I’m being slowly picked apart by wolves. Some of the finer points of sound in the mix really do bring this cut to Boris & Merzbow territory so if you’re Boris at their most extreme at least seek this track out. The following song ‘Love’ also starts out with a grumbling drone riff but dresses it up as a full song with drums, additional instrumentation, and vocals. It’s a little ‘Feedbacker’y if you’ve heard that album which is a plus for me. More sludge than doom here but you wouldn’t call ‘Love’ upbeat. It’s haunting and grimy and questioning. No wonder the band went with it as their lead single. Dark, but one of the more accessible tracks here.
The 3 minute 40 second ‘In The Pain(T)’, likely not a Flocka reference, is a soft bit of ambient metal. Pretty, but really more of an interlude before ‘LφVE & EVφL’s grand finale. ‘Shadow Of Skull’ is a breathtaking culmination of everything that’s been happening on Boris’s 25th studio album. It starts with about a minute and a half of this singular thick molasses-like guitar lead before Atsuo shrieks and singing creep in from the ether. My man is just crooning over these raw sludge riffs like he’s peering off the edge of a cliff. Drums and an additional higher-pitched faster paced guitar line eventually come in. The vocals get louder in the mix, the drums hit heavier, the world starts to crumble around this song. The album ends with abandon. ‘Shadow Of Skull’ doesn’t end with an explosion, it’s deconstruction in slow motion. All that’s left is hypnotic feedback and noise.
From start to finish, ‘LφVE & EVφL’ is a cohesive album with vision and clear goals. Boris, at least I think, wanted to employ their drone and doom edge in a way that’s a little more approachable. The album reaches guttural territory more than once but it never indulges in it too long. There’s a lot of variety in the track flow so even the murkier cuts stay fresh and the more breathable, brighter sounds and moments really shine. ‘LφVE & EVφL’ has a nice ebb and flow to it that absolutely makes for a complete album experience. You’re only stewing in the muck long enough to enjoy it. Maybe being on a label with high visibility and Jack White’s name attached had led them creating something that, while not everyone could just pick up and listen to, those willing to sit down with those albums would able appreciate this dynamic experience even if they’re not typically into these heavier and slower sounds. You are going to need to dedicate a chunk of time alone in your bedroom to this thing, though. Hopefully, that’s not too big an ask.
This is Boris. A band that can soar above the sky and swoop down into the bowels of hell. The least cheesy metal band on the planet and one of the most consistent in any genre. No wonder Jack White decided to scoop these guys up these late in the game; They’re constantly creating and usually they unearth diamonds instead of dirt in the studio. Not just one of the greatest Japanese rock bands, but one of the greatest rock bands period. It’s not their best all-time record, being more of a jack of all trades than the detailed exploration of one sound, but I’ll say ‘LφVE & EVφL’ is a worthy addition to the Boris discography. I hope their partnership with Third Man Studios continues because who knows, these guys do love to collaborate and the potential of Boris mixing it up in the studio with the likes of Sleep, Sandy Alex G, or even Jack White himself could result in something incredible.
Courtesy of Boris and Third Man Records, ‘LφVE & EVφL’ is out now.