Prolific Japanese band Boris have become an institution unto themselves in the juncture of a multitude of musical genres. Commonly classified as ‘underground’ or ‘experimental’ — for lack of better classification, the legendary trio of Atsuo, Wata and Takeshi have solidified their position as masters of their craft and one of the most accomplished musical acts to grace an ever-growing list of genres; from doom metal, stoner metal, shoegaze and noise to drone, ambient and post-rock. So their latest release, “Dear”, follows very much the formula which made them successful and endeared them to the ears of their largely western following.
Being a band that’s always been adamant in pushing the envelope through their twenty-five year run, touring and collaborating with a plethora of similarly underground acts, their recent releases have ventured to experiment even further; from dabbling in dream-pop (2011’s ‘Attention Please’) to writing the ending theme to the cyberpunk-inspired 2015 action anime “Ninja Slayer”. And while Boris’ most well-known album “Pink” feels more like a hodgepodge of the band’s stylistic repertoire, “Dear” appears to be an odd chimera of the band’s historical output. Following, in part, the vein of earlier, more palatable releases such as “Akuma No Uta” and “Heavy Rocks”; pigeonholed structurally in the camp of the uppercase “BORIS”, of a rock-album release consisting of roughly four-to-ten minute tracks, yet derives heavily in a stylistic sense from the lowercase “boris” releases like that of “Dronevil” or “Feedbacker”, having a more experimental, more drone-doom and noise bent to the album. “Dear”, being a release reportedly composed as an homage to their twenty-fifth anniversary, the work bears with it the quality of a well-aged, well-refined version of “Akuma No Uta”, light-years ahead in the evolution of Boris’ sound, showing clearly just how much the band has matured from their classical releases.
Listening to “Dear”, one gets the sense that Boris is attempting to accomplish with their doom and sludge work what “Soundtrack from Film ‘Mabuta No Ura’” had done for their ambient and psychedelic work, released over twelve years prior. That is, composing a full-album gallery which brilliantly showcases a particular side of the multi-faceted band’s musical itinerary. There are two different versions of this album; an international edition released by Sargeant House with a tracklist of ten songs running at 69 minutes, 6 seconds, and a two-disc ‘deluxe’ Japanese edition released under Daymare Recordings which features the full-length album plus a second disc of three additional songs. In either case, the album reveals an unbelievable aural experience from beginning to end. Running down the tracklist, we witness an unravelling of what makes Borislegends unto their peers. Wrapped in dissonant walls of drone, the cathartic tempo of doom metal, and strings of noise reminiscent of their frequent collaborator, noise artist Merzbow, one can tell that Boris crafted this work truly as an ode to the musical styles and influences that they know, and love, the most.
The first half of the album greets the listener to Boris’ characteristic sound. A delicately crafted cacophony; from “D.O.W.N — Domination of Waiting Noise-” to an aptly titled “Absolutego”, a nod to one of their earlier legendary works, we begin to work our way through the thicket. Welcomed by Wata’s soft voice on “Beyond”, we are taken from a dream-like soundscape indicative of “Flood” to a descent guided by Atsuo’s wails. From the droning backdrop of “Kagerou”, we find calm in the storm in “Biotope”; a soft tune harkening to their recent dabbling in dream-pop, yet still retaining the album’s characteristic dissonance. Here, we begin a drama in three parts; “The Power”, a work of pure drone-doom like that of Pink’s “Blackout”, fades into “Memento Mori”, from drone-doom to doom metal. With a haunting ending, the triad concludes with “Dystopia — Vanishing Point”, eleven minutes that serve as a summation of Boris’ experimental artistry, with various pathways exploring ambient noise, a soft ballad, and blues rock reminiscent of “Feedbacker”. With an abrupt end, the album proper concludes with the titular track, “Dear”, returning to the unadulterated cacophony of pure doom metal emblematic of the release in total.
While undoubtedly a well-refined work fit for a twenty-five year anniversary album, several pitfalls can be highlighted here which takes away from what otherwise would’ve been a flawless work on Boris’ part, though the dedicated fan may well overlook them. Seemingly awkward transitions between one or two songs, the lack of the full two-disc track list for the international edition, not enough of the soft sound seen in “Biotope” interspersed through the tracks. All of which are largely forgivable and boils down to listener pet-peeve. In the end, Boris’ “Dear” is a work which endears itself to its audience. For the seasoned listener of Boris’ catalogue, “Dear” will hold a dear place in the band’s discography. For newcomers to the band, “Dear” is a perfect preview to Boris’ extensive drone and doom-metal directory, and for the trio of Atsuo, Wata and Takeshi, “Dear” is a beautifully worded love letter to a quarter-century career.