Amps To Eleven 

Shape-shifting Boris Mixes It All Up

Japanese power trio Borishas captivated hipsters and headbangers alike for several years now. The metal cultists have been onto them since 1996's Absolutego and 1998's Amplifier Worship, while the skinny-jeans set climbed on board the Boris bus with 2003's Akuma No Uta (with its cover art paying tribute to Nick Drake's Bryter Layter) and/or 2006's Pink. The band's sound changes from album to album, though high volume is a constant. Pink offered a heaping dose of distortorama garage-rock ˆ la Mudhoney, while Amplifier Worship was a slow, skull-crushing exercise in stoner doom and Absolutego was a single rumbling 70-minute drone-metal track (with one bonus song on the U.S. version). They've also collaborated with Sunn 0))) and Merzbow, among others.

The sheer size of the Boris discography is quite astonishing. In addition to their "major" albums, they've released a slew of limited-edition vinyl-only items like the punky Vein, a trilogy of EPs under the name the Thing Which Solomon Overlooked and the soundtrack to the film Mabuta No Ura (of which there are four different versions, two Japanese and two Brazilian, each with different artwork and packaging, and somewhat varied track listings). They seem to stop recording just long enough to run down to the pressing plant or go on tour.

"I'd rather keep working, since I always feel bored and am looking for stimulations," admits the band's drummer and lead vocalist, Atsuo, through a translator, "though I am getting bored with new stimulations quickly. I [feel like I] just repeat myself." He confesses that the band's productivity can occasionally become problematic. When asked if there are some songs he wishes had received a higher-profile release, rather than being tucked away on a limited-to-600-copies, sold-out-instantaneously cult item, he admits that "we have had a bunch of materials." Almost regretfully, he says, "We never consider anything before recording sessions how we put it out or what is the best format for that song."

The band's latest album, Smile, is simultaneously an apotheosis of its maturing sound and a perfect example of its philosophy regarding releases - the U.S. and Japanese versions offer not only unique cover art but totally different versions of the disc's eight tracks, including some title changes. But the songs retain enough melody and power across both versions to have earned rave reviews across the critical spectrum, and Boris' shows have gotten correspondingly bigger and more enthusiastically attended with every visit they make to U.S. shores.

It helps that their live shows are awesome. The two players up front - petite female guitarist Wata and bassist Takeshi - work away impassively at their instruments, cranking out thunderous riffs and waves of distortion. Ironically, it's Atsuo who's the biggest showman of the group, slamming his kit like an Asian version of Grand Funk Railroad's Don Brewer - raising his arms high, standing up to incite the crowd, bashing away at a huge gong. "For me, those two ideas are totally different," he says. "I am not so interested in 'OK' or 'cool things' in typical rock music methodology. On the other hand, clichés like exaggerated gestures or hitting the gong are far from 'cool things' these days, so I am thinking those behaviors are OK for me."


More by Phil Freeman


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