Japan’s Boris are back yet again with a brand new recording in Dear, their latest output in an extremely long line of discs. But when you’ve done as much as Boris have, what really is there left to do at this point? The answer to that is simple, you just go back over some of your previous approaches and rework them a little for a sort of career retrospective – which is kind of what Dear is. Yes, they’re even going back to their early days of doom and harsh demonic vocals with pieces like the completely unexpected “Deadsong” which is no doubt going to appeal to Boris’s oldest fans. Though before we get into that, let’s talk about how Dear is different from most career retrospectives. The disc maintains a level of drone and doom atmosphere, never even so much as considering a higher tempo throughout it’s seventy minute playing time. So you’ll need to be in the right kind of mood for this one as it is quite a bit to chew on.
We begin with “Domination Of Waiting Noise (DOWN)” in which it seems that Boris might have taken some inspiration from the static frequencies that Merzbow worked with during the Gensho performances. The foreground features a passionate clean vocal and slight drone, while the background of the piece sounds like something we might expect to hear from the world of Ghost In The Shell. Perhaps this is what Boris might sound like in the year 2050. The already mentioned “Deadsong” comes next, with it’s share of atmosphere, angry guitars and a mixture of harsh vocals and whispers that eventually also lead their way into cleans. It seems obvious that Atsuo Mizuno has been leaning his way to the more common style of male vocal utilized in most J-rock for quite some time and needless to say, that isn’t the harsh vocal. This does not upset me however, as Mizuno’s crushing emotional nodes are what makes pieces like this one so viable – so meaningful, as it were. “Absolutego” comes next, and although it is titled the same as their single-track laden debut, this is a completely different song. It may be one of the only pieces here in which a sort of stoner/doom rock tempo is uttered, taking us away from atmosphere almost completely in favor of that old school fire. Yep, he’s still got it – even after all these years. Might as well mention that a nice solo section appears too, which is kind of rare for the band at this stage. It slows down, but it doesn’t lose any energy. “Beyond” takes a swan dive directly from that style, as Wata’s vocals become readily apparent in what feels like a sort of ethereal moment. It’s quite romantic (like only the very best Japanese ballads are) and does allow for slight appearances of raging guitar – though just enough to keep the piece interesting. It’s this kind of balancing act that keeps us entertained, even if we can’t understand the lyrics. All in all, it’s a very beautiful piece that continues to solidify the name Boris in my mind.
“Kagero” sounds like amp fuzz at first, yet slight melodies in the vocals work to add a little bit of sugar to what could normally be considered a mere drone piece. It’s this kind of magic that makes Boris special, and several acts have been in some way or another inspired by it even if they aren’t fully aware of that fact. The vocal approach here is comparable to glass, which almost works as it’s own instrument. “Biotope” continues this romance flair, following heavily into modern J-rock territory once again. Slight piano keys, a bit of atmospheric synth and melodic leads make-up what is to me, one of the best tracks on the album. Granted, it’s a bit saccharine but there’s nothing quite like this level of emotion in Japanese rock music. I don’t even mind that they’re emulating their peers at this point, because they’re adding so much more to the verse/chorus formula that results in so many forgettable numbers from said peers. To be honest, Boris could have gone the garage-punk/pop route (and they have before) that so many anime themes utilize these days and would’ve come up with something similar in simplicity, but it’s the addition of atmosphere and overall tempo reduction that make what is essentially a slowed-down J-rock piece, quite unique. Instrumental “The Power” brings on an atmosphere very similar to the beginning of the listen with it’s return to doom riffs, albeit little else. There are a few sections where a hint of a solo creeps in or perhaps some static finds it’s way into the background, but other than sounding like an ominous bout of crushing Candlemass inspired doom, we’re not getting anything truly notable here. It’s also a bit too long. “Memento Mori” seems to carry on directly after it however and it shows us that Boris did intend to do something more with those frightening doom riffs than what we got. The output is actually quite similar to Pallbearer, as Mizuno’s clean vocals accent the thick Sabbathy undertones quite beautifully. For metal fans, this is probably going to fall in line as one of your personal favorite tracks. Though it does sparkle a bit, it’s still quite thunderous and that’s what makes it stick. “Memento Mori” almost takes a sort of Devin Townsend approach to doom, where fluffy keyboard soundscapes soon begin to decorate the piece with a level of bombast that comes off brilliantly pretentious. Unfortunately, it goes out with a laugh (literally) and a whimper.
The final two pieces that we have are “Dystopia – Vanishing Point” and the title cut, which are both quite lengthy, as you might expect. These are both the longest pieces on the disc and have their own separate vibes, which again; you would expect from this kind of record. “Dystopia – Vanishing Point” begins with some sort of tribal fair or perhaps the sound of a train, I cannot discern which. But that fades quickly, as the song becomes something much different. It feels like a man singing in the shadows here, as if he is the only one still alive inside of what feels like a vast abyss. Throughout the listen, we have a hint of a static as well as a guitar solo that starts off on the wrong foot (in my opinion) and has a bit too many hangups, despite some very impressive sections. But for fans of raw and realistic sounding material, at least it feels like a man physically playing a difficult solo instead of a machine that gets every note perfect. Towards the end of the piece, it becomes quite “strange” and might very well be one of the most odd solo moments I’ve ever heard in my life and oh, yeah – it literally is something of a four to five minute guitar solo. The title cut itself is a bit different, as drone and doom intersect with the addition of what I would consider to be an angry, almost frantic vocal approach which feels like “melodic yelling” if such a thing could exist. Thick portions of doom break in amidst feedback to bring yet another raw and classic approach to Boris’s music, which has been there since the early days. In many places, Dear feels like that kind of album.
That being said, Dear seems to have a little something for everyone. Whether that is the slowed-down J-rock approach of “Biotope” or the crushing nodes of “Memento Mori” and the title track, these guys haven’t forgotten their roots amidst all of the experimentation offered on albums like Smile, Pink and Gensho. This might actually be the band at their heaviest and most abrasive in quite a while, so there’s something to look forward to if you’re missing old Boris. Despite the dark nature of the record, the band claim that it is lyrically full of positive messages for the future and have stated that they do believe there is hope for a better tomorrow after all. You may not get this impression after listening to certain songs on the album, but that seems to be the intention. Though it is not as interesting to me as Gensho, I would certainly not turn Dear down, especially if you’re looking for something more satisfying than the noise experiments of Asia, Urban Dance and Warpath. I’ve read only the most (we’ll call them “pleasant”) of reviews when it comes to those. Without a doubt, this is a much needed step in the right direction, and proof that Boris actually still care about their music after all these years.