Boris Connects Pandemic-Torn World With Subversive Metal on Latest Album ‘No’

The latest album from Tokyo-based experimental rock band Boris is simply titled NO, a word that sums up the ethos of the metal aesthetic that pervades it, as well as the sentiments behind the songs. With the coronavirus pandemic leading members Takeshi, Wata, and Atsuo to question everything about their culture, they decided to create an album dedicated to the theme of skepticism and societal subversion, and independently released it via Bandcamp earlier this month.

“We’d observe the different events, news, people’s words, actions,” Takeshi told Audiofemme through translator Kasumi Billington. “Those directly impacted us. In these kinds of critical situations, culture always loses power and is even left behind. What can we do as artists? What do we do? What kind of music can be played in any situation, and can be delivered? The production proceeded as we questioned these types of doubts.”

The word “no” is meant to express rejection of the societal mores and ideals one grows up with — an idea expressed in the song “Non Blood Lore,” a term the band created for mythologies and ideologies stemming from wider culture rather than family.

“We’re always slaves to our unconscious,” Takeshi explains. “We accept what we see and hear without questioning, we interpret things conveniently, and we become paralyzed by unreasonable things. We eventually forget what it means, and even forget how to think. It’s an abominable system. We unconsciously decide everything and follow it. The first step to getting free will is to deny your unconscious thoughts. We point with NO toward that system: ‘What did I feel? Did I think this myself? Did I choose to, and take action myself?’ We get to live by questioning and denying yourself first.”

The need to think for oneself is even more important in today’s political climate, where people are bombarded with information and ideas online and in the media, he adds. “People are chased by various anxieties, fear, doubts, and hatred, turning into chaos. In that situation, rather than blindly following the information, we need to think and judge for ourselves. The answer is not given; you must derive your own.”

This is why the band decided not to publish the lyrics for NO. “Our work doesn’t give answers to the listeners, but we’d rather it become material such as values and aesthetic sense that guides you to the answer,” says Takeshi.

The 11-track collection includes a variety of experimental sounds falling within multiple genres. The opening track, “Genesis,” exudes a doom metal style, with strong, ominous, sometimes discordant guitar riffs and drums that repeat and gradually speed up. Other songs on the LP, like “Anti-Gone,” “Non Blood Lore,” and “Temple of Hatred,” follow more of a punk aesthetic, with dramatic guitar and shouting vocals. “Lust” spotlights the band’s use of electronic effects, with almost drowned-out vocals.

Boris also recorded a cover of Japanese hardcore punk band Gudon’s “Fundamental Error” after the band’s ex-bassist Guy came to a show of theirs in Hiroshima. This was exciting for Takeshi, as Outo was a favorite hardcore punk band of his as a teen.

Finally, the album closes with “Interlude,” where Wata almost whispers against dark, mellow synths and slow-paced cymbals. The track’s title suggests that the end of NO is merely a transition into more music to come.

Based on the band’s history, there very likely is. Boris has been releasing music since 1996, and NO marks their 27th album, not counting albums recorded in collaboration with others, which include Japanese noise artist Merzbow, Seattle black metal duo Sunn O))), The Cult frontman Ian Astbury, and Japanese noise metal band Endon. Currently, Takeshi plays guitar and bass, Wata does guitar and Echo, Atsuo is in charge of percussion and electronics, and all three contribute vocals.

Despite its message of rebellion and resistance, NO is ultimately intended to unite a world that’s physically divided. Takeshi hopes it can help people make something good out of the negativity currently in the atmosphere and validate people’s emotions, the way hardcore and thrash metal did for him when he was younger.

“In this current messed up world, people have sunk in hatred and sorrow,” he says. “We hope that for those who listen to this album, their negative feelings reflect like a mirror, and reflect in another direction into something positive. That’s the possibility that extreme music has.”

It sounds heady, but the band practices what they preach. With their planned two-month U.S. tour canceled, Boris is in the process of recording about four albums’ worth of music at the moment – a positive, healing process born of a negative situation. “All we can do is create,” says Takeshi. “Artists must all be in a similar situation. We’re hoping that from this adversity, we can create great music.”

Follow Boris on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for ongoing updates.

PLAYING DETROIT: CryFace Encapsulates Coming of Age Anxiety on ‘Smart Kids’

Okay, so they’re not technically from Detroit, but the four-piece garage-psych rock outfit from Blissfield, Michigan is definitely worth a listen. Growing up in a town with a population just over 3,000, Brothers Ian (guitar/vocals) and Daniel Cotter (drums/vocals) bonded with Levi Makula (guitar/vocals) and Echo Goff (bass) over their love of ‘70s and experimental music that wasn’t necessarily abundant in Blissfield. The collaboration resulted in a unique and prolific collective they titled CryFace. Smart Kids, the band’s third full-length release since forming in 2014, is a gorgeous and guttural meditation on political and personal anxiety, written by a group of early twenty-year-olds that are wise beyond their years. This is not your average coming of age album.

“I was thinking about what the current social climate does on a personal level,” Ian Cotter says,  “and filtering it through personal anxieties but trying not to lose sight of the broader picture.” Cotter does not tip-toe around his critique of his political surroundings in the album’s title track, starting the song with the lyrics “Nazi scum surround me / But honey / It’s only our Geography.” Set to peppy guitar strums and Ian’s angelic high register, the song possesses a sinister facade of optimism, kind of like smiling at a funeral.

The record doesn’t always stay in the upbeat, psychedelic realm but seamlessly traverses through mood and genre. The fluctuation in sound likely comes from the band’s unique approach to songwriting – both Cotter brothers and Makula all wrote songs and sing on the record. There is no “frontman” or “director,” which is part of what makes the group’s catalog so versatile. The band says they pull inspiration from artists like Leonard Cohen, Talking Heads, and David Bowie. The most glaring Talking Heads reference is in “Lost in the Swell,” a disorienting incantation about mental health with unmistakable Byrne influence in the vocals.

The band’s collective anxiety expressed throughout the album seems heavy for a group whose oldest member is 23-years-old. If anything, it’s a sign of the times, a reflection of a generation characterized by uncertainty and political extremes. “A lot of these songs were written in the midst of this insane world we’re living in,” says Daniel. “I think there’s a definite theme of political anxiety and a fear for the future.” Pulling from an array of monumental musical influences, CryFace captures a present moment with tools from the past. Listen to Smart Kids below.

VIDEO OF THE WEEK: Car Seat Headrest “Vincent”


The video description for Car Seat Headrest‘s “Vincent” is simply: “Will plays the guitar while a guy has a bad time.” That’s about as concise as anyone could get, but the song is layered with a lot more meaning, imagery and emotion. It looks like Will Toledo, the creator and frontman of Car Seat Headrest, has given detailed explanations of the song’s lyrics online, but in the context of the official video, the words tell a story about how and why one drink can turn into way too many.

Scenes switch between a house party where Toledo performs and the apartment of “Vincent”‘s main character, a guy who looks like he’s been working in an office all day. It’s not clear if the party is something he’s trying to relive, or just in his own head. As the song begins with long, deliberate strums of distorted guitar, he pours himself a drink in his empty house. He looks sad when he’s sober, and Toledo repeats, “Half the time, I want to go home.” Then the booze kicks in, and so does the music: There’s the long, drawn-out static of guitar feedback, restless drums, and the sadly serious vocals of Toledo immersed in it all. Horns swirl around his voice when he chants, “It must be hard to speak in a foreign language/Intoxicado, intoxicado.” The band knows how to pull back and surge ahead at the right moments, and does so frequently, never settling until “Vincent” is over. It’s chaotic and messy, and embodies the video’s character as he loses restraint and gets completely wasted. At one point he unpacks a suitcase that’s filled only with liquor, a clear metaphor about replacing emotional baggage with booze.

Though the video is pretty dark, there are moments of subtle humor, like when the main character drunkenly cuddles a cat or when Toledo refers to playing a guitar as “holding a noise machine.” The video ends with the guy stripping down to his underwear and staggering to Toledo’s microphone as the crowd looks on, disgusted. If this last scene accompanied a different song, it might have comedic potential. But, instead of relieving the tension by making it a laughable moment, “Vincent” reaches for something that’s uncomfortable, but better.

Drink responsibly, kids.