Another six months, another Boris album, or so it seems. Since late 2005, we’ve had collaborations with sunnO))), Merzbow and Michio Kurihara, as well as the Japanese version of Pink, the western version of that album, two separate releases of Vein (one fast and hardcore, the other slow and droney), Dronevil Final, split releases with Stupid Babies Go Mad and Doomriders, solo albums and now this. And two singles from the album, one with an entirely different take on the main song. And an alternate mix of the album is due out from Southern Lord before too long.
For now, though, we deal with the Japanese release of Smile; specifically the super-posh double vinyl set put out by Disk Union in scandalously low numbers. The packaging itself is cardboard of a decent heft; the records reassuringly non-freakishly designed. Well-pressed black vinyl is becoming a rarity in the metal scene.
This one starts slowly. Very slowly. Almost too slowly, in fact, as a calm glow at the hypnotic intro subsides in favour of mild irritation. Is it going to kick in at some point? When it finally does, the melody suggests a recent Head Of David binge (a relief in the face of Jesu overload), and the lack of a shrill, forward ‘rock’ sound is a massive relief.
The album initially echoes the CD release of Pink, slightly strung out opener being followed by a super-distorted freakout in the shape of ‘BUZZ-IN’. it ends so abruptly you suspect editing issues, but that’s largely moot as ‘放て!’ is noisier and even more disjointed. Pleasant surprise #1: When the songs electronic heartbeat subsides into acoustic melancholy.
This is followed by the kind of retro rock one expects Boris to be serving up, though it’s hard to pinpoint when exactly they have done a song sounding this much like Ghost. Given that this, ‘Flower, Sun, Rain’, is actually a cover of a song by 70s rockers Pyg, we’ll let them off. Things really start to heat up on track five, ‘となりのサターン’ (‘Next Saturn’ apparently, though it’s ‘My Neighbor Satan’ on the US release). The drums are buried under some rubble somewhere after a giant xylophone ravaged Tokyo; Takeshi sings a pained tribute to his lost drummer, before Atsuo uses the power of a Super Drum Fill to blast out from under and the band is reunited in the most frenetic bout of rocking yet. Not sure how my narrative explains the next Fill sending them back underground, but Boris moves in mysterious ways. The Fill returns to signal another, more psychedelic, portion. It’s like a Dragonball Z saga expressed musically in five minutes.
As with both Pink and Akuma no Uta, the body of the album is garage rock fed on BALCO sports nutrition rather than speed and whiskey. In truth it can get a bit much-of-a-muchness, especially when you know what the band can do when they really get the creative juices flowing. The other highlight of the album, as with the recent Genghis Tron album, is the extra, side-long mind-melter. Like Tron, this anomaly exemplifies both what the band can do with all cylinders firing, and what is so frustrating about nearly every one of their albums: it’s so very nearly amazing. Each release gets greeted as their best by someone, but their real classic – which we know is in them – is yet to reveal itself. Still, 君は傘をさしていた’ (’You Put Up Your Umbrella’ – how’s that for some awesomely Xinlisupreme nomenclature) is a fantastic piece of work too.
In the hierarchy, then: better than Akuma no Uta and Heavy Rocks, on a similar level to Pink and Amplifier Worship. Not better than Flood and nowhere near the greatness of Altar. But that’s cheating.