Review Summary: Although enjoyable, BXI is a worrying sign that Boris' creativity may be waning.
Last month Southern Lord re-issued Boris’ first two albums, Absolutego and Amplifier Worship, roughly ten years after their original releases. The Japanese group have come a long way since those early records, primal lessons in droning heaviness that went some way towards defining the next ten years of avant-metal. However, few would have foreseen the path Boris were to take. Their latest effort is a four-track EP with Ian Astbury, former front-man of The Cult and The Doors (after Jim Morrison). While collaborations are not new to Boris’ catalogue - releases with Merzbow, Keiji Haino, Michio Kurihara and Sunn O))) left no doubt that Boris were always at the forefront of experimental rock - Astbury represents a new breed with considerable mainstream appeal.
Of course, times have changed for Boris. Since 2005s surprise indie-crossover Pink, which married the band’s momentous doom with My Bloody Valentine-esque shoegaze, their sound has moved into increasingly accessible territory. Perhaps seeking greater success in the West, 2008s Smile was issued in two formats with contrasting intentions; where the Japanese release was a feast of psychedelic freak-outs, its American equivalent re-worked the production towards a hard-rock sound. Whispers of “selling-out” began and didn’t stop anytime soon. 2009 saw a string of 7” singles featuring throwbacks to 80s thrash/hair metal, and while the concept was delightfully tongue-in-cheek, the results were varied at best. As if enticing their critics further, the band released a “Greatest Hits” compilation earlier this year.
Considering Astbury’s past, BXI may be a further realisation of the band’s interest in 80s metal. The premise is straightforward – Boris play the riffs, Astbury howls over them – and it just about works. Opener ‘Teeth and Claws’ suggests these two were destined to work together - Boris punch out some mountainous riffs and Astbury’s voice sounds as good as ever. However, despite this early promise it soon becomes clear that neither artist is challenging themselves. ‘We are Witches’ finds Boris presenting the same plodding riffs they’ve been playing for the last five years, while Astbury draws on the same metal clichés (magic, animals, the forest) he’s been singing for the past twenty. The only time the band cut loose is on a cover of The Cult’s ‘Rain’ where Astbury steps aside for Wata to take control of vocals. The female guitarist adds a delicate touch of dream-pop to the swirling fuzz before unleashing a screeching solo worthy of Feedbacker.
Boris must be respected for constantly trying new things and fans of Astbury’s voice and lyrical vision will find much to enjoy here. However, it’s been nearly two years since a full-length Boris release, and for a band that were once so prolific and consistently challenging, BXI is a worrying sign that their creativity may be waning.
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