Review Summary: Stones of weight 
Earlier this year, Boris dropped a grab bag of somnambulant throwaways entitled W
and no-one was quite sure what to make of it. It’s settled as a curio in a discography peppered with loose odds and ends, orbited by a recurring set of Difficult Questions: who are Boris (Japanese power trio), who have Boris been (any music performable with an electric guitar, and then some), and who are Boris now (Heavy Rocks
For newcomers or those looking for a further re-introduction, uh, okay! Everyone else, skip to paragraph #3. Boris made their name with a panchromatic spread of drone, sludge and stoner metals in the ‘00s, almost all of which should be considered essential to anyone halfway serious about dynamics, guitar tones and/or attention spans. Their body of work is famously mazelike: not only do they have an inordinate amount of LPs and collaborations, the exact order of priority for which varies wildly according to whom you ask, but many of these come in a slew of format- or region- specific versions with contrasting mixes, tracklists or even arrangements of individual songs. It’s a joy to dig into, but the entry barrier is obvious: even if you reduce it to a cheat sheet, the ins and outs are overwhelming (get your Pink
from the vinyl version, your Dronevil
from a dual-mix of the final rerelease, your New Album
with “Luna” as an unofficial bonus track, avoid the U.S. edition of Smile
like the plague etcetc.). It’s a rough gig recommending bands that come with a hundred-page consumer’s manual, even if they are every inch worth it.
Fortunately, we can leave all that baggage at the door for Heavy Rocks (2022)
, the gang’s latest. This record is easily solid enough both to stand as a recent career landmark and to offer a viable entry point even to the most inexperienced listeners (a stark contrast with W
). Though an apparent successor to the series established by the legendary Heavy Rocks (2002)
and rebooted with the pick-n-mix Heavy Rocks (2011)
, it shares no material with either of these and demands zero wider familiarity. No need to overthink: all three rock, all three are heavy.
As per the leopard-print raiment of its artwork, Heavy Rocks (2022)
’s particular brand of heavy rockiness is flash, camp, periodically silly and situationally perfect. It’s arguably the grittiest in the series, all sawdust and snarl in a way that recalls NO
(2020)’s hard-eyed stare and backs it up with a ghoulish rictus. Many of these tracks veer off into chaos and merriment (opener “She is burning” is the barnstormer to beat this year), but the coarse edge here feels like a greater constant than such adrenaline highs. It’s there in the decidedly throaty vocal performances, the fiery exchange of guitar leads, and the frankly irresponsible degree to which the mix privileges the trio’s amp cabinet. This Heavy Rocks
plays like sandpaper.
Boris fare surprisingly well when it affords this energy a more abstract space to flex: “blah blah blah” and “Nosferatou” are both superbly placed haymakers that drop the tempo through the floor and usher in guest saxophone to go full banshee on their respective foundations of noise rock and doom. There’s a volatility to individual song structures here, and the liberties the band take in dynamiting hooky rockers such as “Cramper” and “Question 1” the moment they’ve established a verse/chorus motion is the stuff shit-eating grins are made of. Add to that the band’s rawest production since Smile
(the superior edition, if you’ve been following), and you’ve got a live wire appeal whose thrills largely vindicate its spills. Hunky dory.
Take that largely
with a pinch of salt. Heavy Rocks (2022)
’s momentum is enough to sweep rough edges under the carpet, as per the mix and the decision to fade out on the otherwise excellent “My name is blank” just as it hits its peak, but there are a couple of stern questions marks to be levelled here. Unfortunately, they uniformly fall towards the record’s tailend: “Ghostly Imagination”’s foray into digital hardcore is at best a spirited misfire, whereas the distantly experimental bunk of a closer “(not) Last Song” is a straightforward drag, all languorous sustained piano without a nugget of substance in sight. It’s a shame; Heavy Rocks (2022)
toes the line between an outright knockout and a patchy late career highlight, but the latter side has the edge if a firm call is to be made. There’s greatness all over this thing, and the way in which Boris stop just
short of seeing the whole thing off in style can’t help but scan as unnecessary and frustrating. Did Heavy Rocks (2022)
need to be a triumph for rambunctious heavy rocking glory at the minor but palpable expense of quality control? Bah. Shou ga nai; Boris is Boris. See you around for Heavy Rocks (2031)