BORIS: HEAVY ROCKS (2002)
1) Heavy Friends; 2) Korosu; 3) Dyna-Soar; 4) Wareruraido; 5) Soft Edge; 6) Rattlesnake; 7) Death Valley; 8) Koei; 9) Kane – The Bell Tower Of A Sign; 10) 1970.
For this album, Boris tried out a different approach — the tracks are significantly shorter than they used to be, and they are really separate compositions, not just movements in a single suite. You could probably say that this is their first «song-based» album, except the word «song» has to find itself a separate meaning in the dictionary when you use it in the same noun phrase as «Boris». Something like «mini-eruption» would probably be a better term anyway.
Many people will find this change refreshing, and the album as a whole easier to tolerate; however, I cannot get rid of the feeling that by temporarily sacrificing their major gimmick, the band has pretty much traded away their identity. The awesome guitar tones remain, but Boris did not invent these tones; what they did invent, or at least promote with more ardor than most, was that crushing slowness — the meticulously planned and executed, gradullay unveiling, but relentless and brutal sonic onslaught. Here, not only are these tracks short, but they are also frequently taken at fast tempos (not exactly speed metal tempos, but, well, compared to Absolutego, every other heavy composition is speed metal in comparison).
And it does not work too well. The band's rhythmic base is solid as usual, and Wata's technique is commendable, but way too often, it sounds now... well, just like heavy metal (or «stoner rock», whatever the label is). The Black Sabbath influence is inescapable even on the compositional level (ʽDeath Valleyʼ, for instance, directly quotes from the opening riff of ʽParanoidʼ), and even those tracks that do not sound explicitly like Sabbath tributes still sound like a couple dozen other heavy bands from the 1970s or from the «stoner» 1990s. That would not be too much trouble, of course, provided the band members demonstrated their capacity of putting out great riffs. Which capacity is quite debatable.
Regardless of the tempo or tonality, all these sludgy vamps leave behind is... a trail of sludge, all right. The feeling of heaviness is admirable, yet beyond this feeling lies nothing of particular interest or value beyond the same old retro-blues-rock chord changes, loyally downtuned and fattened with extra feedback, bashing drums, and screechy Japanese vocals from Takeshi, Atsuo, and a few wandering guests — not much, really, that wasn't already well explored by Sabbath, Mountain, Budgie, Rush, or Queen a quarter century ago. Not a single riff that would sound fresh and exciting to these jaded ears.
There is exactly one track here that I would not mind hearing again — the eight-minute quasi-epic ʽKaneʼ (ʽBellʼ). There are no actual bells on the track, and, in fact, it starts out in the same lacklustre manner as everything else (that is, sounding like a set of sub-Sabbath variations), but somewhere around the fourth minute they hit upon a mind-numbingly repetitive «cosmic» groove, just banging out a basic three-note bass riff while adjacent guitars are imitating the sounds of planetary spins. It is short, but it is only during these moments that I remind myself that Boris, above all else, are a «psychedelic» band, and that their main goal is to do something weird and kinky to your mind, not to prove to the world that they can come up with a better riff than Tony Iommi at his worst (which they cannot anyway).
Although I like solid heavy metal as much as the next solid heavy metal fan, and I like the general sound of the record — that's not nearly enough for a recommendation. If these are songs, they need to be better shaped and more original — I think I'd rather take even such flamboyantly open imitators as Black Mountain over this any day. If they are «mood pieces», they take too little time to set any particular mood. And if they are «tributes» (as the Sabbath quotations and titles like ʽ1970ʼ might suggest), then Heavy Rocks should simply count as a «tribute album», not pretending or amounting to much by its very definition.