Boris’ “W”: A Lullaby for the Apocalypse (Review & New Video)
Unsurprisingly for any who follow the band, the mighty Boris has stayed busy during COVID. Their new LP W (out Friday via Sacred Bones -- get it on limited color vinyl) is their 24th release since the pandemic began, per Metal Archives. Among their many splits and singles in that time, including a Christmas album that saw Boris cover Wham!’s Last Christmas, the band put out a titanic, sludgy LP, NO, perhaps their heaviest since Pink.
W is not that—Boris is hardly a band that falls prey to inertia. Nor is W intended 100% as a standalone LP. The band has presented it as a companion piece to NO that counterbalances the latter’s sludge-punk fury. On first blush, it’s more Brian Eno than Motörhead, more New Album than Heavy Rocks. Let’s be clear, though: whatever its textures, W is heavy. Heavy as a weighted blanket. Heavy as a foot of snow after a blizzard. Heavy as grief and healing.
Together, NO and W make NOW. The band has aimed to create a “a continuous circle of harshness and healing" with the two records, “one that seems more relevant now than ever and shows the band operating at an apex of their musical career." It’s clear the band has put some thought into this process. This isn’t their first time pairing walls of sound with uptempo immediacy (cf. “Farewell" and the rest of Pink).
There are many traces of the ways W complements NO. The penultimate “You Will Know" is a massive, sludgy track akin to NO opener “Genesis." In this way, W can almost be read as an inverted NO, which wraps with the only song to heavily feature Wata on that record, namely “Interlude." “Beyond Good and Evil" is another liminal piece of W—we’ve got a new haunting video below for it. On the album, unlike in the video, this track ends with an ominous metal breakdown after three minutes of sickly, unsteady guitar and vocals that verge on whispering.
Here's a new video for "Beyond Good and Evil," off of W:
One wishes for a way to splice these records for maximum effect. It would be fully in character for Boris to release NOW as a unit—perhaps remastered or tinkered with—in the coming years, but even on its own, W is a testament to Boris’s ability to explore the full emotional spectrum without losing the qualities that make them Boris. Tracks like “Old Projector" are rugged and beautiful, the drums more adornment than guiding rhythm. Great waves of reverb and crashes from a gong seem to echo for miles behind. Takeshi’s bass sounds almost like whalesong. Guitarist Wata’s spare croons guide the listener through the torrents of sound, reassuring the listener that this chaos is natural.
Wata handles almost the entirety of vocals on W. In contrast to Takeshi and Atsuo, who handle the band’s more exuberant and harsh vocals in addition to bass/guitar and drums, respectively, Wata’s voice is ethereal, hypnotizing. Her singing on records like Attention Please saw Boris expand into pop territory, but W is almost antipop, resisting rigid song structures and using Wata’s delicate soprano as a Stygian call from the beyond. Her voice at once haunts and reassures. On tracks such as “Drowning by Numbers," it’s ominous in its airiness and calm; on tracks such as “The Fallen" it feels almost liturgical.
W’s shoegazier qualities here sit somewhere between binaural beats and drone metal. If this record was intended as pure catharsis, it has arguably not succeeded given the sheer weight of sound. Opener “I Want to Go to the Side Where You Can Touch…" would doubtless be ear-splitting in a live setting (Boris is the second-loudest live act I’ve ever seen, coming in just a half-notch below UK bass titan The Bug). However, much as drone metal forces the audience into a sometimes-literal prone state of genuflection, W’s heaviness is in service of feeling. This LP is full of distilled moods. Much like even a good day in the year 2022 is undercut with weariness and anxiety, these songs have a thread of exhaustion behind them. It’s as if “Invitation" is a literal invitation to set down your burdens for a moment and just collapse.
Taken together with NO, W is half of Boris’s most devastating opus in years. It’s not their first pairing of albums, coming just two years after LfVE & EVfL, but unlike this 2019 release, NOW—both individually and as halves—is more than the sum of its parts.
Even without its counterpart, W stands on its own as Boris’s most massive record to date outside of their collaborations. It takes their noisier textures to new heights while leveraging Wata’s vocals to alternately lull, scintillate, and shush the listener. In a year where fatigue is widespread, COVID rages, and even family dinners can be exhausting, many of us would like nothing more than to turn off completely. Boris is here to help you get supine and just absorb.
W releases January 21st via Sacred Bones Records. Get it on limited-to-300, sea blue with black blob color vinyl.