Approaching ‘Gensho’, the new collaboration between Japanese experimental metal trio Boris and their compatriot Masami Akita (aka Merzbow) is a daunting task. The logistics of listening to this two-part, four-LP colossus – the playing of which requires two independent turntables and a lot of spare time – makes it inaccessible to all but the most dedicated listener. Of course, neither of the artists involved has ever given the impression of being concerned with accessibility, and the effort that is required on the part of the listener makes hearing the album a much more personal experience.
The album consists of eight re-recordings, sans drummer, of songs from Boris’s extensive back catalogue (plus a cover of My Bloody Valentine‘s ‘Sometimes’) spread over two discs, with four new tracks by Merzbow filling the other two. Packaged in two parts, each containing a disc of Boris and a disc of Merzbow, each artist’s contribution can be heard separately or together. This gives the listener control over the listening experience, allowing for real-time mixing of the two sides of the collaboration.
While it is a shame that Boris did not write any new material for ‘Gensho’, it is intriguing to hear older songs in a new setting. The decision to focus on their sludgier material is effective, and the lack of drums makes comparisons to drone metal legends (and sometime Boris collaborators) Sunn O))) especially fitting. Merzbow‘s screeching, squalling noise blends well with Boris‘s feedback-drenched riffs in the album’s heaviest moments, such as the album closer ‘Vomitself’ (which pairs with Merzbow‘s ‘Prelude to a Broken Arm’), making a virtue of the bleak ugliness created. However, the sheer unrelenting volume of Merzbow‘s intense sonic assault sometimes threatens to overwhelm Boris‘s crawling riffage, making the ability to control the volume of each artist’s contribution especially useful.
On first listening, the sonic universe created by two confrontationally loud artists can seem impenetrable, the combined decibel level sometimes obliterating any nuance or subtlety present in the music. To fully appreciate the album the listener must embrace the almighty din; after spending considerable time in its company, beauty begins to emerge from the chaos. The pairing is at its most stunning in Boris‘s ‘Akuma No Uta’, which is married to Merzbow‘s ‘Goloka Pt. 2’. Boris‘s titanic riff oozes out of Merzbow‘s surprisingly low-key pins and needles electronics like a glacier breaking through icy water.
Despite the recycling of old material, ‘Gensho’ is not a record for first-time listeners of Boris, who would be advised to investigate more conventional albums from the band’s twenty-plus year career, such as 2014’s ‘Noise’ (Conversely, it is an excellent introduction to Merzbow for curious fans already familiar with Boris). The act of listening to ‘Gensho’ is challenging in both a practical and a musical sense, yet it is all the more rewarding for it.
‘Gensho’ is out now via Relapse Records.
This Boris with Merzbow review was written by Joe Turner, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Stephen Butchard.