By now, most listeners of extreme music should at least by somewhat familiar with the name Merzbow. Japan’s foremost peddler of harsh noise and experimental soundscapes is nothing if not prolific, boasting a discography containing both numerous solo works as well as his collaborations with a myriad of artists, both stylistically similar and otherwise, for a grand total of over 400 recordings. His last collaboration with Boris, Sun Baked Snow Cave, was a bit more traditional than Gensho is, while still being heavily experimental. Their latest collaboration takes a different approach, while still building off the elements established by that previous work.
Gensho consists of two parts, the first belonging to Boris, and the second Merzbow. The Boris tracks are not technically new, being largely percussion-free reworkings of older songs. However, you’d be hard pressed to say these are simple rehashes of older material, having been turned into massive, sprawling soundscapes, stretched and splayed until they’re barely recognizable, many feeling almost shoegaze-like in their execution. Taken on their own, they’re plodding and slow, unfolding over the course of more than an hour. While lacking in surface level appeal and immediacy, they’re effective at what they do, and Boris are good enough songwriters to make these kind of reimagining work well, while retaining important elements that define the original songs. The band lack a good comparison point in their back catalogue, yet these reworkings/reimaginings are authentically Boris, retaining the band’s signature songwriting style.
Merzbow’s tracks are more stylistically close to the music he’s been dabbling in lately, being pulsing, throbbing walls of noise, harsh or otherwise. On their own, these tracks aren’t likely to appeal to people not already fans of Merzbow’s work, as they’re dense, challenging compositions that often don’t follow any established formula. However, this is where the gimmick of the two parts of the album comes into play. Boris and Merzbow’s tracks are designed to be played simultaneously at varying volume levels (said volume levels to be decided by the listener), much like a certain Neurosis album, and doing so transforms both works into something special. The pulsing noise interweaves with the dreamlike layers of the Boris songs, creating a contrasting soundscape that’s often trancelike in its delivery. Still, even in this state, this is a long, challenging album that demands a certain attitude and open-mindedness from the listener, and as such is more niche in it’s appeal than most other works from Boris, though it’s par for the course for Merzbow.
Boris are no stranger to collaboration, and when working with Merzbow they come across as comfortable and in their element. Gensho sounds very much like the product of artists who are in tune with each other enough to push boundaries and explore new ideas, and while the end result may demand a lot from the listener, perseverance and dedication is rewarded with a deep, refreshing, complex, and lasting work of singular beauty, intensity and charm. Gensho isn’t a record for everyone, but for those who are able to appreciate eccentricity and experimentation in their music, it’s a must listen.