Writing about a band as foundational to their genre and as monolithic in the landscape of post-Y2K metal as the Japanese amplifier cult known as Boris is tough. Trying to wear the hats of both fan and critic for these sorts of bands is always difficult; the same album elicits widely different reactions depending on the state of mind one is in. Trying to split the difference and show how something is good from one perspective and not from another is tough when you attempt to value both equally.
Writing about it, you tend to run up against something of a snag in our programming as thinking creatures: the natural human tendency is to prioritize negativity and give it more room for expression – it’s why you have entire cottage industry on Youtube of “people who get angry about video games,” it’s why bad reviews of albums go viral and good ones go ignored, it’s why we listen to aggressive and angry music. However, go too far into attempting to mollify these negative remarks and it seems as though you’re either just looking for things to complain about or trying to polish a turd.
This puts me in a real pickle with LOVE & EVOL, the latest Boris record. As a fan, I think it’s got some stellar moments and I find myself listening to it often: the centerpiece of the album’s first half (technically this is a double album, although it’s shorter than some of their ‘single’ albums so take that how you will), the 16-minute opus “EVOL,” is a phenomenal song. The band plays around with some unusual percussive and vocal choices over a slow, groaning, Sleep-like engine of a guitar riff, ebbing and flowing out of heavy-but-sleepy drone and nervous quiet, until everything explodes into smears of technicolor paint and kaleidoscopic waves of feedback, a musical epiphany that shows Boris at their best, tearing beauty out of intense sound and creating vibrant musical tapestries. It may not live up to an album like Flood or Amplifier Worship or Dear, but it clearly demonstrates that, on some level, Boris has definitely still got it.
The unfortunate truth of LOVE & EVOL, though, is that “EVOL” is far and away the best song the album has to offer. It’s not the only good thing here, to be sure – the searing deep-space leads of “LOVE” and the contemplative opener “Away From You” are both other highlights – but most of LOVE & EVOL feels like a justification for these three tracks to see release, a quick jam session that ended up feeling “good enough” to merit this album. “Coma” and “uzume” are each eight minutes of nothing much, which would be essential downtime between the more substantial tracks on an album with more happening but here just seem tedious. “In the Pain(t)” is a quiet interlude invokes Yes‘s quieter moments, but it comes before “Shadow of Skull,” a disappointing close to the album that sees Boris being unflinchingly heavy but never moving towards any real goal.
Make no mistake, LOVE & EVOL is not a total failure of an album by any means. Boris still know how to make their instruments sound excellent, and they’re as locked in together as they’ve ever been here. From the fan’s perspective, there’s plenty of mileage to be had here; the opener and two title tracks alone are more than worth any price of admission here. But the other four songs on LOVE & EVOL all fall flat and aren’t particularly memorable, especially juxtaposed to the number of truly impeccable records in Boris’ corpus. This isn’t a bad album, but it’s truly difficult to imagine anybody walking away from this record satisfied and on the edge of their seat looking towards the future of this legendary trio. Just go listen to Flood again for the nth time.
LOVE & EVOL is out now through Third Man Records.