Boris & Ian Astbury – BXI (Southern Lord/Daymere)
Expectations are high! It’s been over two years since the Japanese trio of Boris released Smile and redefined the aesthetics of heavy with its mixture of songs, snow-storms of guitar noise, drone and feedback. Since then, a series of split releases, seven-inch records and reissues have only complicated anticipation on what would come next.
Three months ago a group of us stood in the bowls of The Sydney Opera House, cheering, stomping and attempting to soak up the live sound of Boris. We hoped for an encore. We selfishly expected an encore. We didn’t expect BXI to come out. Even now with the EP in the stereo… no one saw this partnership coming.
When it was announced that Sunn O))), doom metals knights in rusted armour, were making an album with Boris, we mistakenly expected the bleakest, heaviest of albums with frequencies resonating till we threw up. What did we get? Songs! Ballads! Sure, there was some decent drone but not what their collective resumes might have led us to expect.
The BXI EP too, can’t be defined by the CVs of its protagonists. This is where Atsuo, Wata and Takeshi step into their youthful dreams and The Cult’s Ian Astbury, a now washed up rock star, steps into the first vital music he’s been a part of in a long time [or indeed perhaps ever – Ed]. The largest defining factor of this EP is that it’s as close to palatable rock songs as Boris have ever ventured.
Opening with ‘Teeth And Claws’, the sounds of Boris are all here, caustic guitars that soar and screech, passages of calm that settle only long enough to catch you off guard with the thunderous clap of the chorus. Astbury’s muscular croon sounds stronger than it has in a long time. And there are some quirks, familiar to longterm fans, such as Takeshi and Wata’s small-fry making her latest guest vocal.
The reliability of Astbury is kind of annoying, though. You’d hope he would come to this looking to venture uncharted territory but no, ‘We Are Witches’ is the same kind of material he’s famously covered on ‘Fire Woman’ and ‘She Sells Sanctuary’, among many others, and so, while good, this song is the weakest of the four here. ‘Rain’ is, of course, track five off The Cult’s Love album and a classic in its own right. Here it quite simply is the dirtiest version of this song you could imagine. The biggest shift comes with the mountain of effects pedals on the guitars and Wata’s sensual vocals replacing Astbury’s. If nothing else, this track showcases the fact that The Cult in their day could write a real turbo-charged rock song.
Ending proceedings is ‘Magickal Child’ and like a good movie, the best is saved for the finale – Michio Kurihara’s guest guitar work fizzes with the persistence of a wasps sting while Boris pull you down with the slowest of tempos. Astbury sounds genuinely wounded and alone. If this song were an album, it would be special because this is the kind of music that only Boris can make – abrasive when you’re fighting against it and beautiful when open to its delicate nature. Alas, this EP is merely another quirk in the catalogue of one of Metal’s most intriguing mutations.