Sign up for our free newsletter
Japanese metal trio Boris have spent the past five years subjecting their music to the same kind of violent experimentation and abuse that members of Megadeth generally reserved for their frontal lobes. They’ve made albums of raging riff-rock (Pink), epic shoegaze (Boris at Last: Feedbacker), doom-drone improvisations (Altar, Dronevil), and retro-tinged psych (Rainbow). By those standards Smile is a bit of a fizzle—its eight songs glom from the various styles that the band has already successfully dabbled in. That’s not to say that it’s a dull record—there’s still plenty of blistering riff-rock and metal-machine buzz. By now, though, all that noise seems old-hat for a band that’s been on a mission to change its identity with the same speed that Dave Mustaine solos. When non-Hessians caught on to Boris in 2003, the band seemed exotic—this was a metal band with a female lead guitarist, Wata, and no visible tattoos. But Boris wasn’t a group of dilettantes cashing in on a trend, just lifers with esoteric tastes (and who happened to be really good-looking). And they ripped. If Smile is any indication, though, the group has settled the debate on what Boris is actually supposed to sound like—and apparently the consensus is “loud.” The three songs that occupy Smile’s core—“Buzz-In,” “Laser Beam,” and “Statement”—are heavier than Lemmy’s liver. “Flower Sun Rain”—a cover of a song by ’70s Japanese supergroup Pyg—is a gentle hair ballad that strums along for five minutes before ascending into the skree of dueling guitarists Wata and guest Michio Kurihara. The record’s untitled 15-minute drone opus features some noisy contributions from Sunn O)))’s Stephen O’Malley, but Smile’s specialities—speed metal, drone, or pastoral psychedelic wankery—have been run through on previous Boris records. More aggravating is the fact that the Japanese version of Smile has a very different—and way more interesting—track list. “Statement” shows up (appearing under the title “Message”) dramatically remixed along with several entirely different songs that are absent from the stateside version. The Japanese Smile makes for a blurrier, more outwardly psychedelic record. So Boris hasn’t quite settled down or hit a rut, but you’ll have to pony up import prices to know it.