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Boris - "Cloud Chamber" (CD/EP)

Boris - "Cloud Chamber" CD/EP cover image

"Cloud Chamber" track listing:

1. Cloud Chamber Part 1
2. Cloud Chamber Part 2

Reviewed by on January 4, 2009

"'This freeform collaborative piece isn't very bad. It's just directionless and a little bland.'"

Discovering Boris is always a revelation for new listeners. It's easy to unearth some obscure niche band with more album covers than decent songs, but more than any other drone metal group, they defined their genre and its surprisingly vast possibilities. And for a band with such a sprawling, confusing discography, Boris rarely repeat themselves. In any given two year period they've created more genuine masterpieces than the average metal band ever will.

That's why “Cloud Chamber” feels more depressing than it is. This 35-minute EP, a free form collaborative piece between Boris and their frequent guitar collaborator Michio Kurihara, isn't very bad. It's just directionless and a little bland, despite the massive variety of guitar textures on display. Boris is coming off a trilogy of brilliant LP releases (“Pink,” “Rainbow,” and “Smile,” the latter two with Kurihara on board) and they're arguably at their creative peak; we ought to expect worlds.

The big problem with “Cloud Chamber” is the structure. Your average drone metal song starts quiet and low, takes a lot of understated left turns, and then gets so loud you think you've died. Drift, dream, demolish. It's a cliché by now, and it got worn out by post-rock before metal even had a turn, but it became overused because it was so emotionally satisfying to hear. “Cloud Chamber” doesn't quite follow that traditional trajectory, but somehow it adds nothing new.

It starts quickly and promisingly enough, for a band that once started an album with thirty seconds of absolute silence, with creepy guitar shards and ethereal and floating chords, but the early melodies aren't built on. Instead, the musicians abandon them for a featureless ambient haze, which lacks the elemental heaviness that's present in Boris' best work. About nine minutes into the album that heaviness finally bothers to roll in, a swampy fog of alien sounding distortion that you feel with your whole body. It feels like the song finally begins there after two or three false starts.

But the song doesn't develop from there, despite sounding cooler and trippier. Nothing much happens, other than keening screeches of feedback, until the thirteenth minute; then Boris introduces some interesting sub-bass rhythms. They rumble somewhere between ultraviolet dark processed beats and distant thunder, tracing out an intentionally unclear rhythm that feels too far off to fully take in. Other than the occasional chug of sequencer lines, deep in the mix, they're the closest thing here to percussion. Likewise, the record features less than thirty seconds of vocals. I won't make uninformed guesses about what drummer/vocalist/fashion-god Atsuo might have been doing over the course of this session.

A chainsaw guitar tone opens up the second movement, a big slippery chaotic riff that doubles and triples into a rush of gnarly noise. Michio Kurihara's guitar is a lot more distinct this time around. At times while the other guitars seethe around him he even plays actual notes and sequences that resemble solos. Takeshi's bass also takes center stage occasionally, opening up into a clearer style that sounds like it fell out of an incredibly stoned Metallica jam. But that hint of structure also boils away as fast as it emerges.

By the sixth minute of the second movement, Boris already feels like they're winding down, looking for a way to end the song. Kurihara searches through his suitcase of pedals for the biggest, craziest tone of all, and meanwhile the jam has no direction. Through most of this half it feels like the two guitars are competing rather than building a song together, or even trading solos.

Near the very end they mix it up in Merzbow-like fashion, deconstructing the song into crackles and gaps. What happens next is the album's strangest moment. Without warning, every instrument disappears from the mix and another drone slowly emerges. It's as if Boris just got tired of their song, and wanted to start a completely different one, but didn't have the time to develop it. You can't say much about a single drone, but as drones go, the new one is pretty textured and enticing. But then it fades out, and the album's over.

Over the thirty-five minutes of this EP, Boris seems curiously uninspired. Even the best moments of the piece seem recycled from older epics like “Dronevil” and “Feedbacker,” but with every aspect incohesively jammed together like this, there's not a lot to reward a second listen. I'm looking forward to the next full length Boris release, but hoping they take a few months off first to relax and come up with a couple new ideas.

Highs: Still the freakiest guitar noise in the business.

Lows: The songs take forever to develop, and never get anywhere.

Bottom line: Overly abstract headphone doom. Only for extended, solitary candle staring sessions.

Rated 3 out of 5 skulls
3 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)