Every now and again you encounter an album that appears to be in a league of its own. When listening to it, you take a moment to realize that nothing you have ever heard sounds quite like it, and there’s very little room for comparison between other artists or even the artist’s own work. A few albums like that come to mind for me. Texas Jerusalem Crossroads by Lift to Experience, Kid A by Radiohead, Fas – Ite, maledicti, in ignem aeternum by Deathspell Omega, Leaving Your Body Map Behind/Bath by maudlin of the Well. However, one album that I love stands out amongst these outstanding albums, and that would have to be flood by Boris.
Boris are a Japanese experimental rock/metal group that have been active for nearly thirty years, having been formed in 1992. The band was originally a four-piece group before becoming a trio, with Atuso Mizuno on lead vocals and drums, Wata on lead guitar and keyboards, and Takeshi Ohtani on rhythm guitar and bass, playing a double necked guitar of his own design.
My favorite thing about this band is that they go out of their way to avoid sounding the same way twice. Every single album of theirs is a unique listening experience. Their debut, Absolutego is a 65 minute slab of crushing drone metal, while Heavy Rocks (2002) is deep dive into stoner and noise rock, being upbeat, punkish and fast. Pink, one of their most popular records, is mish-mash of aggressive, feedback drenched rock that gives you tinnitus twenty years too soon or slower, more somber meditative shoegazing pieces that make you feel like you’re drifting on a massive pink cloud.
So yes, Boris is a very experimental band, but for all their experiments, their album flood is truly something special. I’ve been searching for albums that sound like this ever since I heard it for the first time way back in high school, but I have never found anything that has a similar sound to that record. Boris has made similar work before and after the release of this album, but I always walked away from those records thinking “close, but not quite.” flood, like the massive tsunami it’s about, sweeps away other drone metal records and stands above the competition.
I normally don’t get a chance to talk about the artwork of an album, but really, it’s just gorgeous. It’s a minimalistic interpretation of the ocean with Boris’ name at the top of it. I just love it because of how simple it is. The swirling white seafoam bleeds into the shallow end of the coast, before pouring into the darker and deeper expanse of the ocean. You get a sense of scale and even anticipation just by looking at the album cover. The album is called flood, yet the cover is awfully calm. The real flood begins when you start listening to it.
The album itself is actually one song that’s seventy minutes long, divided into four parts. The first suite is roughly fourteen minutes long, featuring a single guitar playing in the expanse of the great ocean. It only plays one melody, drenched in a bit of reverb with a hint of feedback. However, as the song goes on, this lick doubles. Then triples. Then quadruples. Before you know it, you get waves upon waves of this melody hitting you, and all you can do is go along with the syncopated flow of the song. However, there’s suddenly this thunderclap of a bass drum. The sea’s getting choppy, and by the time the song ends, you’re left with a torrential downpour of a drum solo.
However, when you enter suite two, you’re back on the coast, and Atsuo gently draws you in with his percussion. The storm is a million miles away, you don’t have to worry about it yet. The rain is trickling gently outside your apartment window. This piece is gentler in tone overall, with Takeshi gently playing a dreamy melody to soothe your nerves, and Wata improvising on top of it. Suite two is one of my favorite parts of the album, just because of how relaxing it is. Things ramp up near the end however, with Wata and Takeshi having a chance to duet, Wata laying down a very impressive guitar solo. It crackles and bubbles with energy, hinting of things to come for the rest of the album.
Part three starts out gently too, carrying on with a variation of the riff from the previous suite. For the first time in the album, we hear some lyrics from Atsuo. These are English translations.
“The judged quiet earth
From a crack in the heavy clouds
The light shines and wraps around.”
He delivers these lyrics gently. Atsuo’s a prophet of the world’s imminent destruction by this great flood of divine origin. More lyrics come.
“As it simply continues to flow
And pours into the curved seashore
It’s ultimately up to interpretation if this flood is metaphorical or literal. This could be a flood of emotional or spiritual devastation and renewal. Perhaps a relationship has turned sour, and it’s time to burn bridges and rebuild. Perhaps you lose your God, and you’re in search of another. The ‘light’ referenced in the lyrics could be enlightenment, or peace. Or, they are just the rays of the sun breaking through dark storm clouds.
Regardless, there is no way of stopping this. The rain outside of your apartment stops briefly. You can see the coast from here. The water has receded back into the ocean, leaving the beach bare. The gentle instrumentation of the band pauses for a moment. Then, they pick back up again. What’s that beyond the horizon? Wata’s riffing is no longer soothing. She’s playing harsh, angular chords and they’re drowning the world out.
Then the rain stops.
But not really.
Wata lays down the most crushing, devastating and powerful riff of her entire career. The riff isn’t just drenched in feedback, it’s drowning in it. It’s becoming it. It’s all consuming and all powerful, like a great and mighty flood. Atsuo’s drumming is just as heavy, crashing in like so many tidal waves on a curved seashore. Takeshi’s bass sounds as deep and dark as an ocean trench, and it broods with power that rivals the storm god Susanoo himself.
Atsuo cries out to the heavens above with the last lyrics on the album. “A rainbow spans the vast water/
Beyond that, a new sky commences.” The earth’s judgement is underway, and a newer, more beautiful world will be created. But first, it must be razed.
Suite three hits its climax and the band leads us out with some back and forth between Wata and Takeshi’s guitar wizardry, before only being left with Wata’s career defining riff getting weaker and weaker. The flood has come to end. Most of the water returns to the sea.
And then we are left with suite four, the aftermath of the flood. The world is devastated, but this suite is the gentlest on the album. I actually used to dislike suite four, because I thought it went on for too long. But coming back to this album, I’ve actually grown to like it. It’s a great piece of ambient with some improvisation by Wata and Takeshi. You get a sense of finality with this piece, and it even gives you a sense that despite the mayhem caused by the flood, society will rebuild. However, the last few minutes of this suite have manipulated gong strikes in the background, stretched and drawn out. The flood could come back, we just have to be ready for it.For me, this is a perfect album. flood is one of the finest pieces of Japanese rock music, and it’s an incredible achievement by Boris especially considering that this is their third studio album. It is a testament to their musicianship that they’re able to consistently create engaging long-form rock music, especially when it’s as high caliber as this. Wata’s playing is a highlight on this record, and she proves herself as one of the most versatile guitarists of the 21st century. Boris’ efforts are invaluable to not only the Japanese rock scene, but the international rock scene as well. I highly encourage everyone to give flood a spin, especially in FLAC (free lossless audio codec) so you can experience all that this album has to offer. Truly, no other record sounds quite like this.