Apparently, the title of the latest outing for these titans of righteous noise-making, 2R0I2P0, translates as “2020 R.I.P.” Too damn right. I can’t think of a better double-act to read the last rites. 2R0I2P0 is, in fact, the seventh album-length collaboration between Boris and Merzbow (there’s also the “Walrus”/”Groon” 12″ from 2007) stretching back to Megatone (2002), with periodic missives following in 04092001 And Sun Baked Snow Cave (2005), Rock Dream (2007), Klatter (2011), and Gensho (2016). Boris chose, in 2017, to forgo a muted break-up because they discovered they still had plenty of intriguing music to make together. Similarly, it turns out these old friends can still find stunning journeys to take their sound.
There’s a fun conceit underpinning this album. Its core is a reappraisal of six of seven songs from 2019’s LΦVE & EVΦL. I can only speculate that “In the Pain(t)” wasn’t revisited because it was the album’s only slight and inessential interlude. A game has then been played with the track-listing. The original album consisted of two halves — LΦVE and EVΦL — with the opening LΦVE suite running through “Away From You”, “Coma”, and “EVΦL”, then the EVΦL suite proceeding through “Uzume”, “LΦVE”, “In the Pain(t)”, and “Shadow of Skull”. On 2R0I2P0, the same structure is retained, the opener and closer remain the same except succeeded/preceded by brand new compositions (“To the Beach” and “Boris”, respectively). “LΦVE” and “EVΦL” switch places, while new songs “Absolutego” and “Journey” form an extended bridge between the two suites.
Opener “Away From You”, as befitting its pop song-style title, is about as gentle as anything gets here. A percussive shuffle over soft shimmers and deep blue echoes, it stays beautiful even when Merzbow drives a shake-apart clown car through the middle. “To the Beach” feels like an extension to “Away From You” with tin can clangor and scraped metals running through its introduction. Then it all erupts like a napalmed treeline in Apocalypse Now. Despite stepping up the volume, there’s still a simmering post-rock single buried in the center of the prolonged bludgeoning. It’s always intriguing that Masami Akita, for an artist so specific in his focus, plays so well with others. A hypothesis would be that, having honed his skills across such a vast catalogue and span of time, he’s in absolute control of his sound, allowing him to select precisely where his intervention will make the most impact. Free of insecure ego, he winnows out space within Boris’ music or sculpts himself around them, rather than pouring himself all over the record like treacle.
He’s also not shy about taking the center stage where appropriate. On “Coma”, Merzbow makes his presence felt like you’re face-planting into solid concrete. An eight-minute tunnel of rumble on LΦVE & EVΦL, it’s neat that Boris don’t play coy or shy with the originals; here, they chop it down to a bare 3:15 minutes of caterpillar tracks over toppled masonry. Merzbow contributes a burr of graveling spluttering of such colossal weight that it feels like smoky wisps of smoldering guitar are curling up around its edges. There’s that same impression of immovability in the second half where Boris’ tik-tak of stray notes simply bounce off Merzbow’s solid block of sound.
“Love” starts like a gig-ending breakdown with sullen strums of guitar, mechanical hiss, and clatter, the boing of something malfunctioning. Like a backward tape, everything pulls together into yowling vocals sung somewhere in the middle of a whirlwind, the other instruments ricocheting through the air. At moments, it all threatens to come apart again, everything peeling away from the center, then rallying once more to a screaming finale running almost straight into “Absolutego”, which follows the same thought through to conclusion. “Journey” is the most distinctive new song on the album, a pleasingly strange mix of water-logged band and crackling electronics, like a stricken submarine tumbling toward the depths. There’s a sense of subdued progression provided by the audible rhythm section keeping solid time.
“Uzume”, though shorter than the original, holds a lot more of its 2019 shape. It begins with a lone guitar exploding in vicious cascades of electricity before building into the kind of suspended cataclysm one might associate with Sunn O))). Almost the inverse of “Coma”, here it’s Merzbow pinging golf-balls of static off Boris’ sound, and with the latter in control, it develops into a thrilling foot-stomper. Already an epic tussle, the album’s centerpiece is “EVΦL”. Thirteen minutes pass in breathlessly imaginative shifts, developing from faulty wiring to sad lament, giving way to a rush of cycling static that might burn the world white, before being succeeded by an even more uproarious explosion with the whole band seemingly determined to cave the entire room in. Suddenly it all falls away to chiming and danceable guitar riffs paired with dials being wrenched into the red, then a seemingly different song is flown in before they finish in a constant hail of noise.
The rest of the album, while still awesome, feels like a coda in the aftermath of the gargantuan “EVΦL”, but as accustomed to extremes as I am, I was still pretty relieved to have this comedown programmed in.
“Boris”Boris” is a neat piece of sludge metal, while “Shadow of Skull” remains a doom-tinged psychedelic gem even with Merzbow sanding away whatever smooth textures and angles it originally possessed.