Boris – Altar

Boris
Altar

“Etna” is exactly the type of track you’d expect to kick off a record like Altar, an epic ten minute drone of monolithic molasses riffage broken up by sporadic neanderthal drumming that ends in high-pitched peals of feedback. And so, straight out of every drone and doom fanatic’s wet dream comes this collaborative record between SunnO))) and Boris. Not content to host a quiet little party, they’ve also invited a ton of guests. Altar contains contributions from Jesse Sykes (of Jesse Sykes & the Sweet Hereafter fame), former Soundgarden guitarist Kim Thayil, and Joe Preston of High On Fire and Melvins fame (who has already contributed to SunnO)))’s White 1 and White 2). It should be noted that there is a bonus track on the vinyl version called “Her Lips Were Wet With Venom” that also has Dylan Carlson from Earth on it.

As a SunnO))) fanboy, I found it hard to contain my excitement when this Southern Lord release was announced, and I’m happy to report that it does not disappoint. Fans of Boris wanting more of the band’s blown out Stooges/Motorhead/Melvins rawk tracks should definitely look elsewhere because the group joins SunnO))) in a full-on drone-a-thon on this record. However, this doesn’t mean that Altar is lacking in any way. “N.L.T.” showcases the kind of low bass groan and hollow, cavernous noise that has become a staple of the group’s repertoire. The real surprise comes with “The Sinking Belle (Blue Sheep).” Slow, morphine-drip guitar and piano accompaniment ease the listener in before Jesse Sykes takes the reigns with ethereal vocals. Clocking in at roughly eight minutes, this song gives insight into a kinder, gentler side of SunnO))) and Boris listeners haven’t seen before. The song almost evokes a country vibe in the same way as Earth’s Hex; or Printing in the Infernal Method.

On top of that, “Akuma No Kuma” is full of its own surprises. If the initial vocoded vocals don’t throw you for a loop, just wait until the John Williams-esque brass section comes in. I thought I was listening to SunnO))) and Boris do their own version of a Darth Vader death march here. While this may be a turn-off for some listeners, the words “fucking awesome” kept running through my mind. Then comes “Fried Eagle Mind,” with Jesse Sykes reprising the role she filled on “The Sinking Belle.” While not as long or fulfilling as that initial exposure, the results are no less striking. Sykes paints aural figures on the sonic landscape laid down by Stephen O’Malley, Greg Anderson, Takeshi, Wata, and Atsuo.

“Blood Swamp,” the twenty minute finale of Altar, expounds on the offering set forth on “Etna.” Slow and ultimately obsidian in nature, it’s everything fans crave from a pairing like this. With distance from Black One and Pink respectively, SunnO))) and Boris have simultaneously met, defied, and surpassed any notions of what their collaboration could offer. While this might not be the best record you’ll hear this year, it is a very good one and a welcome addition to both bands’ vast catalogs.