Album Review: Boris & Uniform – Bright New Disease

[Sacred Bones; 2023]

The acerbic, feral nature of industrial metal band Uniform seems an odd bedfellow for Japan’s Boris, whose glacial drones and glorious psychedelic glam stomps make them optimists to their American collaborators’ pessimists. It’s a yin-yang of crunching dystopian squalor and blissed out utopian freakouts. That’s not to say that Boris aren’t well versed in destroying the occasional eardrum for the sake of it, it’s just that their mission statement is pain through pleasure, whereas Uniform’s is the reverse.

Bright New Disease is a rich record, with layers that need unpicking beneath the yelps and howls that batter you on first listen. Across the nine tracks, there’s an overarching – and perhaps not even deliberate – narrative of the blending of the bands. 

This is highlighted best with the disparity between the album opener and its last track. We kick off with “You are the Beginning” which has a thrash sensibility to it before Michael Berdan’s signature howl spreads itself over the track like a demented and metronomic robot. As the song progresses it moves away from the hostile intensity that seeps through Uniform’s work to begin to incorporate the euphoric aspects more readily associated with Boris. Each band pulls at the song, taking it this way and that as it careens its way to its end. By contrast, the closer “Not Surprised” feels more organic, and less concerned with each band vying for space.

Rather than entirely blend – and thereby dilute – the sound of each band, the record very much feels like one is leading the other through their sound for parts before they collide into each other and the album’s best tracks are revealed. As the record develops during its early stages, it’s as if you have Boris playing on a Uniform record, and the honours being swung the other way at other moments. “The Look is a Flame” is clearly a Boris song, whereas “Endless Death Agony” is prime Uniform. Yet, despite this, these tracks don’t come across as anything other than a set of musicians respecting each other’s sonic terrains, and visiting for a time whilst also making their presence felt. The energy of each band eventually, perhaps reluctantly, is consumed by the other as Bright New Disease progresses and it feels like a brilliant meta-narrative comment on collaboration in art.

“Weaponized Grief” takes the standard heady Uniform template of crushing guitars and ploughs like an expressway through your skull, while “No” centres itself around a Boris riff that Berdan spews his guts all over. It’s intense stuff, with each band seemingly pushing the other to the limits of their sonic boundaries.

It’s in the second half of Bright New Disease that things get really interesting.

As the album progresses there are genuine surprises unveiled. “Narcotic Shadow” has an arpeggio-ingrained synth intro, and the song twists into a dark wave banger that harks back to aspects of Boris’ intriguing New Album record of 2011, whereas “A Man from the Earth” glides along and leans surprisingly on the squalid glamour of a band like Suede. There are plenty of tracks on the record that sound like both of these two bands – either working in synergy or pulling the other in their own direction – but I promise you that nobody can listen to “A Man from the Earth” and guess the artist if they didn’t already know. Now that, friends, is the sign of a worthwhile collaboration. 

Album closer “Not Surprised” is an absolute joy. It’s the standout track on the record, and the one where both musical forces combine perfectly to create a noise chimera. Pensive guitar riffs edge into doom metal territory, as the throat-shredded vocals from Berdan sound like Xasthur, so visceral are they.

This is amplifier worship at its best, and the sound of two bands in control of their craft. Boris’ expansive approach acts as a foil to Uniform’s tense restrictions, and it really shouldn’t work as well as it does. And yet it does.