Album Review: Boris with Merzbow – 2R0I2P0

[Relapse; 2020]

2R0I2P0 (or “2020 R.I.P.” if you want to actually say it out loud) brings together the pre-eminent sonic forces of Japanese glorious noise makers Boris and Merzbow. Their collaborative work together stretches back to 2002’s Megatone, and includes the essential Sun Baked Snow Cave and Rock Dream albums. The harsh soundscapes of Merzbow complement the genre-hopping rock of Boris as they both have that essential quality in artists dealing in volume – they both know when to be quiet. 2R0I2P0 acts as a requiem for the year that scarred us all, but rather than serve as a cathartic scream into the void, the record is pensive, mournful and hushed.  

There are no original pieces of work here, just re-workings of previously released Boris tracks and a couple of covers. These facts don’t detract from the fact that this is a great record; perhaps it even highlights how this bastard of a year has made us look back and re-evaluate our pasts and take those elements of ourselves we wish to reassess and develop. For many, 2020 has been a transformative year where we have leaned on our friends like never before, and this is a major take away from this record. 

Rather than the blistering noise expected when these two acts collide, the album begins with the ethereally lush “Away From You”, which is like stardust being scattered at a funeral. Clanking and whirring background noises complement the soothing balm of the song, with Takeshi’s plaintive vocals pushed to the back of the mix to fine effect. Wata’s incendiary guitar solo, as usual, slays all before it and elevates the track despite the seeming reluctance of the rest of the band to soar to her heady heights.

“To The Beach” is a cover of Japanese shoegaze wonders Coaltar of the Deepers, a track from their 2007 Tortoise EP. Where the original plays it relatively safe in terms of its anthemic post-rock production, here the collaborators turn it into a convoluted mish-mash of uncompromising noise and an impenetratable haze of aural splendour, more akin to an out of body experience version of the original than a faithful cover. Merzbow’s bleeps and arcade machine tones toward the end add a nostalgic feel, but also one of dissociation by design, as though the scars of 2020 have cut deep enough to warrant a need to disconnect, to stave off enjoyment, a self-flagellating response. It’s in this marriage of Boris’ ability to conjure sleepy, comforting rock lullabies and Merzbow’s command of noise that their sonic alchemy manifests so wonderfully, almost effortlessly.

Both “Coma” and “Love” sound like Merzbow smothering Boris, or cocooning them if you want to take a more positive spin on things. The second of these two songs sounds like an underwater recording, with Boris playing away merrily in the amniotic fluid of Merzbow’s visceral pandemonium. The theme continues on “Absolutego”, which is a reworking of the 2017 version from Dear rather than the hour-long rapture of the title track of their 1996 album. Just so we’re clear, a reimagining of that particular 60 minutes in Boris’ back catalogue would be very welcome.

The cover of Melvins’ “Boris” is an absolute beast. The song that gave the band their name is a canonical sludge masterpiece, and that fits in well with the overall tone on 2R0I2P0 as the powerful riffs are all present and correct but subdued by the distorting fog of the production. The best is left ‘til last with album closer “Shadow of Skull” (which was also the highlight on 2019’s LOVE & EVOL record), a slow stomping behemoth now tethered by Merzbow’s obfuscating noise. The track needs active engagement on the part of the listener to pick out the varying parts underneath, an act which will reap rewards for those inclined to do so. There is beauty in the maelstrom, there always has been.

2R0I2P0 is a fitting summative soundtrack to the end of the year that defined us all. Familiar in so many ways, yet unexpected and challenging in others, it’s the sound of the light at the end of the tunnel, of the enchantment within all of the mess. Within the layers of noise and slabs of guitar feedback lies a sense of optimism in union, of the commonality of difference, the fusion of people working together for a cause that is bigger than our own individuality.

R.I.P. 2020? More like good bloody riddance.