It’s like going to the optometrist and getting your eyes dilated. It’s like getting a colonoscopy–at least from what I’ve heard. It’s like completing your DUI classes. You must be asking why you’d spend the one hour, five minutes, and thirty-five seconds to get through the album’s one (!) track. Well, there’s a pay-off, a huge payoff. It’s an hour of mulling and teasing, slow droning and intricate drums, long bits of ambiance, and then comes the final orgasmic crescendo that fades to oblivion. It’s a monolith. It’s as far from pop as you can possibly get besides throwing pots down three flights of stairs. Boris’ 1996 debut album “Absolutego” serves well to show how non-pop, non-commercialized music easily stands the test of time, but also how music can elicit a response outside of a person’s “normal” listening experience.
Allow me to elaborate how these disparate elements could possibly be enjoyable all mixed together. Looking at the average song length we can surmise that music is not meant to be a test of endurance. Rather, it’s supposed to be fun, rapturous; however, as soon as we begin using the words “drone,” or “metal,” and especially “doom” most music nuts cringe. Yet people exist who are turned on by these terms, people who do not feel a subservience to “common” music. But what about those who are turned off by such terms? To answer that question, I’ll discuss it from an extreme metalophile’s perspective.
Why listen to extreme forms of metal? Because of its subversive content. Because of its technical aspects? Because its unlike anything being played on the radio? I think the deeper response you’d hear is that the music appeals to elements in ourselves, darker, more intense, more lasting and important than what radio music can possibly provide. Obviously, much of the metal world has embraced and capitalized on “the popular” aspect of musical art, whether it can be seen in the catchy hooks or accessible lyrics and song structures. However, what’s metal and non-metal are two distinctions that people on both sides are want to properly describe. For many metalers, the issue of genre comes down to lineage, brutality, obscurity, or lack of commercial success. For non-metalers it may just come down to the issue of volume and abrasiveness.
So how does “drone doom metal” fit with this. Back in 1991 (starting with Earth’s demo works) few people even knew about this burgeoning musical genre. No one could really track the genre’s development because it was absent from the mainstream press. A fan had to do his or her homework to find it, and the true irony is that drone lineage intersected with metal in many ways, most prominently with doom metal, but it could also be traced even further back, past the music of the last century, all the way back to eastern religions and the om chant. Ever heard Buddhist monks throat singing or chanting? Close your mouth and hum, sing from your throat, and you’ll hear the sounds that hearken back to the days of humankind’s desperate quest for survival, primitive survival. Drone is the modern, electric, amplified version. Why else would a first time listener find the music so absolutely unworldly and strange? And now, well over ten years after drone’s inception, why would indie kids in their tight-fitting jeans and black t-shirts want to go to a SUNN O))) show to feel the fillings in their heads vibrate loose?
Everyone has their own unique taste for music; some songs simply affect us emotionally more than others for sundry reasons, but I feel quite strongly that universal elements exist that draw us to sound: tension and release, catchiness, deep lyrics, dance-ability, and emotional catharsis. You find something that crushes you, and for me sometimes that’s drone. Boris, the three-piece from Japan, with more than twenty-five full-length releases in over ten years, each disc containing its own style, yet expanding on various genres, hit a home run with their debut album “Absolutego.” With its dull-seaming intro that leads to chest vibrating ambiance, to its broken-glass-shards screaming, to its technical drumming, you get a musical experience unlike many others.
The title suggests arrogance or superciliousness, but really it elicits the opposite after just one listen. The album breaks you down, defeats your ego entirely, just as the Buddha describes dukkha. And by experiencing dukkha, the listener will lose him or herself (the ego), just as the Buddha describes anatta.
To say that this is “art” is an understatement, although calling it art may be the only way for most to effectively approach, then digest this monolith of soul-bending sound. -cheers