Uniform and Boris’ collaborative album ‘Bright New Disease’ is out today. In celebration, we asked The Pit contributor Michael Berdan, and singer of Uniform, to take us through what collaborating with the legendary Japanese metal band is like and how the record came to be. Grab your copy here.
For most human beings, communication is of such importance that it might as well be a biological imperative. Unless a person is in a vegetative state or lives in total isolation, existence requires interaction. Without communication, there is no understanding.
My mind is in chaos. It’s been that way for my whole life. The earliest emotion that I can identify is fear. Fear of abandonment. Fear of pain. Fear of failure. Fear of death. Fear of life. Stronger and more acute than love or hate or desire or misery or mourning is that gnawing sense of amorphous terror. For me, the only way to alleviate fear is to understand it. This is where art comes in.
When I boil it down, the purpose of art is communication. By linguistic, visual, physical and sonic means, thoughts and feelings are being put out into the ether. Sometimes the communication is a direct dialogue with an audience; a conversation with the world at large. In others, the communication is internal. Meditation. A conversation with the universe. Art brings belonging to the profoundly alone. Art brings purpose to entropy. The only positive attribute possessed by humans that is absent in the rest of the animal kingdom is the ability to create art.
It has been over two decades since my first exposure to Boris. They made an immediate impact on the consciousness of the American underground by way of the y2k doom metal boom, and the band would have done just fine on a commercial level if they rested on their laurels from that point on. Here was a Japanese band named after a Melvins song who were playing a terrifyingly expansive interpretation of their namesake and other influences in that wheelhouse, but doing so with a palpable passion and literacy that far outmatched their Western counterparts.
Intrigued by the doom stuff, I took a deeper look into their more recent releases (at the time) and quickly found both Flood and the first Merzbow collaborative record. I might have thoroughly enjoyed the caustic menace and musicianship of Absolutego and Amplifier Worship, these two newer records are what stole my heart. It seemed evident that here was a band that wasn’t so much thumbing their nose at genre constraints as they were just naturally evolving out of them. Here was a band that made the record they wanted to make, not the record they were necessarily supposed to make. To this day, those are my two favorite Boris albums.
Boris is a band that have flipped the underground on its head and subverted expectations at every conceivable turn. Just when you think you have them pegged, they change their stripes. I could list the litany of genres and microgenres that the band have used for a sonic vehicle over the years, but it’s pointless. At the end of the day, Boris sounds like Boris. Their boldly defiant fingerprint is on everything they touch. You know it when you hear it.
It was nothing short of a dream come true when Uniform was asked to open for Boris in 2019. Here was a band that we had admired from a distance for half of our lives, and we were being handed the opportunity to spend six weeks on the road with them. Boris being people whose kindness precedes them among musicians, we knew it would be a good run of shows. However, we could never anticipate the levels of graciousness, enthusiasm, and support that these guys would show toward us.
Upon meeting Boris at the first gig in San Diego, Takeshi and I immediately got into a protracted discussion about the bridge between American and Japanese hardcore punk. Once they got out of their stage clothes at the end of the show, Atsuo came by to hang out. He was wearing a Gastunk shirt, one of my favorite metal-leaning hardcore bands of all time. Although I knew that Boris had worked with some American hardcore labels in the ‘90s, and I was well aware of the fact that the members ran the extreme music gamut, this was still a side of the band that I hadn’t anticipated. On top of that, these are people who would have had every right to treat the support band like they were the proverbial help or just ignored us entirely. Not only did they not do that, but they went out of their way to engage with us on a personal level. Status didn’t mean anything. Hell, the language barrier didn’t really mean anything. The sense of gratitude I felt was overwhelming
At a point in the tour, Uniform joined Boris during their encore, a reimagined rendition “Akuma no Uta.” For a band like us to physically stand on stage and play music with those guys was an honor of staggering proportions. I can’t put into words what it felt like at that first soundcheck, belting out words that I’d written to go along with their beloved instrumental track. These were untested waters and I had no idea how it would go, but it’s always proven to be best for me when I can turn fear into fuel. After all, if you are going to fail on stage with your heroes in front of a sold-out crowd, you might as well fail hard. Shockingly, it seemed to work. The song became a nightly fixture.
As our conversations developed, the subject shifted from geeking out over obscure records and the culture surrounding the people who make them to something far more gnostic. We began talking about the general nature of creative impetus. Art and intention. The need to make something in order to connect. In the case of Boris, the shifting nature of their recorded output had everything to do with establishing a bond between the band, the audience, and the universe. They tour so much so that they can have that conversation face-to-face. Their performance is on one side of the dialogue, the crowd response being the other. Boris’ albums sound different because it would be disingenuous to do otherwise. These records are snapshots of where they are in the moment, as artists and human beings. They create with a fervor that is nothing short of religious and engagement with whoever is listening is an integral part of their spiritual practice. They have enough respect for the audience to not fake it by playing to expectations.
Connection. Conversation. Understanding.
That tour changed our lives. We developed a creative partnership and a philosophical kinship with Boris of the sort that I’d never imagined. When Boris self-released their hardcore punk opus NO in 2020, Atsuo asked me to write something about the record for them to use on social media. I’m not ashamed to admit that I cried a bit in gratitude. Somewhere along the line, we decided that it would be fun to make a record together.
COVID-19 fucked everything up for everyone, not the least touring bands. Because of geographics and travel restrictions, Boris recorded in Tokyo while Uniform did our parts in New York. With the state of the world in complete shambles, we poured our collective rage, confusion, and fear into music. By embracing the chaos of the moment, we were able to find reprieve in the act of creation. The songs themselves are snapshots of our emotional and spiritual states at individual points throughout the pandemic, and the record itself is meant to read like a photo album. Some of it sounds metal. Some of it sounds punk. Some of it sounds glam. Some of it sounds disco. There are Confuse-inspired noisecore attacks next to sleazy Moroder synths next to Hanneman solos. There are moments that sound like pensive gamelan music. There are moments that sound like exuberant Bowie outtakes. The moment dictated the song. The pandemic dictated the record. The reasons we called it Bright New Disease are obvious.
A pandemic record might sound passé at this point, but anything different would be dishonest. Dishonesty is the enemy of art, reductive to the point of defeating the purpose. It’s like lying to your therapist; a waste of time and money because you are too afraid of what someone might think to put in the effort. Covid changed the world. Although society is generally on the other side of it now, the scars will linger for generations.
I don’t know how to thank Boris for welcoming us into their orbit. They continue to inspire me with every song and every conversation. I feel less alone in this absurd world just knowing that I have three dear friends in Japan who never stop reaching out into the universe, striving to connect.
Thank you, Boris
– Michael Berdan, Uniform