Get Metal This Christmas With Boris’s Latest Single

Or, somewhat metal I guess. The Japanese band sets the theme of the season with their newly released single, Noël.


Photo Tosia Leniarska

Cover art for Boris’s Noel single. Artwork by Tosia Leniarska.

Samuel Elliott, Print Managing Editor

The Christmas season has come again, and with it the tide of holiday music has swallowed up every last radio station and insurance commercial.

While I don’t find anything particularly wrong with the genre, the repetition of the same 30-odd songs every year can get a little grating. Luckily, A new entry has entered the rotation this year, courtesy of an unexpected contributor: Boris.

For most who don’t know, Boris is a metal/hard rock band from Japan that uses atmospheric effects and brutally hard riffs to make some very interesting music with guitars. I guess it’d be diminutive to just call them a metal band, as in their now 25-year history they’ve covered everything from ear-splitting noise-punk (2006’s “Vein”) to sunshine-y J-pop (2019’s “Tears EP”). But their home has always been metal and all of its confusing and elitist-sounding subgenres (drone, sludge, stoner, psych, doom, post-, etc…).

This new single has actually arrived at a sort of “artistic renaissance” period for the band so to speak, as after a bit of a critical “slump” from 2007 to 2018, they’ve used the pandemic era of the last few years as a chance to redefine their sound and push new boundaries for the band. They returned to classic hard-rocking punk with 2019’s “No”, collaborated with infamous noise artist Merzbow to produce “2R0I2P0” later that year and are just about to come out with a sequel to “No” next year with the upcoming “W”.

This is all also happening amidst an array of newly released live recordings, demos and reissues by the band, so fans perked their ears up even more when the band released a new single last Friday: “Noël”.

The single is a two-track release—the A-side featuring a reworking of their song “Pardon?” from 2011’s “New Album” with French producer Dviance and Londoner singer-songwriter Lauren Auder, and the B-side containing none other than a cover of the ineffable song “Last Christmas” by 80’s UK pop group Wham!.

Yes, really. A Japanese metal group known for their soul-crushing riffage and epic soundscapes covered one of the sappiest, kitschiest Christmas pop songs of the ’80s. It’s hard to tell if we live in the worst timeline or the best.

Anyway, starting with side A, a reworking of 2011’s “Pardon?”: it’s a pretty nice start. The original was an ethereal ambient-pop slow fox driven by a skeletal drum machine and comfy guitar licks, all set over a cocoon-like background of ambient shimmer. The rework (to clarify, a mix of covering and remixing) clocks in at just over half the length of the original. The mix sort of fits that, being a more pop-driven interpretation with deep vocals and a modernist layered electronic production style. The structure has been reworked to fit a more “pop” length, with the delivery sped up and the verse and chorus taking alternating “soft” and “loud” turns in the spotlight. It’s okay, but not really an interesting take on the original. I could hear it on the radio I suppose.

But track two, the digital side B to this Bandcamp-only single, is what’s really worth hearing: Boris takes the original and puts it through the “shoegaze” ringer with walls of reverb-heavy guitars on either side of the listener. While this does create a much more heavy sound than the original, the beat is effectively flattened in Boris’s mix—the only percussion is a kickdrum, thumping away at a steady four-beat pattern for the entire track. Vocalist and guitarist Wata’s voice really comes to shine here, as she delivers an intimate-sounding vocal take that cuts right through the atmosphere in a fittingly soothing way. While this all sounds pretty esoteric, they’ve kept the exact same twinkly synth melodies from the original over top, so the element of nostalgia is still there grounding the whole thing from lifting away entirely. The track ends with Wata’s repetition of the titular line a couple of times, then cuts out just before the final vocal repetition in a satisfying way. All in all, a pretty great cover of the original.

While this probably isn’t making anyone’s Christmas party playlists this year, Boris’s “Noël” comes at a time where Christmas music could use a nice refresher from the tired sounds of Carey and Bublé. I found it quite endearing, and maybe you will too.

Here’s a link to the single’s Bandcamp page.