This week, two metal titans – Boris of Japan and Amenra of Belgium – embark on a co-headlining tour of Europe. Both are bands known for their intense music and equally intense live shows – albeit in different ways – with a wealth of material behind them and a core of dedicated listeners. Boris celebrated their twenty-fifth anniversary last year with the album DEAR, a celebration of all things Boris, and a glorious final statement from the band. Amenra, too, are approaching their second decade as a band, maintaining a steady and consistent creative output through personal turmoil and band member side-projects. Last year’s Mass VI is as emotionally heavy and soul-bearing as any of the project’s works; more than any band, Amenra channel their strength through hardship. With the first date of the tour on the horizon, Takeshi of Boris and Colin H. van Eeckhout of Amenra kindly took the time to answer questions I had for them about their bands’ legacies, creative processes and their relationship with each other.
The marriage between the two bands may seem all too obvious for heavy music listeners; though the bands are not wholly familiar with each other’s music on a personal level, it was evident that both bands had a mutual respect for one another’s art; “Both bands have a vision that is remarkable.” Colin van Eeckhout of Amenra remarks “Boris’ free will is something intriguing to me. They write the music they want to in total freedom,” a mutual respect shared by Boris too, as Takeshi says “Amenra have their own style and idea, I respect what they are doing and am very looking forward to playing with them. It is exciting to see what chemistry between them and Boris is made during the tour.” Eeckhout added “Both bands have a crossover audience, yet bring two worlds within heavy music together. That’s what it is all about for Amenra, bringing people together.”
Boris' DEAR is their twenty-third album and dropped on July 14, 2017 via Sargent House.
Despite a quarter of a century behind them now, Boris show no signs of stopping for reflection; “We won’t slow down for new sound and music at all, that is our main goal.” From drone metal classics like Absolutego (1996) and Feedbacker (2003), to 2005’s shoegaze and noise rock-influenced Pink, to experiments in new genres with albums like New Album and Attention Please in 2011, Boris’ output has always been as varied as it has been prolific. However, the band themselves have never considered these albums so disparate; “I know lots of people are saying Boris have numerous musical styles, but to us all styles are deeply connected at the bottom end.” Whatever sonic territory Boris tread, they have an ability to remain unmistakably ‘Boris’. With the band now standing at 23 studio albums, as well as numerous EPs and live albums, it can be difficult to know where to start, something which the band themselves are well aware of; “We usually don’t look back at what we have done in the past, but also do understand we should maintain our catalog and archive for our fans in order to show them appropriately.” Even though they are an unwaveringly forward-thinking and experimental band, Boris understand the need to preserve their past works and for accessibility to new listeners.
For many, the quintessential setting for Amenra’s music is live, with their music described as bordering on ‘spiritual’ and their shows as entrancing and communal , something Amenra acknowledge themselves; “The religious nature of our music has grown from personal experience” Eeckhout explains. Whether the allusions to religious ceremony are intentional or not, “I believe you cannot ‘construct’ a spiritual aspect for other people, I would not know of a blueprint to that in music making…” Amenra’s ‘masses’ can be seen more as a communion for personal introspection and healing. From the accounts of fans, an Amenra show can be as cathartic for them as it is for the band themselves; “The religious nature of our music has grown from personal experience, and outsiders also talking about its “healing” nature, [this] only confirmed what we suspected, or felt ourselves… A lot of people share their testimonies why Amenra means so much to them. Or they come up to us after shows and sometimes have pretty deep conversations about it.”
The cover art for Amenra's Mass VI. The album dropped on October 20, 2017 via Neurot Recordings.
For Amenra, the experience of a live concert is first and foremost something to experience viscerally; “People can really dive into our music or ‘the moment' live, mostly they look into themselves. and let the sonic wave hit them.” Their live spectacle is aided by the usage of projected visuals on-stage; unlike many frontmen, Eeckhout performs with his back to the audience, a move that ultimately directs the focus to the band as a whole and the accompanying images rather than simply the vocalist. For Amenra, each performance is so much more than a ‘rock show’; the imagery and music, as well as each individual member of the band, are of equal importance; “The images are an aid to lose yourself within the moment. They reinforce the music, and make it easier on each member of the crowd, to forget where they are, the concert venue, the stage, the people around you, etc..”
Now approaching their twentieth year as a band, Eeckhout contemplated on how the group has changed over their time together; “It has evolved like all humans evolve in 20 years. Our friendships and lives have grown stronger. Our lives more difficult, we’ve lived through more adversity.” Indeed, while Amenra’s music and performance can be theatrical and ear-splitting, it has always looked inwards to personal hardships for inspiration; this kind of catharsis is paramount to the band’s creative process “…our direction will always be our own lives, and sentiment; our stance and views in, and on, life… We had never set goals, we just did what we felt we had to do, for ourselves and nobody else.” There’s a kind of palpable urgency and frustration in Amenra’s music, a deep and natural rage, their music a vessel through which to channel it. Even with side-projects like Oathbreaker and Wiegedood within the eponymous ‘Church of Ra’, with Amenra the centrepiece in the collective, Eeckhout believes “I think there is no other band than Amenra that discusses as much; the what and why of everything.”
Oh, dear. Stream and hear Boris' DEAR right here.
While Amenra draws directly from hardship and adversity to create their art, Boris embrace the spirit of improvisation more so than many metal bands. The band has always maintained a spontaneous approach to music writing, evidenced in early pieces like Flood and Feedbacker which slowly evolve across repeating motifs and riffs; “Basically, we don’t write songs, just go into the studio and jam together, then we have some idea and that will lead us to a specific direction.” Even when preconceived ideas are brought into the mix, the band enjoy leaving the songwriting process open to whatever comes to them; “I wouldn’t rule out any strategy. Whatever the case the song will lead us where we should go.” Understandable, when one considers the many sonic faces Boris have worn over the years.
Boris’ improvisational nature is becoming more and more reflected in their live performances, too; “All songs are living things, they will show us very different mood and sound whenever we play them live. Our songs have undescriptive silence, tempo and mood, so we will add another texture every time.” Between this, their prolific catalog and genre experimentation, Boris continue their tradition unpredictable and free-spirited creation twenty-five years deep into their career, and clearly have no plans to stop working any time soon; “I can’t thank enough to our fans and their endless support is driving force of the band, I really appreciate it. Boris are feeling we have something like responsibility to our fans and that feeling is getting way stronger than before.”
Amenra and Boris began their co-headlining tour of Europe on February 14th starting in Bristol (UK) through to Haarlem (Netherlands) on March 4th.
Turn up your audio device's volume level-ma-tron for Amenra's Mass VI album.