Boris and Uniform are two of my favourite current metal bands, using the term loosely. They’re forward-thinking, exciting, and fresh when many others take it easy and rest on their foundation or play it safe. Endless collaborations are just an aspect of this for Boris, whose nature of collaborations live and on record stretch back over 25 years, including the early live offering with the legendary Keiji Haino to their long-running relationship with Merzbow. Uniform are by no means strangers to this way of working, having released two brilliant albums with The Body, while leaving behind much of their industrial metal stylings while doing so. For Bright New Disease, I was hoping for a frenetic meld of Uniform’s aggressive industrial metal with feedback doused trips into drone. Just a generally heavy dose of each band which allows the personality of each to shine through. The resulting album is, in the end, a short 32 minutes that gives just that with some mixed surprises for good measure.
Opener and lead single, “You Are The Beginning” is exactly what I was hoping for and blew me away from the first listen. It has a hugely healthy dose of the faster, thrashy offerings of Uniform’s acoustic drum-backed recent albums with the Japanese hardcore propulsion of Boris’ 2020 album NO. It’s no surprise that an all-star band made up of Boris and Uniform can deliver a perfectly executed industrial metal riff fest, equal parts revelling in the mechanics and destroying the machinery. Uniform’s current drummer, and on their latest individual album Shame, is Mike C Sharp of the powerviolence titans Hatred Surge who offers a pummelling underscore to the wailing multi-layered guitars that Ben Greenberg, Takeshi and Wata fire up above.
“Weaponized Grief” continues to set the tone for a side A that delivers hit after hit of frenzied collaboration between two bands that end up sounding like a bull encountered a rhino in a china shop. It’s raw, uncompromising, and aggressive. Michael Berdan’s vitriolic shouts are as cathartic as ever, breaking through the noise of musicians who are experts at making a lot of it. Third track “NO” is a deliberate nod to Boris’ aforementioned hardcore foray, using Uniform as a foil to reimagine these influences and speed them up to their highest setting. Greenberg’s familiar guitar tone beams from above Sharp’s breakneck drums as Takeshi’s trademark vocals squeal above. He and Berdan trade blows, achieving bliss in the grim distortion offered up. This sounds like two bands full of ideas and musicians willing to offer different sounds in one tumultuous bundle.
“The Look is a Flame” brings in the second part of what I expected out of this album, a pace balancing ambient number with tense guitars, cymbal hits, and a floating Takeshi vocal rising above. The instrumentation here has the same slightly thin texture that Uniform have employed during their career, losing some depth for the droning atmospheres on show, yet it builds a shroud of sinister feeling around the track. Atsuo’s fills and sparse drumming, focused around a repetitive cymbal smash (with Sharp adding extra texture on a second kit) develops a turbulent energy to an otherwise hulking track.
From here, the two bands start to move beyond what is expected of them, though this is almost exactly what is expected of Boris on an album like this. The constant aim to break tradition and not meet expectations. In a calmer, and yet equally ambient, exploration into minimalism, synths and guitars offer drawn out, whooshing noises on “The Sinners of Hell (Jigoku)”. Tension still fills the track, but there is no distortion and the drumming is more consistent and less in your face. Named after the classic Japanese film about the accidental killing of a Yakuza, it builds up to more tension in the way a thriller often does, leading to character development as we learn who they really are before the final actions tells what happens to them.
The subtle synths take a leading role in “Narcotic Shadow”, reminiscent of the classic soundtracks of John Carpenter. Maybe Snake Plissken’s next adventure Escape from Tokyo sees the veteran criminal surrounded by noise musicians in the city’s darkened alleys. Berdan’s synth arpeggio leads while an Takeshi’s gothic vocals add to the ’80s stylings. The drum machines propel the song while the distortion is high enough to offer an edge. It offers the density of EBM and the character of goth while sounding like it belongs. It’s a welcome surprise from two bands who have never sounded anything like this, the kind of song that appears when kindred spirits allow themselves freedom to create. The following track “A Man From Earth” is somewhat the other side of this coin. While it offers a ‘buried-in-the-red spin on David Bowie’s glam years’ its chopped and screwed production leaves it a little messy. The slowed down effects and production remind of Nun Gun’s delving into similar techniques, but not quite offering the coherence.
The last few tracks were character development, the final two deliver the final action. “Endless Death Agony” is another true rager as the first three tracks, Atsuo trades vocals with Berdan who leads the purely Uniform verse. There are punk beats beneath the metallic guitars with Atsuo’s vocals adding charisma and style to a chugging chorus. The Slayer-esque solo, soaked in effects and done at a furious pace is another cool addition as it gets thrashier and thrashier. It’s angry right until the final lyric ‘keep fucking silent‘ gives way to album closer and second single “Not Surprised”. This delves back into the droning territory, veering closer to sludge with heavy atmospheres and bass underscoring to give a thicker texture than before. It reminds me of some classic Boris like Amplifier Worship, with driving drums and raging vocals from both bands, providing a thrillingly perturbing end.
When these bands toured the US together in 2019 I was jealous to have missed their nightly collaboration of “Farewell”. A few years down the line and I’m glad to have a more tangible offering of this kinship they’ve developed with Bright New Disease. Their more trademark sounds come together like a house on fire, but neither are shy to give something different and it results in a varied and exciting album. While there are a few missteps here and there, it’s an extremely cool and fun 32 minutes of industrial, metal, hardcore, synth, and rock riff goodness.