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"Rock Dream" is well-named for those people who happen to be fans of both doom metal / stoner rock trio Boris and the noise artist Merzbow aka Masami Akita. These acts have collaborated two or three times before so it's probably no surprise now that Akita must be like a semi-permanent member of Boris and indeed "Rock Dreams" presents Boris and Merzbow the two acts as Boris / Merzbow the doom metal / stoner rock / noise electronics quartet, and not as Boris versus Merzbow. Much as the idea of Boris and Merzbow duelling together - matching long droning guitar rumbles and fountains of screeching noise gore together and seeing which cause listeners to keel over comatose first - might appeal to some deranged people, that idea was probably done to death before by other bands in other genres and the novelty value of two bands or acts fighting it out while destroying the world around them wears off quickly. No, Boris / Merzbow co-operation is the theme here and the result is a live recording where Boris ends up sounding like a super-massive space psych rock or stadium rock monolith more than the band has any right to, thanks to Merzbow's concentrating on using his electronics to beef up the trio's sound and loudness.
Disc 1 is the psychedelic space rock disc and is dominated by the 35-minute "Feedbacker". After a very soft intro, "Feedbakcer" explodes into a long series of extended fuzzed guitar drones with Masami Akita flitting about the edges, adding hisses and digital froth here and there. Lethargice drumming joins the mix before the 10th minute. For a long time there is a very spaced-out build-up: riffs and rhythms are stretched to their utmost, the singing becomes moaning and a desolate, melancholy acidic space-blues ambience dominates. With Akita limiting himself to adding churning ground textures, chripy plastic tones and shots of white foam to Brois's trudging megalithic sound, "Feedbacker" becomes an immense space jam encompassing the entire universe. About the 23rd minute, the track erupts in a mighty volcanic shebang of guitar feedback and electronic radiation fall-out, thrumming bass and runaway percussion, and thereafter we get a mix of wailing vocals, Atsuo going nuts on his skins, long guitar squeals that echo throughout the space and throbbing computer / synth effects. Probably at this point Akita might've been expected to let loose a series of triumphal geysers of digital noise and supercharged foamy stuff but I'd say that at his age (he was born in 1956 and the gig where this double set was recorded took place in 2006) he's probably beyond such shenanigans. Even at the very end of the track when the other musicians have exhausted themselves, Akita keeps his effects restrained.
Of the rest of Disc 1, "Black Out" is a sinister uber-Cathedral sludge doom trawl against a background of howling guitar noise, grinding buzz and flippy plastic synth licks and washes that turn into the malevolent vortex of freaky and freaked-out digital noise and liquid mercury that is "Evil Stack". Percussion that sounds as if it's falling down a series of staircases completes the Stack. This is one track where Akita dominates but again he opts for a minimal streamlined approach. After all this, "Rainbow" seems a bit of place with safe'n'sane rhythms and a well-behaved guitar solo.
Disc 2 is the rawk-oriented platter serving up a whooping and hard-rockin' garage / psych party rock / pop in tracks like "Pink" and "Woman on the Screen" with Akita mixing corrosive cocktails of digital hiss and foam. The early tracks on Disc 2 generally give us a stadium rock kind of collaboration with not much happening out of the ordinary here and as one track "Nothing Special" indicates, there's ... nothing special. It's not until "A bao a qu" that the musicians get down to serious stoner metal rock business and Akita comes off bartender duties: soaring guitars and synths readying themselves for take-off into stratosphere dominate here. "The Evilone Which Sobs" steps in with ominous doom-blues guitar tones that expand into a majestic juggernaut dirge groove, all chaotic and super-deep guitar noise, pounding drums and keening sharp computer noise. There seems to be a lot of furious swirling activity going on that makes the doom metal much grander, more tragic and definitely more painful and heart-breaking: this must be stoic Akita at work on his trusty EMS synths coaxing hurricanes and blizzard sandstorms out of them to push Boris into another realm altogether. Of all the tracks on this double set, "The Evilone ..." is definitely one where Boris / Merzbow achieve the feat of sounding like four equals working together in harmony on the music they do best.
After this sterling effort we get a nice dreamy psych space rock ballad in "Flower Sun Rain" that features a trancey, druggy feel, an immense wall of guitar drone and swirling electronics that flit to the far horizons and the firmament and back in the blink of an eye. This is a repetitive song but the looping structure is made bearable by Stonehenge-sized bass drones, storms of echoing guitar and hyperactive synth effects more sensed than heard.
The last two tracks are a return to the heavy arena-rock rock act with frantic rhythms and melodic psych rock flailings leavened with runaway jet plane noises, liquid electronix and noise froth ending in a spasm of squirts and hiccups ("Just Abandoned My-self") before all this is swept aside by a schmaltzy package of power chords, pounding drums, triumphal riffs and singing, and shimmering noise effects that are supposed to make you shut your eyes, sing along and wave your arms in the air with all your friends ("Farewell"). For a moment I can see Akita kind of shaking his head and gritting his teeth and wishing he could have persuaded his young colleagues to do something more along the lines of his favourite heavy metal music (Burzum, Corrupted, Earth, Immortal, Ulver among others) as he recedes into a background of noise buzz.
For a live album the sound is clear and sharp but we don't hear very much of the audience's reaction throughout this set. Who knows if a large or a small crowd turned up to see this mighty pairing of behemoths? It's quite possible that the crowd, knowing that Merzbow was up on stage, felt that they had to be respectful before the King of Noise. It's a pity in a way that we don't hear the people shouting or clapping or whistling because one reason live albums are recorded is to capture that band-audience interaction and show how the band feeds off the crowd's reaction to their music and inspires the musicians to lift their game. Disc 2 in particular could have benefitted from that interaction between the musicians and the audience but we hear very little of the crowd's noises.
I don't know the studio originals of these songs - nearly all of them are Boris originals with the exception of "Flower Sun Rain" which is a cover - so I can't comment on whether the live versions are better than the originals or not. "Rock Dream" could very well serve as an introduction to Boris as the songs appear to come from a number of the band's albums plus you get the added bonus of an introduction to Merzbow's music as it is now: these days Akita seems not to use tape loops or samples very much any more and relies more on his EMS synthesisers and laptop to generate his sounds. I can't say though that "Rock Dream" represents definitive Boris as about half the album is given over to (perhaps tongue-in-cheek) stadium-rock cheesecake music disguised in acid-tinged psych rock trappings. I wish we could have had more of Boris as the doom metal / stoner metal / heavy guitar psych space rock band that pulverises the likes of Acid Mother Temple (a famous Japanese heavy psych rock band whose music, also featuring a lot of electronics, tends to be chaotic and all over the place thanks to the mediocre lead guitar rock god posturings of its leader Makoto Kawabata) and other doom metal / stoner rock bands into fine grey ash.
I think Merzbow has done a good job here, he is actually very active on this album though his efforts can easily go unnoticed as they complement the music so well. On a number of tracks his contribution is more of a barely-there heavy juggernaut presence so he could have been operating at subsonic levels!
Best tracks: "Feedbacker", "Flower Sun Rain", "The Evilone Which Sobs"