Boris/The Atlas Moth/SubRosa at 9:30 Club

By Chris Dahlberg

Published on Sunday, August 17, 2014

It can sometimes be a bit difficult to keep up with everything Boris is doing, considering just how many releases the Japanese band releases in a short span of time. They’ve released more traditional albums as well as drone/noise albums and collaborative efforts, and never follow the standard multi-year tour/release cycle that is common in the music world. Boris also tends to tour overseas quite a bit, but even though they had come through Washington D.C. at least once a year for the past two to three years, I had missed my opportunity to see them until about two weeks ago. This current tour was in support of Noise, which Sargent House released back in June. It found the group merging many of the elements from their previous efforts together onto one release, resulting in a streamlined album with a considerable amount of diversity. Boris’ performance at 9:30 Club was structured much in the same way, providing concertgoers the opportunity to not only hear songs from different points in their discography but also experience all of the different sides of what this three piece has to offer, and it ended up being a highlight of my 2014 concert season.

I was really excited to see Boris perform, but was equally excited to check out both of the opening acts on this tour as they were both bands that have generated quite a bit of buzz. They also both happen to be on Profound Lore, a record label that has put out one stellar release after the next for quite a few years now. Salt Lake City’s SubRosa was the first group to perform, and while I hadn’t had the opportunity to explore their material in depth I had heard a lot of good things from friends and other music critics. SubRosa’s newest full length More Constant Than the Gods came out last year and ended up on quite a few Best of the Year lists, so I was interested in seeing what they had to offer. The band’s songs skew towards the longer side, often stretching to the ten to fifteen minute mark, and because they were in the opening slot the group only played two songs. But by the time they had ended, I felt like I would’ve loved to see them play for over an hour as the material completely blew me away. I realize that I have probably said something similar in a lot of other live reviews, as I see a lot of great bands on a regular basis, but this was different. SubRosa’s base sound has elements of doom and sludge, but all of their arrangements incorporate violin melodies and clean singing. This results in songs that build slowly and create a thicker atmosphere that draws you in with somber melodies before completely blowing you away with a wall of sound and wild violin work. Lead vocalist Rebecca Vernon has a commanding stage presence, and her singing voice gives the band a very different sound from many of the other sludge/doom acts out there. This was the type of set where I was completely entranced and felt like I couldn’t take my eyes off of what was happening on-stage for a single second, and I really want them to come back in some sort of headlining capacity in the future.

Changeover times were surprisingly short on this evening, as it seemed like right after SubRosa finished The Atlas Moth was ready to take the stage. I had spent a good deal of time with 2011’s An Ache for the Distance, but the few songs I had heard from this year’s The Old Believer hadn’t quite clicked. Over the years The Atlas Moth has taken the extremely heavy sludge sound they started off with and transitioned into something that sounds considerably different, as their newer material has an emphasis on clean singing and synthesizers that at times feels a bit closer to older alternative rock than metal. While the little bit of The Old Believer that I had heard online hadn’t taken hold of me yet in the same way the group’s previous material did, I figured a live set might be a good way to try and further connect with it and I was right. The Atlas Moth struck a decent balance between songs off this new record and material from their previous albums, and I did find that hearing some of the newer stuff live made me able to better appreciate it. It translates over well live, as Stavros Giannopoulos extremely raw and distorted harsh pitches come through even more in person and the same is true of the cleaner ranges from the other members. There was a lot to take in throughout the set, and while I do still think that in some ways I prefer the older material there were some songs from The Old Believer that drew me in as the riffs washed over me at higher volumes. They’ve changed a lot over the years and have really branched out further than listeners may have initially expected, but that’s part of why The Atlas Moth has continued to draw in a fairly sizeable audience and I think that after seeing this performance I should give the new album another chance. I also can’t wrap my head around how Stavros is able to hit some of the distorted pitches he goes for on some of the songs, as they sound inhuman at times and put plenty of other vocalists to shame.

By the time Boris went on the venue had really filled up, and what I noticed when looking around was that this was one of the most diverse crowds I had been in recently. It seems as though the group attracts a wide range of fans, and that’s definitely a good thing. They started things off with a mellower number, before kicking things up with one of their faster pieces that got a little bit of moshing started. Boris is really good at getting the crowd into what they’re doing, particularly drummer/vocalist Atsuo who would yell out to the audience between many of the songs and shout “Yeah!” during the faster pieces. They played for a little over an hour, and rather than doing an encore the set was finished off with a lengthier drone/doom piece where the noise levels went up to a room shaking level. During this point Atsuo climbed on top of his drum set before diving into the crowd and surfing his way to the middle before heading back to the stage. It was a high energy performance, and even when they slowed things down for one of their doom/shoegaze influenced arrangements Boris had the crowd in a daze, hanging on to every note. Although Noise came out relatively recently, I hadn’t been able to dive into the album that much just yet, and one piece from the record that they played has stuck with me ever since the performance. That song is “Heavy Rain,” which has bassist Wata start the vocals off with a much softer pitch before building up into a stunning atmospheric climax. I think the live version may have been even longer than it is on the recording, and my jaw dropped as the instrumental melodies reached their peak level and the waves of sound completely enveloped me. As much as I love when Boris hits the gas pedal and delivers some high flying rock/metal riffs that make you want to move, these moments of tranquility are what attracts me the most and I was glad to see they included a decent number of songs like this in their live performance. My first opportunity to see them perform live was a very positive experience, and based on the strength of this set I am going to make a point to not miss them anymore when they come through my local area.





The Atlas Moth-

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