For starters, leave all expectations of what a(nother) collaboration between Boris and Merzbow might sound like, because Rock Dream is nothing like Sun Baked Snow Cave, which was released by Hydra Head in 2005. This limited-edition double CD (5,000 numbered copies) was recorded live in November of 2006 at Tokyo's Earthdom festival. Rather than a free-form improvisation drone and noise fest, it features Boris running through their own set with the mighty noise master (here known as Merzbow One Man) as an additional member of Boris, transforming the power trio into a quartet. The band runs through its set, or, rather plods and hammers through it, from the 35-plus-minute "Feedbacker" and "Black Out" to "Evil Stack" and "Rainbow" on disc one. Make no mistake, there's plenty of noise here. Boris have never backed away from the loud and proud; it's just that Merzbow's textural additions give the band's already loosely based tunes on disc one more power and presence. The fantastic sound quality makes every one of these nuances ring in crystal distorto-sonic. Evidence as to what actual Boris songs sound like -- which are more in evidence on disc two -- can be previewed in the smoking rendition of "Rainbow" that closes the initial CD, with Wata's spooky voice and freakout guitar solos contrasted with the otherwise subdued tune. Merzbow brings a shockingly primeval yet controlled power to that mix. For all of its improvisation and volume overload, "Feedbacker" itself is amazingly listenable and its melody distinct. When it comes to "Black Out," it gets rougher, and "Evil Stack" is simply too much for mere mortals.
But it's on disc two where everything really kicks into gear. "Pink" starts it off with a bang, and the band is in full throttle, rocking it to the rafters and beyond. Merzbow's complementary swathes of power electronics add so much to Wata's guitar and Atsuo's drumming is double and triple time, leaving Takeshi to hold this machine to the ground. "Woman on the Screen" is pure punk metal pyrotechnics, with drum whomp and bass and guitar scree poured through Merzbow's wildness -- in this short track he is totally unhinged. Think of Motörhead-accompanied power tools. As the band literally rages through "Nothing Special," "Ibitsu," and "A Bao a Qu" -- with lots of whoops and hollers to underscore this pure rock-out orgy -- the energy is unrelenting. The first 17 minutes of this disc are some of most intense in freak rock existence. Things slow a bit on "The Evileone Which Sobs," but only in tempo. It's still pure guitar, bass, and drum insanity and Merzbow ups the ante with enormous drones and a high-pitched swell that never goes above the higher end of Wata's guitar scream, keeping it all in some middle range of the doom zone. (Is she the hippest guitar player in rock or what?)
The greatest moment of the entire proceeding, though, has to be the off-the-rails version of "Just Abandoned My-self," which begins at about 95 mph, gets to 120 mph, and then heads further into the red-line zone without abandoning its RAWK crunch. When Wata cuts loose on the solo, Merzbow gives her the biggest hammering wall of absolute maximum power to play off of, matching pitch and texture without being tempted to take it over the ledge into chaos. It walks the tightrope for the entire proceeding without once hesitating or falling over into simple excess. Feeling like a showstopper, it turns out that Boris has one more in the can in an eight-minute version of "Farewell" that could make Sonic Youth at their best look on in disbelief and total envy. Indeed, it's almost as if Jimi Hendrix and his keen melodic sensibility were backed by Glenn Branca's multi-guitar orchestra, but it's all just Boris and Merzbow. When Wata lets herself go here, it's sublime; she climbs that monolithic pillar of racket and brings order to the chaos with her solo temporarily bringing it near the ground again before it just explodes for the finish. This is a breathtaking gig and more than anybody would have hoped for, or, based on past listening experience, had any reason to hope for. Indeed, Rock Dream is exactly that, and sends heavy music in 2007 off with a grand display of mercurial, majestic sludge and wail.