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Dry ice billowed across the main stage at the Knitting Factory back one night in March, bathing the audience in a pale, sepulchral mist. Stacks of amplifiers groaned like lungs caked in black fuzz. Short, choppy guitar shards spat furiously, while thick bass chords oozed beneath the seismic shudder of the drums. Few bands alive make the walls sweat like Boris.

The Japanese trio, which has been gigging in one form or another since 1992, has become more prevalent on the American rock club circuit since the breakthrough success of its 2005 album Pink (Southern Lord). The recording sold about 15,000 copies to the kinds of fans who would not likely be seen at Ozzfest, the annual tour that serves as a summit for everything heavy metal. Indeed, the crowd that jammed into the Knitting Factory this week qualified as more nerdy than diabolical, despite its excess of facial hair. And though there was a semblance of a mosh pit, there also was a sizable young female element to the demographic, savvy and amused, perhaps, to have strayed so far from the L train – the automated artery that pumps hipster blood through the heart of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, America’s capital of the next groovy thing.

But, as is obvious to anyone who has indulged their ears in Pink, or for that matter in last year’s collaboration with the guitarist Michio Kurihara of Ghost, Rainbow, Boris really isn’t a heavy metal band. It’s more accurate to label them “heavy meta.” The outfit’s fluid chemistry and ease with extreme dynamic swerves allow it to deploy stop-on-a-dime transitions that can carry a set list across the universe, from skull-cracking rhythmic assaults to beatific nature reveries laced with sun-dappled psychedelia.

One song off Boris’ brand new album, Smile, illustrates this perfectly: “Buzz In” begins with a 4-year-old child singing a jingle, all giggles and innocence, before lead guitarist Wata cranks in with the über-riffage and the drums start to wallop. Yet, every song Boris performs achieves the same effect. “Flower Sun Rain” bodes some kind of lyrical impressionism, but to get to bassist-vocalist Takeshi’s wistful refrain, you have to submit to extensive feedback, drone and hum, manipulated like the sonic equivalent of a hall of mirrors. The effect is at once ghostly and sincere, ephemeral and emphatic, and in the end it feels as if the singer has invited you to drizzle away with him into a soulful, introspective guitar solo that might have been inspired by the late Funkadelic fret wizard Eddie Hazel.

In the world in general, we’re always moving between beautiful and ugly,” Atsuo, the band’s drummer and driving creative force, said recently. It was the afternoon after the show, and the musician and artist was sitting in the lobby of a hotel on West 94th Street with his young American translator. Thankfully, this skinny white dude was more artful at articulating Japanese idioms and parlance than 98 percent of the interviews I’ve done with musicians who don’t speak romance languages. No need to make every time Suntory time, thank Saint Ozu. Instead, what Atsuo often spoke came across as poetic, occasionally a tad mystifying, and generally edged with the crafty intentions of the unreconstructed Dadaist, dishing up the epigrams. “People say about every album, that it’s a pendulum, swinging between opposites. That’s the reality of life.”

Atsuo, like his bandmates, uses only his first name professionally. Now in his late 30s, he seems to approach Boris as part of a more general ongoing art project, one that extends to visual art and literature, as well as more marketable facets such as the band’s often extravagant collectible record and CD packages and its endless collaborations with peers in Japan (guitarist Keiji Haino, Merzbow) and America (label-mates Sunn O)))). His intensity was calm but deep, as an introductory comment turned into a discussion about the meaning of “ambivalence” in Japanese culture, and how Boris’ pursuit of extremes is a method for questioning a kind of national complacency.

Maybe that’s why the group is so eager to embrace an American audience. “When there is a conversation between two people who have their own unique perspective, what comes out is a synthesis of love,” Atsuo said. As he sat in a deep leather armchair, his fingers fluttered over upturned palms like a spider flexing. His long, jet-black hair was offset by a white suit and white loafers, worn with pinstriped black socks. He scarcely needed the dark sunglasses to complete the effect. “The point of the conversation between Boris and music is to destroy the music,” he continued. “The point of the conversation between Boris and the audience is to destroy the audience’s expectation for what Boris sounds like as they listen to it.”

As a child, Atsuo said, his earliest cultural memories were of musical themes used in cartoons. His favorite was a robot show that usually climaxed with a huge battle. “Every week, there was a fight song,” he said. “And it always had a sense of courageousness, of putting your shoulders up and going forward.” The bandleader also nodded to the 1970s theatrical artist Shuji Terayama, whose shows typically subverted reality. “One of his performances was a performance that you couldn’t see,” Atsuo said. “He made everyone who was coming drink a sedative to fall asleep. He was doing quite dangerous things.”

On the flip side, Atsuo lamented that he hasn’t made much of an impact back home. “Japan doesn’t really understand me,” he said. “Yet.” But pudgy, hairy-faced American guys and their hipster chicklet counterparts? They do. They’ll lick the sweat off those walls.

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