Bosse-de-Nage‘s All Fours is the album Sunbather might have been had it retained a semblance of the grit and despondence black metal tends to attract. In discussing bands of this ilk, who take the genre’s tropes to an uplifting, spiritually accessible conclusion, the question is begged whether the ‘black metal’ tag is still really justified. Some liberal listeners are remarkably inclusive with what, exactly, they think defines black metal. I’ve also met purists on the other end who stand by the view that it’s only really ‘black metal’ if it’s lo-fi and penned with Satanic intent; all subsequent mutations are heretical in their eyes. In my current viewpoint, I see the folly in both schools: the purists limit a genre’s ability to develop, and the inclusivists run the risk of—and indeed occasionally succeed in—losing the fundamental point of it all. Obvious musical indicators aside, the black metal that deserves to retain its namesake is created with the intent of navigating one’s demons; whether they be religious or purely metaphorical, there is no escaping the darkness inherent to this type of music.
With that preface in mind, Bosse-de-Nage is an interesting find. They follow the same distinctly modern, shoegaze-friendly path as Deafheaven (with whom they took part in a split with in 2012), and a significant part of their sound could be construed as conventionally beautiful. I don’t have a hard time imagining the uninitiated appreciating the more benign passages on All Fours. At the same time, Bosse-de-Nage approach the tired post-black paradigm with a different tone than their life-affirming peers. All Fours is plagued with feelings of anxiety and frustration, and the album’s resolution does not suggest an overcoming of those demons. It’s every bit as pretty as Sunbather, but make no mistake about it: Bosse-de-Nage takes the listener in a much different direction. If you were among those who shared the opinion that Sunbather was tepid or lacking, I’d recommend checking this one out.
I hadn’t heard of Bosse-de-Nage before checking out All Fours and had little idea what to expect when it came time to listen to it. The album cover ranks among the most unconventional I’ve ever seen in metal, looking more like the front of a free-jazz record than anything else, let alone black metal. Before even listening to the music, it is clear that Bosse-de-Nage are attempting to distinguish themselves from their genre’s crowded history. While I don’t believe any three words could describe them better than the oft-maligned ‘post-black metal’ tag that’s lobbed their way, the band’s audible influences dare to set them apart musically as well. Of all the things I’ve heard black metal paired with, I’m not sure I’ve ever heard it with post-hardcore. No doubt the purists among us would get their angry letter campaigns prepared if ever a black metal band expressed an influence from post-hardcore (or, I daresay, ‘screamo’), but that’s entirely the case with Bosse-de-Nage. And no one is more surprised than I that it works so incredibly well. Keep in mind that an influence doesn’t necessarily mean a fusion of genres; All Fours doesn’t bend styles in any overt way, but the brimming urgency in Bosse-de-Nage’s performance sounds a bold step away from the solemn manner in which most black metal artists present themselves. The song ‘Washerwoman’ feels like a tribute of sorts to proto-post-rock legends Slint and their song ‘Washer’, right down to the broodingly poetic spoken word that drives the first few minutes of that track.
It’s their last-breath energy that sets Bosse-de-Nage apart from their contemporaries, regardless of whether we’re talking about the soporific ‘artistes‘ in blackgaze, or the no-fun seriousness of black metal proper. I get the feeling that Bosse-de-Nage are probably incredible live; it’s always a great indicator when I get the exhilarating impression of ‘live energy’ in a studio effort. I love the intensity each musician brings to the songwriting, and none are possibly more intense than vocalist Bryan Manning, who once again demonstrates the band’s extracurricular influences with a variety of frustrated vocalizations that might sound better suited to post-hardcore more often than not.
Even with Bosse-de-Nage’s longer compositions, I find myself consistently engaged by what they’re doing on All Fours. Is that because of their thoughtful integration of melody; their blend of beauty with ugliness; the way their aggressive presentation gives the songwriting such life and spontaneity; the influence of other styles, all the while staying true to what this genre should be about? It’s a blend of all of those things and more. In a year that’s already distinguished itself for a concentration of stellar black metal releases, Bosse-de-Nage have set themselves apart with this near-masterpiece. I find all cynicism people might have towards the blackgaze ‘movement’ entirely justified, but All Fours has proved an entirely different experience.
01) At Night
02) The Industry of Distance
04) A Subtle Change
06) In a Yard Somewhere
07) To Fall Down
08) The Most Modern Staircase