Going against the grain of the US black metal scene, where personalities have a tendency to be louder than the music, the members of Bosse-de-Nage are an enigmatic bunch. Certainly no bold genre statements here along the lines of Liturgy’s Hunter Hunt-Hendrix; no grabbing the headlines like Nachtmystium’s Blake Judd or Leviathan’s Jef Whitehead; no hipster cred à la Thurston Moore’s dalliance with USBM supergroup Twilight, or Deafheaven’s fleeting crossover appeal.
There’s little indeed in the way of context at all beyond their literary allusions (the band name’s referencing of Alfred Jarry, the first in my experience since Pere Ubu) and their discography, which, going by their initial demos in 2006, indicates that the San Francisco quartet have been on the go for the best part of a decade, at least. While they don’t hide their faces under black robes or corpse paint, there’s a distinct separation demarcated between the people involved and the sounds they make (the members are credited only by their first initials, though vocalist B. is easily confirmed online as Bryan Manning, and drummer H. is Harry Cantwell, lately of Slough Feg).
To each their own. Bosse-de-Nage let the music do the talking, in their case a non-orthodox take on black metal. If that sounds like Deafheaven, you’re not far off the mark; the two Bay Area groups split a 12″ in 2012 on local “dark music” label The Flenser, and Bosse-de-Nage’s first three albums, self-titled by the band (though their second for The Flenser is also known as II, and their Profound Lore debut in 2012 is listed as III) are comparable with Deafheaven’s in their marriage of decidedly non-metal influences (post-rock and early screamo, as opposed to shoegaze) with black metal’s typical blurred tremolo riffs and jackhammer blast beats.
However, poor production (particularly the thin-sounding percussion) means these efforts come across fairly flat and one-note, with each track—each album, even—bleeding into the next. If you’re into the lyrics, and Manning’s writing (he’s a budding novelist, with his debut The Sinking House due shortly) they’ll likely heighten the experience for you: his diseased narrative, following the exploits of a protagonist named Marie, is a staple of their output. Beyond that, their recorded work has been nothing special.
Until now. The fourth Bosse-de-Nage album, All Fours, is such a giant leap forward in nearly all respects, it’s hard to believe the same band is involved. First track “At Night” sets out their stall, driven by Cantwell’s forceful polyrhythmic drumming and textured by D.’s fuzzed-out bass, M.’s richly toned guitar and Manning’s off-kilter wails. They’re captured here by producer/engineer Jack Shirley (Deafheaven, Botanist) for the first time with arresting vibrancy: every instrument, every texture is bold and distinct in the mix. And the song itself displays a significant step up in their songwriting, emphasising minor-key melody in its multi-part structure, setting off some beautifully evocative guitar parts against the harsh low end, the pummelling percussion and that anguished vocal.
Lyrically the record continues Marie’s depraved narrative, though heaven knows you can’t make out what Manning is hollering most of the time, and even those parts where his voice comes through clean and clear—like the narration on the Slint-nodding “Washerwoman”—parse more like William S. Burroughs-esque cut-ups than anything else. Not that it matters: Manning’s voice, as it should be in the realm of extreme music, is an instrument as much as the guitars and drums, and his screaming—mid-range but feral strains rather than his high-pitched screeches of before, and more affecting for it—threads through this emotional gut-punch of a record from beginning to end.
That emotional resonance is the product of the contrasts that are the hallmark of what’s a tremendous, forward-thinking avant metal album, one that slips between black metal orthodoxy (tremolo riffing abounds) and very non-orthodox techniques (Cantwell’s athletic drum lines, replete with syncopation and inventive rolls and fills, are often breathtaking) both between and within its eight tracks. “The Industry Of Distance” and “Washerwoman” explode from slow-burning post-metal dirges into frantic surges with soaring hooks at odds with Manning’s cries. “A Subtle Change” transcends in its mid-section under rolling drums, layers of droning chants and yells, and a heartrending riff cascade that pierces the gloom like sunlight through a storm cloud. By album closer “The Most Modern Staircase,” Manning’s voice sounds like it’s collapsing under the weight of the sheer rush of sounds. Listen through All Fours’ entire 55 minutes and you’ll get a feeling as to why.