Album Review: Bosse-de-Nage - 'All Fours'

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Bosse-de-Nage deliver the record to beat for the year in their particular increasing-singular post-black metal sub-genre with All Fours, their most emotionally satisfying and deftly produced record to date.

It's easy to blame Deafheaven for all of this, but that wouldn't be accurate.

After all, both Deafheaven and Bosse-de-Nage are peers, emerging from the same Bay Area metal scene around the same time.

Beyond that, Deafheaven is not so much the great innovator of this particular blend of post-black metal but rather its most notable figure.

(There is, of course, also the issue of the notion of "blame" here, something only black metal traditionalists as opposed to fans of great records would indulge in.)

At this point, the sub-genre of black metal deserves a name. Post-metal is a good start; the lineage of bands such as Deafheaven, Bosse-de-Nage, Cold Body Radiation and An Autumn for Crippled Children certainly stretches back through the ideas of Pelican, Isis, and Neurosis and further, back into the post-rock of bands like Mogwai and MONO.

The presence of shoegaze is obvious; elements of post-Gothic guitar noise from My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive are hard to deny in these black metal bands' sounds.

Likewise, the post-emo of bands like Slint and American Football are hard to deny.

The thread that connects all of these influences is hardcore and post-hardcore. Black metal arrives to us through thrash, which was birthed as a combination of hardcore and New Wave of British Heavy Metal; sludge metal, from which post-metal is most directly birthed, is itself a combination of hardcore and doom metal; the connections of shoegaze and goth rock to hardcore are somewhat less direct while still present, and emo and screamo and early post-rock are all more or less direct evolutions of hardcore and post-hardcore. Post-black metal doesn't really fit as a descriptor anymore.

That name covers too much ground and these emerging bands have a set of influences both similar enough to each other and distinct enough from other post-black metal to warrant a name of their own.

This branch of black metal doesn't seem to be going anywhere soon. Likewise, blackgaze foregrounds one aspect while minimizing the others, especially that of emo, which is a heavy presence in all of the groups of this scene.

This is something to puzzle over and less something I have an immediate solution for.

Anyway. Digression of sub-genre aside.

The innovations on this album are subtle, even for Bosse-de-Nage. Deafheaven where their influences on their sleeves through interviews and their cover of a Mogwai tune on a split they cut with their peers in Bosse-de-Nage; BdN, on the other hand, obviously cites through sonics where their ideas are coming from. The rumble of the drums is part black metal fury and part jazzy tempestuousness and is perhaps the closest similarity to Deafheaven.

The guitar arrangements often play like post-hardcore rather than being explicitly black metal.

There is the standard of tremolo picking at times, but the shrill and punky chromaticism and dissonance typical in second-wave black metal is replaced with the more melodic, maudlin, and complex guitar lines of bands like Slint and American Football.

There is even a moment on "Washerwoman" where the vocals switch from a wretched black metal and skramz-style howling to a deadpan Slint-inspired monologue (note its similarity in name to Slint's own "Washer" for an idea of how much they want us to be aware of their roots.)

However, the foregrounding of the origins of these ideas does little to lessen their impact. It helps, of course, that Bosse-de-Nage's musical net is cast so wide. The album never settles on a single influence across all instruments and production for long; see.

for example, opener "At Night"'s Nine Inch Nails-meets-Neurosis post-industrial electronic manipulation played against Mogwai-style guitarwork with Slowdive-style sonic thickness, all matched against blast beats.

Any individual part might be able to be isolated to one or two direct influences, but the confluence of the elements is unique to this style of music.

More importantly, the production is smart, making each instrument legible against each other while still possessing enough density to create that delirious washed out effect that makes shoegaze, post-rock, and a great deal of modern metal so overwhelming and powerful.

One of the more curious aspects of the album, and one of the most rewarding in my view, is in how its layering of obvious elements creates a kind of subtlety.

Take, for example, the cover: Like their peers in Deafheaven and Cold Body Radiation and An Autumn for Crippled Children, they clearly are not seeking to evoke a standard black metal aesthetic.

Bosse-de-Nage instead further their own aesthetic pursuits they've pursued since their second record, focusing on simple geometric patterns and bold colors and modernist schematics, this time leaning to stretched and shared letters of partial lyrical snippets in bold black against a stark white background.

This pursuit is followed likewise with the track titles. Compare "The Most Modern Staircase" off of this record and Deafheaven's "The Pecan Tree" to a second-wave black metal stalwart like Immortal having a track named "In the Heart of Winter." It's easy as metal fans to dismiss something so aesthetically dissimilar to its nominal source material as pretentious hipster condescension, but its in better faith to read it as a deliberate and obvious pivot of aesthetic.

It is not to say that this record or its kin are not black metal; they are.

But the hardcore they enrich their black metal with is no longer the leather-tough D-beat that informed second-wave but rather the more abstract post-hardcore, emo, and screamo of the American underground in the 90s, extending as much to aesthetics as to sound.

A group like Liturgy is perhaps more obviously inventive when it comes to approaches to modern American black metal, but I would score Bosse-de-Nage as substantially more successful in creation and enacting of a modernized aesthetic for the genre.

The pieces are less jarring and incoherent to one another: black metal slides into post-rock which effortlessly takes up technical concepts from emo and screamo, all of which nestle well into post-industrial sonic manipulation and shoegazing sonic density.

Likewise, the playfulness of this record seems more focused and less messy. The songs swerve less wildly than Liturgy's, have tighter and more immediately satisfying transitions between riffs and rhythmic ideas, and segue into one another more obviously.

Bosse-de-Nage still covers a wide range of emotional content, from sorrow to triumph to hardcore-inspired feral energy to desperate frayed-sanity emotional catharsis.

Likewise, by not throwing the kitchen sink at every song, it allows each song to possess a little bit more of an identity, to contribute a little bit more to arcing the record as opposed to recapitulating its ideas over and over again.

It is this last part that makes All Fours so successful in this sub-genre, even compared to their peers. Many bands taken an AC/DC approach to their records: Find a sound, write 7 to 15 songs in that style, print it out. This isn't always a bad thing, and there is a certain very real power to that kind of aesthetic singularity.

(No one worth listening to is going to fault Motorhead for having effectively made the same record over and over again since their founding considering how absolutely f**king phenomenal that record is.) Bosse-de-Nage leans closer to the art music paradigm, using the record as a format to pursue a musical, narrative, and emotional arc rather than a way to reaffirm an aesthetic.

The aestheticism is there; art is always pure aesthetics anyway, regardless of how pretentious or difficult discussion of the latter may seem at times.

But Bosse-de-Nage in general and All Fours in specific is concerned more in using pure aesthetics to do something, to reach something, to communicate something.

I haven't read the lyrics yet (nor read too much outside information regarding it), despite listening to this album fairly often over the past week in preparation for writing this review, but I wouldn't be surprised if this was a concept record. There is a subtle unity across the changes, a subtle cohesion to obvious pivots and stylistically-varied influences and methodologies to extreme metal and post-hardcore, a subtle arcing to the different and very obviously emotionally-charged vocal performances across the record.

It swings like an Isis record in different clothing, like if their specific post-hardcore, industrial, prog, electronic, and extreme metal influences were slightly different, which is perhaps why I like it so much.

It's all a bit abstract, and obviously so, but the abstractions are all of the same school, which seems to imply a coherent and perhaps singular narrative beneath all of them.

I don't think it's necessary to parse that, though. Because when you hear the album, the cohesion is apparent. The emotions are palpable.

The production and playing and influences are married just right, balanced just right, foregrounding and backgrounding the right things at the right times so that these technical concerns are more interesting and important to someone attempting a more formal review like me than to a listener in the act of listening.

That's part of what made writing this review so difficult; the album wisely gets out of its own way, spending its technical acumen in its gestation, performance and production to render invisible things you might pick apart within it so that the sheer and direct experience of the emotional and musical arc of the record becomes so much more powerful and important.

It resists analysis not by being dense or difficult, but by being so compelling and, to be blunt, so good.

An incredible record. You'd be doing yourself a disservice not to check it out.