Blackgaze is now established; it’s time to recognize this and move on. What does this mean, exactly, to be established? It means many things but it mostly means that bands, and journalists writing about those bands, no longer have to “apologize” for using that name. It also means, perhaps more importantly, that the genre now has tropes, tropes created from the expectations of the not-negligible number of listeners the genre now enjoys. This posits unique challenges for any bands looking to make music within the blackgaze space but it mostly affects the veteran bands that have been operating within it for a while now. Think of the latest Deafheaven record; their change in style is a direct response to the pressures and expectations now working on the band.
But they’re far from the only ensemble to face this issue; Bosse-de-Nage have been, up until Deafheaven’s explosion into popularity, one of the most associated with blackgaze or post-black metal in general. They also have the track record to show for it; first coming to life in 2006, Bosse-de-Nage are one of the most veteran bands working with this sound. And now, in 2018, the genre has undergone critical changes since they last released a record, even if it was only in 2015. So what is Further Still in relation to the new blackgaze landscape in which Bosse-de-Nage now find themselves in? Simply put, it’s a declaration by the band that they have no problem still making some of the best and most challenging music within the sub-genre; it’s perhaps their most accomplished work.
At the basis of why Further Still works lie the drums. In so many bands within this genre, one of two things happens: either the drums are buried way too deep in the mix, covered with layers of guitars and effects, or they’re way too loud, trying to harness the shock impact of blastbeats and, in the process, drowning everything out. On Further Still, the drums have been produced to perfection: every hit is audible and present but at no point do the drums overall the rest of the music. Listen to “Listless” for just one great example; the track is filled with drum-rolls, cymbal crashes and, overall, a vastly dynamic approach to the kit. But everything is so well placed that the drums never steal center-stage from either the expansive guitar lines or the shrill and abrasive vocal lines.
Those vocal lines are, naturally, the second part of what makes Further Still so good. The duality which can be heard on “Listless” is the key to much of their charm. One group of tracks creating the “main” vocals, deeper and more present, while another creates the “backing” vocals, shrill and wounded, enables the tracks to hit on two fronts. That goes a long way towards the channeling the often strange and depressing emotions of post-black metal, really nailing the home the sense of pain, anger, loss and fear that Further Still is constantly going for. The vocals also benefit highly from the drums, their spear-like punctuation going along way to augmenting the vocals’ delivery.
When those vocals are silent, like on “Dolorous Interlude”, Bosse-de-Nage take the time to deepen the sense of atmosphere and foreboding that the album is going for. In general, the instruments bare that characteristic “muffled” sound that started with shoegaze and bled over into blackgaze. However, instead of endlessly repeating riffs and an approach which channels fuzz and drawn out chords, Further Still is all about assault. The guitars are fast, as black metal should be, and the moments of respite from them are simply there to shed more texture and light on the guitar parts when they do come back.
The result is an album which behaves a bit differently to other blackgaze albums. Further Still is not about sinking deep or “drowning” within the band’s sound, like many blackgaze/post-black albums can feel. It’s more of an inward turning spiral, the barrage of sound and the eerie breaks that only make it more pronounced slowly drawing you into yourself, into the album’s embrace. That makes Further Still a tenacious album; you’ll find yourself constantly wanting to return to it, to decipher everything the drums are doing, every single scream and every blistering guitar riff. In that sense, its cover art is perfect for it; the hand’s source is obscured but it also calls to us, implies another place where other things are. Bosse-de-Nage’s music, in this age of blackgaze being wildly known, does the same, inviting us to look beyond the tropes of the genre and into new places of power and expression for it.
Further Still was released on September 14th and can be purchased via the Bandcamp link above.