“My Shroud,” Removed: Bosse-de-Nage Goes “Further Still”
Black metal not only spawns, but releases. Bands may begin tied to the genre's tenets; bands may then find themselves far removed from their stylistic home some years later. The same goes for any style really, but with black metal, there's something special which catalyzes the process and produces incredibly eccentric offshoots: the primacy of experimentation. It's an inbuilt feature for the style, and it derives from the sometimes tumultuous wedlock between black metal and the extreme. Surely, in order to be extreme, one must experiment: nothing rehashed or re-molded will do, nor will anything outmoded. "Pushing the limits" is essentially what science does, but this isn't easy when translated into art. Bands can become safely tethered -- or treacherously leashed -- to their histories. They can find formulas, shortcuts, and paths of least resistance. And to their benefit or at their detriment, they can find the answer that fans themselves deliver with glee: popularity.
Having remained relatively anonymous and silent since their inception, San Francisco-based quartet Bosse-de-Nage have since departed their black metal roots for unknown horizons defined only by their artistic spirits and creative grit. To avoid limelight isn't a marketing decision, nor is it pure aesthetics; rather, it's a result of something inherently individual. It has to do with focus, and determination, confidence, and the quite-necessary tunnel vision these attributes foster. It's the pursed squinting to find one acute slice of clarity in the world's inane madness, only instead of clarity, you're looking for something even more obscure: meaning.. The important thing is whether the music -- in this case, Bosse-de-Nage's upcoming fifth full-length Further Still -- is both the art of the process/search as well as art unto itself. Stream the album's sixth track "My Shroud" below.
"My Shroud" bisects itself into two faces: the hidden, and the revealed. The unmasking occurs squarely on the two-minute mark, where immediate and momentous blasts pitilessly shatter the simple subtlety of the introduction's ambiance. From a sustained, highly energetic wavelength, Bosse-de-Nage carry their signature rising fury (carried upon frontman Bryan Manning's characteristic howls and wails) across newly wild undulations in intensity. If the band felt more "straightforward" in the past, then Further Still represents not their redirection, but their dispersion into greater space. In a counteraction to the expansion of their breadth, Bosse-de-Nage wrote the new album with pithiness and efficiency in mind, hence the juxtaposition between the one-two punch feel of "My Shroud" and its soft, almost desperate emotional overtones. The same goes for the rest of Further Still's tracks, each of which offers lush emotionality alongside waves of aggressive (but never overbearing) noise.
In a rare full interview, we talked with Manning about writing Further Still, the band's past, the new Deafheaven record, what's on his playlist, and more.
I think the lyrical content has always been a special focus of your band, but I'm wondering how the literature -- or any literature you've been reading -- has influenced the lyrical content of Further Still, the new album. What story does the album tell?
Well, I'm always reading lots of stuff, so everything I read influences the lyrics to some degree. It was kind of funny when we started out as the band, we had never intended for the lyrics to be the focal point, it just happened naturally. I'm down, I guess. I'd say my biggest influences recently as far as the lyrics for Further Still would be Bruno Schulz, Thomas Ligotti, Henri Michaux (he was this French poet who would write these weird little segments, like little flash fiction or something, not really poems, necessarily, but little paragraphs or short stories not even a page long that were like bizarre and interesting and have been a big influence on me). Kafka has always been a big influence on me, too. Borges, too. Those last two have made their presence known on all the albums. Probably all these people, too, really -- they've all been people I've been reading for a long time.
I've been slowly writing a book, and I think that has maybe more so than anything else influenced how these lyrics turned out. I've been working on it for a couple years (and still working on it), and I'm just figuring out how to write a novel while doing it, so it's taken me a long time. I think the style and the approach that I've been going with there has kind of influenced the weird first-person narrative that ended up making up the majority of Further Still.
So, Further Still is then told from a first person perspective but maybe multiple individuals?
Yeah, they were never meant to be connected. They weren't even meant to be all first person or anything like that, they just came out that way.
I didn't have an idea in mind, or an approach planned out when we were writing the album. It just kind of happened organically, it was just the stuff I ended up writing. It didn't follow any type of plan ahead of time or anything like that.
I like it when I hear from musicians that their art arises organically and it's not some pre-planned rubric they're following. It's an interesting aspect to the creation of art. As far as the writing process goes, not specifically for you but for the band collectively, how does that work? What is your guys' approach for putting these songs together?
We have a pretty democratic songwriting process. Usually our guitar player will show up with some riffs… three or four, or a couple, depending on how far along they are. We'll listen to them to try and figure out some that work together. We usually just record a few quick arrangements then take a few days to listen to them and get back together. Usually one or a couple of us will have some ideas for a structure. It depends from song-to-song: some songs by that point will be more of a structure or some will be more like two riffs. From there, we'll figure out more stuff that works with that, and then [we go] back and forth between listening to it and writing stuff in practice. Eventually, we'll just get to the point where all it needs is to be fine-tuned a bit, and then usually the lyrics and the vocals are the last thing we figure out.
It sounds like you have a pretty good synergy going with everyone.
We've all been friends for a long time, so we all know each other well. It's been the same four people in the band since the beginning, so we all know each others' preferences. We all know each other well enough to know how to work together well. On this album, we definitely set out to write shorter, more concise songs. But, it was more like a challenge to ourselves to see if we can pack all of the stuff from a song into a smaller package. It wasn't like a rigid set of rules: we were willing to let the songs run longer if it seemed necessary to that song. I mean, we have a couple songs which went over six minutes long, but most of them ended up being between four and five minutes long.
Yeah, you don't have any ten-minute ones like you did on previous albums.
There that weren't many long ones on All Fours, that I can remember, but always you just kind of… "long song structures" suit black metal pretty well, though not many do that. I was listening to Transilvanian Hunger the other day and was amused by how all these songs are four or five minutes long, too.
It's interesting how the format (ultimately, while the length of song is perhaps not the most important thing in the world) has an effect on the content you put into it. It sounds like it made you guys more economical and perhaps more tactical in how you arranged the pieces of the songs.
That's a great description of the approach and the results.
And speaking of how you're working well with the band and everything -- it sounds like that's been long-going -- is there anything about Further Still that reminds you of Bosse-de-Nage maybe five, six, seven years ago? Maybe the 2012 or 2011 era? Do you feel any of that nostalgia, or are you just focused solely on the future?
I don't know. I do think there those parts which hark back to those older songs, but it wasn't really any kind of intentional thing. I think that it just happened naturally. The first riffs in the first track [are] probably the most "black metal sounding" riffs we've had on an album in a while [laughs]. It goes back to the first couple albums, but it wasn't really intentional or anything. I think all of the songs ended up being pretty fast and aggressive for the most part, but it just happened naturally that way.
It's cool that elements of your past might kind of peek up here and there but not at your own will (I think the same goes for life in general)... but speaking of what's new in Further Still, what's fresh in your guys' mind when you're writing the album? What concepts and ideas did you come up with that you maybe never came up with before on prior albums? Any songwriting techniques, even musical techniques?
I'd say the big thing was just the focus on writing more concise, shorter songs. It took us longer to write this album than I think it took [for] any of the albums previously but that wasn't intentional, either. Life kind of got in the way: there were periods of time where we wouldn't be able to practice much for a couple months or whatever.
The songwriting procedure in general didn't change much otherwise though. I think it's naturally evolved from album to album while still maintaining that basic democratic process. I think [the albums] all have equal influence from all the various members: we all end up pitching in, kind of throwing ideas at the wall, and whatever sticks is what we end up with.
Sometimes one person will have more the say in a song or something, just naturally [building] a structure quicker or [having] better ideas, but it hasn't really changed much from the previous albums. Each album is one step forward, I guess, but there hasn't been a huge conscious effort to plan things ahead of time with any of our albums. When we first formed the band, it was just three people -- me, our guitar player, and drummer -- and we just wanted to write black metal songs because we were all in a band together [that] similarly started out playing black metal and then ended up being a completely weird experimental metal band. Then, later on, a few years after that [band] split up, we were like "let's get beer and write black metal songs" since we'd all been fans for decades at this point, which is weird.
It all naturally evolved from there -- we didn't set out to be the band we are or anything, it was just a natural evolution. I don't think you could really call us a black metal band at this point. I mean it's part of our DNA, but there are so many other influences. I think that any purist would scoff at the idea of us being a black metal band.
Specific to black metal, what draws you to it, or how does it influence the music your band is writing?
Well, I always, or at least for a while now, have viewed black metal and metal in general as a form of exploration of the darker sides of life -- from life to death and the huge spectrum of awful things in between. I've always been attracted to darker themes in music. Really positive stuff never does much for me, usually. I think it's just the natural attraction to that kind of stuff is what led me to black metal.
The first black metal thing I ever heard was this Nordic metal tribute to Euronymous compilation which came out in the mid-1990s. I was in high school at the time, and there was such a range of different sounds on there that it just sounded evil to me, I guess. At the time I was a rebellious high schooler, and there was something about it which really just immediately clicked with me. I'd listened to death metal and other metal before that, the more extreme the metal got, the more I was getting into it -- but when I heard that particular thing, I thought, "this is it. This is the music I've been looking for." And I never looked back from there. I still listen to tons of metal and black metal, but I definitely listen to a lot of other stuff, too. There's plenty of other music out there that explores the same kind of things (with a different approach) that I'm into, as well. There's something about black metal, especially that mid-1990s period... it just sounded so unlike anything else that I'd ever heard.
It's pretty well known that black metal is a genre which embraces experimentation to a degree. There are plenty of people who get hung up on containing the genre in a rigid system of rules, or whatever; but also, at the same time, even since like the mid to late 1990s, there have been a lot of bands that take the style in weird directions. Bands like Dodheimsgard, Ved Buens Ende, and ...In the Woods, stuff like that. Even classic bands like Emperor and Ulver have just gone wild with the sound. I think a lot of that continues today in spite of the people that think it should just be a four-track recording of people singing about Satan. It's the two sides of the coin, I guess. Even the Japanese band Sigh was on [Euronymous's label] Deathlike Silence Productions, and they're one of the most "out there" bands I can think of in general.
It's weird, there's this dichotomy with the fans and what they expect from the genre.
It's true, and as hard as people want to contain it, the more it bubbles and slips through their fingers.
To that end, black metal as a form of art is kind of infinite in that way. It can never be captured nor contained no matter what people try to say or put against it. It continues to grow. Maybe that's because, like you mentioned, it has at its heart the idea of experimentation. Something to be extreme has to be experimental and touch unknown territory. I'm wondering, at least as far as your band is concerned, what unknown territory are you tapping into (personal, musical, anything)? Where is this new album bringing you guys as a band?
Hmm, I'm not sure, honestly. I don't know how to answer that question exactly. Doing the same thing over and over again always gets boring eventually. I would say that even though our albums sound fairly different, we've taken similar approaches to writing each album. At some point, we'll get to a place where we don't want to repeat the same process, so we'll try something new. Maybe a new approach to songwriting -- I'm not sure exactly -- or maybe try allowing band members to write songs on their own, just to change it up. I'm not sure if we'll ever do that -- it just popped into my head. At some point, we'll have to change up just for the sake of changing things up and not being stuck repeating the same actions over and over again.
We've been a basically anonymous band for ten years or whatever, and that, itself, got boring, hence the willingness to be more open about the band. It's not that we were ever against bands talking about themselves, I just find it awkward that anyone would ever hear what I had to say about anything. We never thought the band would ever get to the point that we did (not that we're a massive band or anything like that). So many bands put out an album and nobody cares about it, and we're grateful that people have cared about the stuff that we've put out.
I just went in a different direction with that question, but… [laughs].
No, I think that's a pretty good answer actually. I think the way the album resonates with people draws them into your opinions on how it was written or even on the genre in general. Whenever I write about music, I just refer to the album's resonance as the intensity of the reaction which people feel toward it. For instance, the new Deafheaven album -- I mean, you guys did a split with them back in 2012, I'm guessing you've listened to their new one -- it's been polarizing, but not in the same way their previous albums are polarizing. It's almost a leftover polarization of the past, almost as if people "knew" it was going to be polarizing and confirmed that when it came out.
It's amazing that so many people have such a strong opinion about them at this point. When they first struck gold with Sunbather, the controversy totally made sense, or at least wasn't surprising. At this point, it's weird that people bother to make comments about them that they don't like them. It goes to the drive for people to always be talking about their opinions, I guess. It's weird at this point that they weren't expecting a new Deafheaven album to sound so much like Deafheaven.
I like the new album and think it's good, but it's different than I expected, having listened to them in the past.
I didn't know what to expect from it, either. At this point, they can do whatever they want… I mean, they have always done whatever they wanted. Somehow this album sounds a little different but also sounds maybe the "most Deafheaven" an album can sound, if that makes sense? In a way it kind of reminds me of their first album but with more sophisticated song structures.
And I'll be quite honest, I didn't expect Further Still to sound like it does. I expected more of a post-All Fours environment. We mentioned them before, but I got these threads of the self-titled and II woven throughout some of the tracks. I found it surprising, as I spend most of my time listening to All Fours when I listen to your band. I listened to II and III and the self-titled, but I returned to them with the different perspective that Further Still gave me, and I'm enjoying them even more. So you have this retrospective enjoyment built into the new album, I think, and it harks back to the old days, but in many other ways it's totally new, too.
We weren't really sure how people were going to respond to it.
I think your audience might be slightly divided. There are the people who know your band and kind of know what to expect... and know to some extent to expect the unexpected. But there are also the people who won't know what to expect -- those who read this interview and figure out about your band for the first time. Would you recommend they listen to your prior albums first or dive right into Further Still?
I don't think it really matters -- if I was going to tell someone to listen to my band right now before this album came out, I'd tell them to listen to All Fours. As a "classic band member," I think the most recent thing is the best thing. It's fine that fans have their favorite album, and I do, too. I think with each album we've improved our songwriting abilities and the recording, as well, I think sounds better… our performances on them, as well. All Fours was the first album I was really happy with how it sounded in a long-term way. There is this thing where every time you finish something, you're pretty happy with it (beyond the usual self-doubt stuff which is always there). But, I think All Fours was the first one where, a year later, I could listen to it and say, "yeah, we did a pretty good job on this." I hope I feel that way about Further Still too… I think I will, I feel pretty proud with it, self-doubt aside.
It's a weird thing to make an album and know that and other people don't hear it the same way as you do. When I listen to these albums, I generally hear the things I perceive as imperfections -- if I listen to it too many times, it's all I hear. But, if I give it some space then maybe I can get past it. Regardless, I still feel proud of the work we've done as a band and grateful that people enjoy it.
I wanted to ask, as a writer, what is your biggest challenge? What prevents you from succeeding or achieving what you're actually seeing? I think all writers have challenges, whether big or small, but what is your main crux?
Self-doubt would be the big one, I would say. Discipline. But self-doubt for sure. There will be days where I'll look at stuff I've written and be like "what the fuck was I thinking?"
You and me both, man [laughs].
I feel like most writers can identify with that. There will be those days where it's just like… like I said earlier, I've been working on a book for a couple of years, and there are days where I just [want to] delete this entire thing, fucking never think about it again. And then other days, it's just like, "I have to do this. I have to finish this, and I will." It's such a variety of feelings that go toward this one thing, toward this one discipline. Definitely, it can be rough.
There've been a few things I've written that I've been really happy with, and it's stayed that way, like "The God Ennui" lyrics was one of the my favorite things that I've written. Some of the stuff on the new album, like the "My Shroud" song, I'm really proud of that one. But there there will be other songs… I wish I could forget them, or that they weren't around anymore, or that I could approach them differently, or that I'd have waited a month before finalizing them. I think everyone that writes -- even to be able to write music or create anything that has similar feelings -- there are definitely people who are really confident who don't outwardly express those things.
Have you been jamming anything lately (doesn't have to be metal, of course)? Like, what's been keeping you alive over the last couple weeks?
Sure, I work for The Flenser… so, this past week, Jonathan, the guy who started The Flenser, he went on vacation and kind of left me in charge. He made this post on Instagram for people to send me all their demos.
Oh, shit [laughs].
This past week [laughs], I listened to people's demos and stuff. Another thing I've been listening to recently: The Flenser stuff all the time, obviously. There are so many points in time where you have to listen to the albums you're releasing.
I'm really into the Lingua Ignota All Bitches Die album and the new The Body album (that one's really good). I always had a hard time with that band, but this is the first album where it's like, this album is good. They're a really interesting band that I don't always like, which is one way to put it. The vocals are a big stumbling block, I think. They are at least for me anyway: they're just so bizarre. On this new album I can appreciate them.
I've been really into this ambient album by this guy named Dedekind Cut -- it's pretty good, it almost sounds like new age music, I really like it. I've been listening to this album by this person named Midwife -- it's got this weird gloomy, shoegaze/slowcore kind of stuff. Those are the things are coming to mind now.
Further Still releases on September 14th via The Flenser.