The fault-lines between a traditional and an experimental take on a particular style of music are usually quite clear. There’s little chance one would mistake Cannibal Corpse for Portal, or Immortal for The Axis of Perdition. But every so often one encounters an album that blurs the lines between the orthodox and the avant-garde. California’s Bosse-de-Nage seems to revel in this middle ground, however, and with II has created an album that is deceptively strange. At first blush, it seems like an easily digestible presentation of black metal with full but still organic-sounding production. On further listens, though, one gets the general feeling that something is just a little…off. Things start to sound a bit sideways, and what first felt like familiar motifs take on an aspect of strangeness. Blink and you might miss it.
The strangeness, though undeniable, is subtle. Bosse-de-Nage doesn’t tickle the avant-garde through brash experimental flourishes and flamboyant peculiarity as much as by quietly subverting and undermining one’s expectations of the genre. The biggest of such subversions is the odd way that the bass meanders along, often feeling almost separate from the main body of the music. It should also be noted that a comparison to classic early post-rock – and to Slint in particular – is almost unavoidable. Bosse-de-Nage has clearly drunk its fill of post-rock signifiers from when post-rock was still about rock, meaning that apart from getting nice and Slint-y, there’s also a touch of Tortoise in the almost jazzy feel of the drumming (even when blasting, which is quite a unique accomplishment). The guitars buzz with a bit of unmistakable jangle, and long sections of drawn-out tremolo never quite resolve where and how one expects, instead relying on odd chord choices and ever so slightly twisted off-kilter song structures.
If the music on II effervesces with a hard-to-pinpoint queerness, there is no such problem in identifying the lyrics as downright bizarre. “Marie in a Cage” is the oddest of the bunch, with its zoological take on the Marquis de Sade ending with “A gentleman offers Marie his hat / She shits in the hat and wears it for three days.” Elsewhere the lyrics evoke a wide range of interesting influences, from Alan Moore’s Rorschach-ian urban misanthropy to Thom Yorke at his most subterranean and paranoid to a bit of Dostoevsky stripped of the religious transcendence, as on “The Lampless Hours”: “When the lampless hours end will I be nearer? / Though my beard grows hoary and thick like the coat of mastodons / I will not.” At any rate, the lyrics are thoughtful and disturbed and deserve one’s attention; the impact of the album is blunted if they are ignored.
If the album has a main fault, it is that it excels at maintaining a queasy atmosphere throughout but fails at creating any real stand-out moments. Still, one of Bosse-de-Nage’s chief merits is the drumming, rock solid and perfectly produced, with the driving snare rolls punching in at the sweetest of sweet spots, particularly on “Marie in a Cage,” which sounds a bit like a stripped-down Krallice. “The Death Posture” is another possible highlight, with its slightly doomy intro that eventually shifts into a classic 6/8 black metal shuffle/shanty. However, chances are that, when one finishes listening to II, an impression of the whole will have been made much more firmly than of any individual parts. A bit of variation in the vocals would also have been welcome; their wounded yowling is effective but occasionally overbearing, especially given their slight over-prominence in the mix. Perhaps the highest praise to give Bosse-de-Nage is that the band often sounds like Virus, if Virus played actual black metal tunes. Influences aside, however, II is a pleasantly off-putting journey that should have all seekers of wrong-in-all-the-right-ways metal thrumming excitedly long after “Why Am I So Lovely? Because My Master Washes Me” has corroded into treble and noise.