Something unusual accompanied the announcement of Bosse-de-Nage‘s new album Further Still: a press photo. The San Francisco black metal band has never been 100 percent committed to anonymity—they don’t play live shows wearing masks, and the fact that they play live at all suggests that much of their mystique comes from shying away from the typical press participation. But the dudes in the photo? They look remarkably normal; not even normal for black metal, but just four regular dudes. (Full disclosure: I actually have seen them perform—which ripped.) Yet for much of their career, Bosse-de-Nage have made great strides to avoid playing part in any straightforward interpretation of black metal. From a sound that merges the grim and gnarly with post-rock and screamo, to poetically depraved lyrics seemingly inspired by the Marquis de Sade himself, Bosse-de-Nage have created a style of black metal that stands apart from the ordinary and the expected. And they’ve never needed shoulder spikes or pigs’ blood to make that point.
Further Still doesn’t in any way contradict the aesthetic Bosse-de-Nage have cultivated, but it does mark a slight change in approach. Where 2015′s All Fours reconfigured the ratio to balance equal parts Drive Like Jehu and Darkthrone, Further Still leans much more heavily on the latter. It’s not a conventional black metal album—not by a long shot—though it’s a remarkable show of a band conquering a genre for what it is, challenging its dynamics without calling into question its core aesthetic, much like their peers and former neighbors in Deafheaven have done. This is undeniably black metal, just Bosse-de-Nage’s own version of it.
Much like its predecessors, Further Still is defined by its subtleties. “Crux,” the first track released from the album (or “single” if you’re not one to nitpick), opens with an airtight four-chord progression, a tense powder keg of an opening that’s fit to explode the moment it begins. Once it does, however, the band blasts right into a soaring black metal sprint that carries all of their melodic strengths and anthemic tendencies. Yet it’s in that tense opening moment that Bosse-de-Nage set themselves apart, seemingly just as likely to open up into breakneck hardcore as they are into traditional black metal, of which this is neither. There’s a similar moment of post-hardcore dynamics at the introduction of “Listless,” while “My Shroud” showcases their rhythmic complexities and “Vestiges” balances an impressively delicate tension between manic, pummeling rhythms and melodic space.
Though Bosse-de-Nage have tightened up and reined in some of their more stylistic surprises, Further Still feels very much a part of the sonic landscape they’ve already mapped out. It arguably occupies a narrower space, but it’s remarkable just how much exploration occurs within a less obviously diverse set of songs. That’s simply because Bosse-de-Nage continue getting better as songwriters. Further Still is a testament to the band’s ability to impose seemingly more limitations on their singular sound and manage to open it up even more—all without the need for cosplay.