Bossk’s 2016 album Audio Noir remains a classic amongst UK post-metal, rivalling overseas legends such as Isis and Cult Of Luna in their ability to softly build tension until releasing it all in breathtaking crescendos full of gargantuan riffs. As the long-awaited follow-up to such an impactful record, Migration cleverly avoids close scrutiny between the releases by refusing to try and revive that same winning formula. Instead, the sound has been in a certain sense stripped back, adorned not by lush soundscapes but by subtle ambient embellishments, reflecting the stark, monochrome image that adorns Migration’s cover.
If Audio Noir was akin to submerging in a warm post-metal bath, with the serene atmosphere maintained throughout in spite of some potent sludgy moments, then Migration is more like being stranded on a street corner on a dreary winter’s day. The record is lined with glitchy electronics and interludes of static (courtesy of Taro Aiko and the late Etsuo Nagura, both of experimental noise metallers Endon), as if the record is fighting against technical issues even as you’re listening to it.
The band are still masters of the post-metal push-and-pull technique, wielding tension like a weapon, but instead of the slow, elegant build-ups of Audio Noir, some of the quieter moments here are almost faux-accidental, like the way that ‘HTV-3’ (featuring Palm Reader’s Josh Mckeown) wrestles with glitchy static before breaking free of those shackles to launch into boisterous riffs and piercing screams. Even the introduction of Cult Of Luna’s Johannes Persson on ‘Menhir’ is fantastically understated, initially mixed low enough that you’ll wonder if the issue isn’t actually your own speakers.
‘Menhir’ and ‘HTV-3’ are the centre-pieces of the album’s first half, and are the only songs on the album with lyrics (past vocalist Sam Marsh is notably absent from this release). Where Audio Noir offered blissful escapism, Migration’s mournful, distorted tones feel more like a reflection of being stuck on a decaying planet. ‘Menhir’, with its talk of ancient monoliths, and ‘HTV-3’, named after a Japanese transfer vehicle for the International Space Station, may still both seek to commune with places and times far removed from our own, but if Audio Noir was Bossk looking down from some celestial plane, inviting us to join them, then Migration sees Bossk looking up with longing and desperation. “A life, floating / Satellite, notice me / I know I need it” croons Mckeown. The album’s very title invokes a desire to flee, as if life on this planet has reached a point at which even artistic escape is unreachable.
‘Kibo’ is particularly enigmatic, all lonely plucks and static. When combined with the monotonous colour palette and harsh geometry of the cover, it makes for a frighteningly evocative symbol of the ironic loneliness we often feel when navigating densely populated towns, surrounded by drab tones and a general sense of decay. After a year of lockdown, that’s a feeling that’s even more poignant.
In opposition, though, penultimate track ‘Lira’ feels almost triumphant as it drifts from drone to post-rock to majestic, towering sludge. Its understated strings and eventual volley of churning riffs would be a monumental way to see out the album if closer ‘Unberth’ didn’t have something more ambitious up its sleeve. This final track is more amorphous, building slowly and ultimately allowing the album’s ambient nuances to take centre stage as poignant guitars are almost drowned out by growing electronic pulses. It’s a changed sound and perhaps a changed outlook from the band, but as an outfit whose releases are few and far between, it’s not surprising to find Bossk in a different place now than they were on their previous effort.
Migration is out now via Deathwish Inc. and can be ordered here.
Words: George Parr