After three EPs in three years, swiss Bölzer finally release their first full-length effort in the form of Hero. Let’s find out how this highly-anticipated album holds up against the band’s previous releases.
Bölzer is a swiss black/death metal duo that formed in 2008. The band released their first EP in Roman Acupuncture in 2012 and though it was well received, it wasn’t until a year later in 2013 that the band rapidly started to make heads turn towards them. It was the release of their second EP, Aura, that would cement Bölzer as one of the most important acts of their genre in this decade.
The blazing and exciting guitar work paired with the shrieking, gasping, and yelling vocals of Okoi ‘KzR’ Jones, that bellowed out the beautifully eloquent lyrics over the pummeling drums made Aura an unforgettable experience. Proficient guitar layering and a fittingly raw production gave Aura its blisteringly tumultuous sound and made the listening experience all the more riveting.
The stakes were understandably high for Bölzer who now stood on a solid foundation to launch themselves to even greater heights and the cries for a full album grew ever louder, but the band decided to go for another EP in the form of Soma in 2014 that was discussed in one of my first reviews. Bölzer went for a more cavernous sound and despite retaining some of the exhilarating force they displayed on Aura, Soma ultimately couldn’t reach the impact and staying power of its predecessor. Soma seeming like nought but a drop in the ocean didn’t diminish my anticipation for Bölzer’s first album, however, time went on and it took two more years before it would finally come to be and now here we are: Bölzer make their album debut with Hero.
Once again the band renovated their sound, keeping the innermost principles intact. Hero features nine songs, three of them constituting a quite well crafted set of atmospheric interludes named after figures of northern mythology, the core theme of this album. The first of these, Urdr, leads us into the album with some reverbed whistling and echoing drums that grow louder throughout the duration of the piece. The first full-fledged song we’re presented with is The Archer. Straight double bass drumming drives the soaring riffs forward as death shouts alternate with KzR’s low and characteristic clean vocals. It’s immediately apparent that the band embraced simpler, traditional song structures for this album, featuring a lot of recurring patterns with pleasantly catchy choruses. The transition into the next song, the title track, might easily be missed as the band makes it sound like a slower reprisal of The Archer.
What I find to be almost perplexing but certainly not unpleasant is the fact that Hero features an utterly unexpected resemblance to aspects of Crack the Skye-era Mastodon. KzR’s cleans on this song sound like a rougher and lower version of Troy Sander’s vocals and the way Bölzer utilizes guitar layering on the chorus establishes an almost psychedelic atmosphere much like the one on Crack the Skye.
Next up we have Phosphor, the outro of which makes me wish Bölzer’s next release would focus on ambient music for guided relaxation and meditation. Distand chimes and layers of whispering and throatsinging accompany some additional instrumentation in the form of woodwinds. The throat singing and woodwinds make another appearance on the next track, Decima, the second interlude that brings us to I Am III, my personal low point on this album. I Am III never really seems to get started and even as the band waltzes, marches and shifts tempos, I can’t help but feel like this song is just a bit unremarkable.
As for the albums as a whole, I have to say that, despite the massive guitars, marching drums and anthemic vocal performance, Hero mostly cannot inspire the same rousing fire and invigorating ecstasy that the instrumentation on Aura brought to the table. The different approach to the vocal delivery is pleasant, but not as memorable as it was on the bands strongest punch. Taken out of the context of Bölzer’s past releases however, Hero is a more than solid black and death metal album that doesn’t have to shy away from going toe-to-toe with other big releases of this year, despite not being entirely free of some dry spells and unremarkable sections.
At its core, however, Hero is a spiritual parade, celebrating ascension and featuring catchy choruses along with very detailed guitar layering as well as an organic sound enabled by the duo’s almost brotherly interplay. Though I cannot deny that I wish the band would make a return to the furious and passionate days of the not so distant past, Bölzer are definitely making their way as they relentlessly forge onward.