Two months ago the Zurich, Switzerland duo Bölzer achieved somewhat of a Herculean task when they premiered the first advance track from their debut full-length “Hero”’. For a few weeks prior the storied halls of heavy metal social media had been in a tizzy over the first material to surface from Metallica’s imminent new album and levels of condemnation were running expectedly high towards Lars and co.

With the release of Bölzer’s first new song from “Hero”, the nine-minute plus ‘I Am III’, much of that vitriolic online commentary abruptly shifted away from the world’s most well-known metal band to an act formed as recently as 2008 with less than ten songs to their credit. Ah, the ceaseless wonders, and inevitable repercussions, of the hype machine. Social media is nothing if not a series of isolated bubbles and walled-off echo chambers to be fair, but the disgust leveled at Bölzer for the direction they were taking their music was eye-opening in its intensity, at least from my little corner of the globe. So, all that banal gossip aside, where does that leave us with “Hero”? Are seismic creative changes indeed underway or is the band merely progressing steadily along like they’ve done ever since day one?

To begin, a few things are immediately apparent. The production here is much bigger than any they’ve had before, wide open and vast with an immense drum sound. I’ve seen the band perform in small to mid-sized venues, areas where they absolutely excel, but “Hero” emanates from the speakers as if one was soaking it in from the middle of a huge concert hall. The band has also seen fit to really open up their songwriting this time around, a direction they previously hinted at with the somber heft of “C.M.E’ from “Aura” and to an even greater degree on ‘Labyrintian Graves’ from “Soma”. The songs here are given ample breathing room and the more compact, and dare I say traditional, songwriting common to black and death metal exhibited on their “Roman Acupuncture” demo is largely eschewed. Through their short career they have never showed any inclination towards stasis with each release displaying a noted and palpable change from the one that preceded it. “Hero” continues that trend, perhaps to a greater degree than before, and so there is plenty here that is new within the Bölzer universe.

The abundance of more measured, often slower, riffs that comprise the bulk of these songs brought to mind a particular album that I would not have readily associated with their earlier material, “Hymns” by Godflesh. There is an obvious comparison to be had when contrasting many of the individual riffs between the two albums, and the strong emphasis on heft and power, but perhaps a less expected comparison is that of Okoi’s vocals to Broadrick’s (or if you’re feeling extra anti-kvlt, Steve Brooks’ vocals in both Floor and Torche). There is no getting around it, as soon as the second track and first proper song ‘The Archer’ kicks in, you’ll be greeted by the man’s newfound gusto for deep, sonorous clean vocals. Deep and sonorous perhaps, but of a tone which I suspect will create an immediate decision point for many a listener. The contrast of clean vocals to music is not inappropriate, personally I think it works just fine, but it can be slightly jarring in a way not unlike what Blood Revolt were doing on their sole 2010 album “Indoctrination”. Simply enough, you’ll hear it and know immediately if it’s going to work for you or not and no amount of waxing poetic for or against in a review is going to change that. So we’ve got clean vocals that bring to mind both Torche and Godflesh? An ever-increasing distance from their earliest material coupled with slower and (rarely, but still unfortunately) more ponderous songwriting? All true statements and satisfactory explanations both for the wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth sure to accompany “Hero”.

Even as it arrives at the tail end of November, I would not be surprised to see it become one of the year’s most divisive albums. This will go down as one of those rare albums unlikely to inspire any feelings of indecision, every conversation I’ve had on it has swung strongly pro or con, while at the same time being difficult to recommend. That difficulty doesn’t stem from it being a poor album but rather the curious and occasionally esoteric composition choices. The unrelenting storm of hype that surrounds Bölzer at the moment ensures that nearly everyone reading this has at least a passing familiarity with the band and has formed at least a rudimentary opinion if the band tickles their fancy or not. If you’ve never cared for Bölzer before then I doubt there is anything on “Hero” that will change your mind. If you liked “Roman Acupuncture” and “Aura” but started to drift away on “Soma” then this is going to be a hard sell but if you’ve enjoyed them from conception right on through then disregard the hype and give this a listen. You might be very glad you did!

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Ryan Skow
November 21st, 2016

Comments

  1. Commented by: guilliame

    Never heard of them and how would i, this is the first album. Don’t care about social media hullaballoo.

    The music is good. Thanks for posting that. Sounds a little like Ruins of Beverast meets Amebix or something. The riffs are quirky and interesting.


  2. Commented by: AR

    Holy Hell, I’m diggin’ the piss out of this, first listen for me as well. I’m hearing a bunch of different bands in this too like: Wildhoney-era Tiamat, Triptykon, the aforementioned Godflesh and Floor/Torche, Killing Joke on meth, Ackercocke (a bit), probably more that I can’t think of right now. So good.


  3. Commented by: AR

    Akercocke NOT Ackercocke, sorry.


  4. Commented by: AR

    In the vocals I’m also hearing a bit of Code or Ved Buens Ende. Metal sucks called this “hipster metal” (in a sorta nice way, though) but I say fuck that. Good shit.


  5. Commented by: Vance

    Very cool, love the pace and the overall vibe of the music, sounds like Killing Joke and Tombs. The vocals for me set this a part from most of the other forgettable stuff out there.


  6. Commented by: gabaghoul

    I like what they are trying to do here, and the sludgy, jagged songwriting reminds me of a cross between Deathspell Omega and Mastodon. The clean vocals are fine as an aesthetic choice (and I like similar uses in Fleshgod Apocalypse, Anaal Nathrakh, Emperor, and Akercocke) but I can’t stand the delivery here – they sound blunted and dopey, not booming and powerful. Will take me some time to get used to I guess since the rest of it is compelling.


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