After years of anticipation, Bölzer have finally released their first full-length. But is it any good?
Okoi “KzR” Jones is one hell of a guitarist. At once melodically intricate and rhythmically challenging, his command over a 10-string B.C. Rich is one that few, if any, can match. Fabian “HzR” Wyrsch, his counterpart on drums, appears to be preternaturally gifted in the art of laying down uniquely creative drums with a level of skill and panache that evades most drummers. Between the two of them, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more formidable musical duo in all of modern metal. It’s just a shame that KzR can’t fucking sing.
That’s not entirely fair. He can hold a note, mostly, and with great difficulty when he tries his hardest. Unfortunately, those moments are few and far between among the cheesy ham sandwich attempts at creating an emotional atmosphere on these handful of tracks that constitute Hero, the first full-length from this Swiss duo.
For those unfamiliar with Bölzer, you’ve likely been away from underground metal for a few years. Hey! How ya been? Are the folks doing alright? Anyway, there’re these guys called Bölzer, OK? They put out a demo in 2012 called Roman Acupuncture, a title that is a playful euphemism for a crucifixion. It was a pretty wild release that serves as a worthwhile introduction to the band’s trademark blend of death and black metal riffage.
Roman Acupuncture, set the template for 2013’s Aura EP. With clearer production and a handful of totally unfuckwithable riffs, Aura completely blew away underground metal fans and damn near every metal blogger along with, I assume, a few normie casualties along the way as collateral damage. If you’ve somehow never heard “Entranced by the Wolfshook”, you should go ahead and listen now to hear the sound of a young metal band with the world swinging from their nuts.
The two-song Soma EP followed in 2014, holding fast with the platonic ideal of Bölzer; intensely atypical 10-string riffage, smoke stack vocals, and unstoppable drums. It was another notch in the belt of a band that could do no wrong, as they continued destroying the world with big festival appearances.
The complete discography of Bölzer, til this point, consisted of 9 tracks parceled out over 3 releases. “But where is the full-length?” the masses intoned. “When will we get the big, fuck-all Bölzer LP?” Folks, your pleas have been heard, for this Friday you can pick up Hero at a Sam Goody near you.
I own a vinyl copy of Aura despite being aware of their affected speech, affinity for wolfsangel, valknut, and swastika tattoos, and close friendship with well-known assholes Destroyer 666. Despite these hindrances, I came to this album eager for whatever Bölzer was gonna throw my way.
Getting beyond the ominous spaghetti-Western opener “Urdr”, the band launches every ounce of their talent and creativity into “The Archer”, the first proper song on Hero. If the band sought to expand their scope beyond “Entranced by the Woolfshook”, they’ve surely done it with “The Archer”. HzR’s drums thunder with precision and clarity yet unheard in the band’s catalog. Likewise, KzR’s riffs effortlessly cascade across the track, carrying with them an emotional heft that evokes equal parts desperation and hope. KzR has has all but abandoned his steeped growl, and instead adopted a gruff yelp that carries throughout the record. While slightly awkward, it works well enough within the confines of this track, by far the best on the record.
Had the band taken this song and tacked on a lesser track, perhaps “Hero” or “Spiritual Athleticism”, Bölzer would continue their streak of untouchable EPs. Instead, the band soldiered on to complete this long-awaited album. Each time I listen to this record, I’m further disappointed by the bloat and lack of cohesion in most of the compositions on Hero. Sure, each track here has a bright spot. A riff that shines out above the morass. A mighty drum clatter that thrills the listener. A “breakdown” here and there to break up the tedium. But nothing shines like “The Archer”. And often I recoiled listening to KzR’s over-the-top attempts at clean vocals.
If KzR put as much work into practicing his vocals as he surely does practicing the guitar, the results on Hero might be easier to bear. As it is, he sounds like a poor mockery of Baroness‘ John Baizley. Perhaps Bölzer would benefit from attempting the bombastic harmonies that Baizley coaxes from his bandmates? Perhaps that too would be a disaster. One listen to “Atropos”, the album’s closer, is more than enough to last anyone a lifetime. “Chlorophylia” is the album’s nadir. With a main riff that sounds like bargain basement power metal and a vocal hook that I can only describe as an aggressive goblin feeling refreshed as fuck after taking a swig of Diet Coke, the track punishes the listener for over 7 minutes.
Hero is the sound of a band’s reach far extending their grasp. In this sense, the album’s title makes perfect sense. What is a hero but a man that endlessly pushes himself, forever striving for glory beyond his abilities? In another sense, it’s a bitterly ironic moniker for a record that that tries its damnedest but falls woefully short.
2 out of 5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell
Hero is out this Friday on Iron Bonehead.