Genre: Black/Death | Label: Iron Bonehead Productions
Location: Zurich, Switzerland | Listen: YouTube
The Swiss-based duo known as Bölzer have certainly been making waves over the last few years thanks to the strength of their 2013 EP, “Aura.” Their demo and follow-up EP also have helped create quite a lot of hype for the band. With performances across the globe, the question still remained: could Bölzer capture the magic of their shorter releases and create a full length worthy of the hype? Fans have spent the last two years longing to hear this black/death metal’s massive riffage take over with a long playing format, but ultimately, they were not able to meet their goal.
First, let’s discuss the production here: it’s a very professional sounding recording that’s well balanced, giving space to all the instruments, especially giving the drums room to resonate and a gnarly tone to the guitars. This wasn’t a huge surprise for me, although I’m sure some fans will dislike the cleaner approach compared to the EPs.
The reason Bölzer’s EPs got so hyped is really simple: their riffs are colossally heavy. There are some moments of that here on “Hero,” however, a lot of these riffs fall short of the standard the band gave us initially. Instead, the band’s writing has shifted from stellar riffs to making the vocals the focal point. To me, this is what separates metal/punk/extreme music in general from pop music, and Bölzer have done themselves a huge disservice with this approach. Throughout this record, I found myself cringing at the clean singing. This isn’t to say I think clean singing has no place in extreme music. Bands like Paradise Lost or even more recent acts like Vastum have managed to utilize interesting types of clean vocals that are dark and add so much more to their music. Perhaps Bölzer could’ve got away with what they’ve done here if they added more delay/reverb to these parts, but I think more importantly, the riffs aren’t there to support such experimentation in the vocal department.
Indeed, the first couple tracks, “Archer” and “Hero,” did not give me much hope for this record. Both songs are pretty mid-paced and meander around with their choruses sounding like fingernails on chalkboard. Some may feel the singing to be out of tune/key, but most will agree it’s strange either way. In fact, these two songs make the clean singing on the album’s initial premiere track, “I Am III” sound not so ridiculous. At least that track has some interesting riffage, where as these first two songs do not.
“Phosphor” is by far the best track on this album, and it’s no coincidence it doesn’t feature any off-kilter vocals at all. In fact, it’s pretty minimal on the vocals (which are mostly aggressively shouted). The tempo of this song is more lively too which lends to my enjoyment of it. “Spiritual Athleticism” is the next best track on this album, and again, it has to do with the quicker pace, and the clean vocals on this track are probably the best ones on the album.
So just as this album starts to feel like it’s not a total let down, it teases the listener by saving the worst song for last, “Chlorophyllia.” The song does start off promising by having the only blast beat on the record. But right away, it descends into just down right silliness with an “OOH-AH!” chorus over some pretty stale riffing. Just before you start thinking that the song couldn’t get worse, it does, with some generic “see you on the other side” lyrics and the cringiest clean singing on the whole album.
I really wanted to like “Hero.” A lot of fans wrote the album off after hearing the first single, but I didn’t want that kind of hive mind to keep me away from the full album. However, after hearing it the first time, I was let down, and subsequent listens have been a chore and ultimately an undesirable listening experience. Honestly, after reviewing this LP, I don’t think I’ll be listening to it again. Bölzer came up short here, and you’re better off sticking to their EPs/demo. I’m not normally the kind of person who gets turned off by vocal experimentation when it comes to metal, but when that’s the focus of the record and the riffs take the backseat, that’s the result. Maybe Bölzer can redeem themselves in the future, whether they stick to short formats or by taking more time when it comes to a full length.