Hero is the first full length album from Switzerland’s Bölzer, but unless you’ve avoided just about every blog of note over the past few years, and don’t spend one minute of your time on Heavy Metal Twitter, you’ve probably heard their name countless times. They are without a doubt one of the most over-hyped bands in underground metal’s history on the internet. This is not to say that they don’t have qualities — I’d be the first to admit that I absolutely freaked the first time I heard “Entranced by the Wolfshook” from the 2013 Aura EP — but their initial run of a demo and two EPs not only had a dearth of true quality beyond that one banger, some of it just flat sucked.
However, due to a number of other factors — quality graphic design (cool logos sell a lot of shirts), the “sunwheels” answers about their possible political views (funny how tattoos aren’t really visible in their most recent promo pics…) — they basically became the most hot take-able band around. And the hot takes flowed, and quickly the quality of the actual music was far from proportionate to their scene profile. Oddly, however, the band did not strike while the take was hot, and instead have spent what seems like an eternity to get this full length written and recorded. Meanwhile, their hype has waned considerably.
So now that HzR and KzR (still reading those names as if they’re in Wu-Tang) have finally delivered said album, and we have actual goddamn music to talk about, the key question to ask is this: Is Bölzer merely a mediocre band that lucked into one really great song and rode media hype to their popularity, or are they actually a great band that was saving their best material for their full length?
The first thing to note about Hero is that it markedly different from Bölzer’s EPs. Sure, it maintains that cavernous/atmospheric approach to black/death metal, complete with a mixed vocal delivery, but this feels kind of… hands-off in a way. The EPs mixed riffier, hefty tracks with longer, meandering songs that almost had a sludge component to them. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t, but the band’s formula seemed to be set.
Hero, however, uses this sound as merely a jumping-off point, almost combining the two styles into something that sometimes sounds like a less refined, blackened Valborg. That might sound appealing to some, because 1. A lack of refinement and blackened edge have helped countless bands discover their inner brilliance, and 2. Valborg rules. But Bölzer almost seems to have come upon this by accident. Where their earlier, heftier songs have a focus to them that actually enhances the atmosphere, much of Hero feels slopped together, and largely devoid of intensity or excitement.
Beyond just the easing up on actual metal fervor are the album’s more obvious flaws; and they are many. There is rarely a moment on Hero when everything works. “The Archer,” for instance, basically just jumps out of the (silly, whistling) intro with little fanfare whatsoever, featuring lazy riffing and bad vocals (more on that in a sec) for much of its duration. That it gets pretty cool and riffy right before the three minute mark is inconsequential; by that point, the damage is done and there is little reason to go back.
Now, about those vocals… The harsh, gruff half-screams still bring a nice sense of vitriol, but the “singing” on this album is an absolute mess. KzR’s attempts to sing here don’t just reveal a lack of vocal talent, they are downright laughable. It is the result of an untrained voice trying so hard to sound profound, but failing at every moment, having no understanding of diction, pronunciation, or his own range. Honestly, the closest comparison I can think of is this: Remember in Jurassic Park when Sam Neill is sitting in the tree with the kids and makes a noise to call the Brachiosaurus over? Yep. Kinda like that. Not kidding at all. The really sad part of it all is that KzR is pretty good at writing vocal melodies, he just needs to be writing them for someone that can sing them.
This pretty much describes the whole of the album: some cool riffs, some boring riffs, some decent vocals, and some horrid vocals. Erase the vocal issues and most of the album would be above average, with a few really cool tracks. For example, “Spiritual Athleticism” actually features enough great riffing to survive a few moments of ill-advised vocals, while “Phosphor” gives the album a true highlight. It thankfully features none of the attempts at singing, instead focusing on a long, gradual build in intensity that works to great effect. This is the closest the band comes to the wildness of “Wolfshook,” but even here they fall just short.
Other moments are less successful, with lead single “I Am III” blatantly doing the Valborg/Triptykon thing only to prove that Bölzer is neither Valborg nor Triptykon. Then there is the closing duo of “Chlorophyllia” and “Atropos.” The former actually shows a nice flair for the bombastic with some big thumps, but as it ends, it settles into the worst clean vocal performance on the entire album (which leads directly into the latter track). If you get flashbacks of Biz Markie singing the chorus of “Just a Friend,” you aren’t mishearing it. That’s basically what is being delivered here, only not cute and funny, just embarrassing for all involved.
Three and a half years since their Aura EP made moderate waves, and this is all this Swiss duo could muster. So to answer that previous question, it turns out that Bölzer is merely a mediocre band that lucked into a great song; the underground metal equivalent of a one hit wonder. A shame, really, because there was something unique in that one flash of brilliance, as if it was the start of a bigger vision. On Hero, however, that vision merely results in a very spotty album full of non-riffs, questionable-to-horrible vocals, and meandering songs that largely lack any real oomph. The few bright spots don’t shine nearly bright enough to make up for these pitfalls.
Perhaps Bölzer just felt like it was time to finally write a proper album, and forced out whatever came to mind. Or maybe they really did have some grandiose vision, but their talents couldn’t match up with their ambitions. Hard to tell. Either way, the results are at best aggressively mediocre.