Bölzer know that time is precious and quality cheap in today’s oversaturated music climate. Armed with three songs clocking in at about 23 minutes, the Swiss duo more than charmed the metal community and earned themselves a slot right at the forefront of extreme metal hopefuls dwelling in the underground with their 2013 EP, Aura. Their occultic, atmospheric black/death sound transcended the conservative trappings of microgenre conventions, anchored by KzR’s expansive guitar tone and penchant for particularly memorable riffing.
Aura was a gem of a record because Bölzer is a band that has its priorities in check. What Aura (and their demo, Roman Acupuncture) lacked in length and scope, it made up for in righteous execution and rock-solid heavy metal songwriting unencumbered by sterile overproduction and obnoxious superfluity. Extreme metal is often given to prioritizing novelty, brutality and empty obscurantism, but Bölzer have no time for profusion. They are certainly brutal and obscure indeed with their lyrical fixation on ancient mythology, but these factors importantly remained subordinate to their top priority: the almighty riff.
As soon as Aura’s anticipated follow-up Soma kicks in with “Steppes,” it feels like a hug from an old friend. The track is easily on par with their current career-best “Entranced by the Wolfshook” with its immediately hummable stop-start crawl and thick, primal drumming, but what’s amazing about the track – and the EP as a whole – is how familiar it sounds. It only took 8 songs scattered across a demo and two proper EPs for Bölzer to establish an instantly recognizable sound, anchored by HzR’s tastefully primitive drumming and in particular axeman KzR’s expansive use of a 10-string guitar.
For those who might be unfamiliar with KzR’s guitar heroics, “expansive” is a key word here when listening to KzR’s performance on Soma. He effectively shoulders the responsibilities of an entire ensemble of rhythm and lead with Rambo-like industriousness, tearing through “Labyrinthian Graves” like a one-man army, despite the song’s slightly bloated length. He makes tasteful use of the added range of his instrument particularly during tremolo riffs in the higher register that blare with symphonic bombast – I even mistook his paying for a synthesizer in my review of Aura last year. Drummer HzR, solid as he is, exercises a great amount of restraint in his playing, opting for a thick, primal sound and a caveman-like cadence. As an ensemble, the two sound refreshingly individual.
Bölzer’s preference for quality over quantity is admirable, but there is something of a disparity in songwriting quality on Soma. “Steppes” is certainly among the best tracks released so far in their diminutive catalog, but the EP’s bigger half – the 12 minute long “Labyrinthian Graves” – isn’t quite up to par. It’s a solid track, but it’s slightly overlong and lacks the memorability and breathless forward motion of “Steppes”.
Thankfully, “solid” is the worst Bölzer seems capable of doing. At best, they are absolutely sublime – if they manage to lay down a handful of tracks on par with “Steppes” or Aura‘s “Entranced by the Wolfshook,” Bölzer will be utterly unstoppable. Whether they plan on releasing small handfuls of songs for the foreseeable future or are indeed preparing a world-endingly amazing full-length record, Bölzer remains the band to keep an eye out for in the extreme metal underground.