Bölzer is a textbook case of a promising band that has struggled to reach the lofty heights of their first release, 2013’s hugely impressive Aura EP. Follow-up EP Soma was a solid outing that didn’t quite manage to captivate on as deeper level. However, I kept the faith that Bölzer were able to deliver a knockout blow leading up to their 2016 debut LP, Hero. Unfortunately, the album left me feeling indifferent and frustrated due to inconsistent writing and questionable vocal choices, leaving scattered traces of brilliance hidden amidst the wreckage. Finally, Bölzer return on their own label and ready to unleash their sophomore LP, Lese Majesty. With increasingly diminishing returns defining their career thus far, can the dynamic duo reclaim the glory and shoot for the stars this time around?
First and foremost, one must acknowledge the talents and uniqueness of Bölzer. The band perform with technical skill and precision, concocting an oddball formula of progressive blackened death. Littered with strange harmonies and a sinister, almost ritualistic vibe, Lese Majesty sounds more urgent, feral and stripped back, embracing Bölzer‘s raw, barbaric roots and cutthroat execution. Despite the stripped-back approach, Bölzer remain an ambitious act not afraid to flex their progressive muscles, unleashing strange melodies and ambient indulgences within unconventional song structures. The album itself is a compact package, consisting of four tracks and a shade under half hour of music. Considering the tendency for Hero to sound bloated and self-indulgent, this more concise approach is a welcome one.
At its best, Lese Majesty features some formidable, impressively written metal that goes some way towards the band recapturing the fire and fury. Nine-minute opener “A Shepherd in Wolven Skin” bursts out of the gate with thrashing tempos and invigorating pulsations of energy and aggression within a blackened death framework. The distinctive growls of vocalist/guitarist Okoi Jones cuts through the mix amidst a blackened storm of violent riffage, signature quirky harmonies, and pummeling tribal-esque drumming courtesy of Fabian Wyrsch. The song ebbs and flows in dynamic fashion, twisting through eerie melodic pastures, ruggedly offbeat grooves, and regularly unleashing gnarly bursts of speed and unhinged aggression. Essentially it hints at the Bölzer that engaged my interest in the early days. Even the divisive use of the unrefined cleaner vocal styles don’t sound as grating or ill conceived, while the genuinely savage blasting and lightning speeds succeed in getting the blood and adrenaline pumping. Not quite as dynamic but similarly rabid, raw and relentless, “Into the Temple of Spears” pretty much stays in the higher speed range throughout its runtime. However, subtle higher gear shifts and strong performances, coupled with engaging hooks and guitar work, keep the song motoring along with impressive momentum.
There’s much promise and quality material within the album’s compact duration. But it’s not all smooth sailing. Closer “Ave Fluvius! Danú Be Praised!” has an epic, atmospheric feel, locking into some effectively measured mid-tempo clips and urgent riffs. The guts of the song are steely and strong, but sadly these powerful moments are sandwiched between several combined minutes of meandering, minimalist ambiance within the intro and outro. These frustrating momentum killers have no business taking up so much time. Meanwhile, “Æstivation” is a couple of minutes of atmospheric soundscapes and spoken growls forming an interlude that doesn’t bring much bang on a musical level. I’ll concede Jones’s clean vocals, which occasionally recall Mastodon‘s Troy Sanders in tone and delivery, are an improvement from Hero, yet I’m still on the fence for how well they fit into the Bölzer sound, especially when the harsh vocals are so strong. That being said, their sparse usage is reasonably well positioned as a melodic counterpoint.
Bölzer is an act of immense talent that continues to frustrate and captivate in nearly equal measure. However, although Lese Majesty isn’t the drastic improvement I was hoping for, it’s a more coherent, engaging and focused offering, leaning into the band’s strengths with solid results. At its most potent, Lese Majesty rips hard with bloodthirsty vigor and intensity. Overall it’s a welcome return to form, and despite its flaws, Bölzer are at least temporarily back on an upward trajectory.