“Urdr” immediately brings to light the voice of reason. Ethereal whistling as preeminence of catastrophic violence to be waged by “The Archer”. 64 seconds and the calm before the storm is ravaged by lightning and thunder. Lightning has been Bolzer‘s insignia for a while now; their sound and visuals are punctuated by charge. It is unfortunate, then, that Hero is all shock and no punch. Songwriter KzR has spoken of the duality running between the tattoos on his guitar-playing arms: the innovative female hand commanding the melodies and the rhythmic masculine hand accentuating narrative turning points through force and aggression. Aura encapsulated this duality near-perfectly. The one-dimensionality of Hero is thus understandably diminishing.
The use of the 12-string guitar is clearer than ever on Hero. A greater sense of pride is placed on chord progressions than straight-up death metal riffing, and it would be easy to think two or more guitarists are running amok within the walls of chaos. Moreso than any other release in the band’s catalogue, Hero pushes walls of blackened sound to the forefront. Post elements and doom-esque progressions push “The Archer” forward in a steady lurch. Bolzer‘s signature melodic choices are far from vacant, but heavy use of repetition greatly reduces excitement. Nothing builds because the band is persistently hitting 11. The title track is the worst offender, opening with blasts and massive chords. When the main riff does kick in, it feels weak and tired, as if the guitars were left exhausted by the explosion that propelled the track into motion. “Phosphor” continues the trend: big start, dip, return to start, dip, outro. Following the same structure as the last track, regardless of the fact the song is shorter if you don’t consider the minute-long ending, it severely overstays its welcome.
Hero follows intentional narrative structuring, with “Urdr”, “Decima” and “Artopos” acting as interval pieces. Having “Decima” follow “Phosphor” is quite frustrating as it means two minutes in a row are spent listening to filler. Considering “Decima” leads directly into “I Am III” like a single track, it just seems like a convenience to the narrative that the band would split the song into two parts. It would push “I Am III” into the 10-minute territory, but this is no problem when the song is easily one of the best on the record. The primary riff is a 3-segment build that repeats until the pre-chorus and chorus. It is a fantastic showcase of KzR’s writing abilities and HzR’s tribal kit-work. Creativity abounds with builds being determined by rhythm and vocal performance, not necessarily volume. Regardless of it standing strong as one of the band’s better songs, it still seems to outstay it’s welcome. However, a particularly beefy ending almost makes up for any incoming yawns and I found myself almost in a state of trance as the song came to a close.
I wouldn’t say my state of trance was one of pure mesmerisation, rather that of a tense game of tug-o-war. For every moment spent bored, there was a moment spent intrigued, and vice-versa. It was good then that “Spiritual Athleticism” pummeled down the doors of doubt, opening with the best riff on the album. Not only does it open strong, but it contains itself. It is the only proper song under 7 minutes in length, and that is a benefit. The band’s most revered song is under 7 minutes in length. Stretching things out unnecessarily doesn’t do Hero any good in the long run. It also works to counter a more controversial aspect of Bolzer‘s latest offering; clean vocals. These vocals work in a primal sense: sparsity encourages impact, and thus, “I Am III” is a success because it only uses them when absolutely necessary. “Chlorophyllia” is an inoffensive attempt at something a little grander, but closer “Atropos” is just terrible. It uses the vocal melody of its preceeding track without the backing guitars and drums, and it isn’t exactly a fun listen.
It hurts to say Hero sounds like a band running out of ideas. Especially when said band has only released three EPs. The riffs that propelled the band to unrequited heights are all but gone. A rough vocal delivery that only works in specific contexts is given too much airtime. The album isn’t bad by any stretch. It just isn’t all that memorable. Everything feels sluggish and, for lack of a better term, mature. This isn’t to say slowing things down and opting for red wine over the house brew is synonymous for maturity, but there is a strong sense that the band are forcing introspection into places that really don’t require it. When your innovation and impressive stamp on the metal community comes in the form of energetic freneticisms, settling for contrived narrative over entertaining music just doesn’t cut the mustard. There is fun to be had, but sparsity of creativity proves to be a punishing drawback.