What comes to mind when you think of a hero? If you have ever read a book or watched a movie (that should be everyone) then we’ve been fed what writers and filmmakers believe heroes to be. Heroes are the ones that stand up for people and fight for the oppressed right? They’re the ones in which we the reader can rely on to try and win they day and fight against the evils of the world. But why? Why are heroes selfless (at least to a degree)? What makes them so noble? We trust heroes, but why? What is it about what we believe heroes to be that makes us trust them? Look up to them? This concept is a thick enough one when you are simply looking at literature and film, where, for the most part, the qualities of what make a hero all line up nicely. Throw in music and everything we think we might know or believe about heroes goes out the window. Specifically looking at black metal, a highly selfish anticulture, what is a hero? If black metal is the culture that stands in opposition to what society thinks a hero is, what is a black metal hero? Black metal, at its core, is the philosophy of the triumph of the individual. Can heroes exist is such a culture?
Bölzer is a band that has quite literally burst onto the scene with wild abandon. I have been noticing them for the last month or so and finally I couldn’t hold off anymore. They play a blend of black metal and death metal that can’t accurately be called blackened death. It falls somewhere off that sliding scale. Their sound is harsh and grainy, thick with feedback and drone yet the music itself is clean and polished. “Hero,” their first full length album from Iron Bonehead Productions, is an absolute treat for the ears. The music has hints here and there of folk influences but played in such a harsh, death metal like chug that you can almost miss it. Even if you don’t hear the folk influences, you can tell Bölzer is different. Their music is more vibrant, more atmospheric that so much of what clogs the airwaves now. They are a fresh take on the old ideals. The only thing on the album that took me a moment to adjust to was the vocals (doesn’t it always come down to that?). They don’t really fit in the death/black style range and it took me a few minutes to adjust to them, they have a very power/thrash vibe going but harsh enough not to sound out of place. After the first song, I was hooked on them. These were the only vocals that could fit this music.
Aside from the strength and draw of the music, there is something else that makes Bölzer’s debut album so special in my mind: the theme. The very name of the album “Hero” evokes strong images, a man (presumably) fighting against some sort of insurmountable odds to win the day. However, as the music begins the listener begins to question the very concept and idea of what a hero is. Remember, black metal is the triumph of the individual against all else. How can a hero exist in a culture that is so inherently selfish (and there’s nothing wrong with selfish)? Does Bölzer glorify the folk hero, the legendary figure, or do they glorify the ideal hero, the one that doesn’t really exist except as a concept?
When you listen to the album with that single question in mind, as I did the second time around, more questions can begin to crop up, as they always do in lit theory. Who is this hero? Is he so idealized that he cannot possibly exist? What defines a hero within black metal literature?
A heroic figure, in any form of literature, is one that stands above the rest. Somehow, either physically, intellectually, or philosophically, they are seen as something more than ideal, the true archetype to strive for. Heroes, though, mean different things to different people and different cultures. Where black metal holds the individual as ideal, can every man become a hero? Does the Nietzschean Übermensch exist if everyone has been released from moral bonds?
What would a black metal hero do? Do we have examples already? Do Euronymous or Varg count as heroes, or Gaahl or Infernus? When it’s individualism that is so highly prized, are any legendary figure, any of the trailblazers of black metal considered heroes? Or none of them? In a genre where the icons are the dragons in the knight and dragon dichotomy, are heroes by the definition we know them as even possible?
I think that, yes heroes do exist within the realm of black metal literature, but they are idealized and theorized rather than flesh and blood or legendary. The black metal hero is one who fights against everything in order to achieve their highest purpose, their own victory. The black metal hero is one that cannot be quantified because they are so vast and diverse in their possibilities. They exist within their albums to gain knowledge, mundane or arcane, topple the oppressive religious regime and reinstitute the old ways, fight the religious regime by embracing the twisted mirror image of that regime, or to terrorize everything and everyone in their path. The black metal hero cannot be seen as any other kind of hero, they exist in opposition and therefor do not fight for the people, they may fight against the people. Anything is possible for the black metal hero.
The hero of Bölzer’s eponymous album is a tricky one to nail down but he does exist somewhere within the heavy riffs and the throat rending vocals. He’s a folkish hero, that much I believe, struggling against the very concepts of heroism to preserve the memory of his people. When I say he’s a folkish hero, I don’t mean in the romantic nationalism sense (not that there is anything wrong with that I just don’t see that here) but more a nameless hero from folklore, an amalgamation of what folklore has deemed a hero to be.
Musically, Bölzer stands head and shoulders above the rest. The duo has created a genre redefining album that pulls from all the tropes and strengths from both death and black metal. Simply put, Hero will be considered a classic album within a few years. You don’t hear an album like this one every year, this is something special. And their lyrical topics and the debate that it creates adds to their legacy even more, an album that can be debated both musically and philosophically will stand the test a time and will someday be placed amongst the giants of black and death metal music.
Listen and support!