Bands such as Bölzer (pictured above), underground black metal duos that record for niche labels based out of foreign lands, are not supposed to tour America. But then again, bands like Bölzer don’t usually capture the imagination of the likes of NPR and Pitchfork, which happened upon the 2013 release of Aura, whose 23 minutes of psychedelic allusions, Wagnerian melodrama, and honest to God riffs captivated the craft-beer sect.
Even jaded metalheads who eschew anything that transcends the underground as if it would give them hipster cooties begrudgingly conceded that Bölzer was onto something. Last year’s debut full-length, Hero, did nothing to quell the acclaim from both trve and untrve alike.
The sun streaming through whenever the venue front door opened wasn’t a good look for Crowhurst, but that’s what happens when there’s a dance party to take a separate later-arriving crowd to last call. The set was just Jay Gambit manipulating electronic pedals placed on an oversize folding card table set up in front of the stage for 15 minutes of ambient electronic noise. According to Gambit, overseas shows will be grave raves of 45 minutes with assistance from one or more cohorts, but we got mini-minimalism. As devotees of Merzbow can attest, it’s interesting how harsh static can be simultaneously brutal and tranquil.
There was nothing tranquil about Cemetery Piss. The Baltimore band proffers a surprisingly groove-worshipping thrashing style that has old school reverence and Voivodian unorthodoxy beneath the bruising, blackened riffs. It’s as if a bunch of corpse-painted Norwegians ditched any pretense of atmosphere, moved to America, and started dating a crust punk and swilling PBR while listening to old Exodus.
“I can’t pronounce the name of the band coming up next,” conceded vocalist Adam Savage at the conclusion of the set. Hard to blame him when the band is Trepaneringsritualen, the solo project of Swedish noise artist Thomas Ekelund. With his head covered by a black stocking, his appearance was just as murky and dark as the recorded music with which he misanthropically grunted along.
The cacophony sounded like bagpipes bleating out over a funeral dirge, backed with industrial percussive clamor not unlike the soundscape you might hear at a goth bar assuming it was set up in a foggy, ancient cemetery. It was monotonous, mesmerizing and maniacal, like Ennio Morricone doing a soundtrack to a vintage Italian horror flick.
There was no set change, so if you weren’t paying close attention you would have missed that Trepaneringsritualen was no longer on the stage, one figure replaced by two taking up more traditional spots on drums and guitars as the preceding noise gave way to the prerecorded strains of “Ur?r,” the minute-long instrumental intro to Hero. Not sure if it was because the show was running late (the dance crowd beckoned!), but even if merely out of logistical necessity, it was pretty cool. Ladies and gentlemen, a band that gets no introduction, Bölzer.
Jones played completely shirtless and completely oiled, baring his controversial skin art in the same direct manner as the recent Facebook post where he explained his tattoos. That post mentioned his Nigerian name and black lineage on his musician father Paul Ubana Jones’ side and his abhorrence for racism; he explained that the images on his body were spiritual symbols for him dating centuries past the time Nazi Germany used them. It was a compelling post, complete with pictures of an obviously not-white father and Jones as a small child and a younger adult. If Jones is guilty of anything, it’s naivety and ignorance as to how completely the swastika has come to be seen only as a symbol of hate. The punishment for that should be commensurate and not the righteous, deserved anger that should be reserved for actual racists.
The group seemed to lose a little bit of the ethereal, transcendental qualities that stand out on recordings, but made up for it by coming off far heavier. The sparse instrumentation contributed as well, causing a caustic claustrophobia far more minimalistic than studio output would indicate. Many were seeing Bölzer for the first time so the band curated the setlist with them in mind. In addition to nearly the entirety of Hero, the crowd was treated to two tracks off the first demo the band did in 2012 and “Born Led God Death” from a recently released ultra-limited six-band tribute to fellow Swiss black metaller Domi Keller, who passed away from cancer a few years ago.
The band closed the set with “Entranced by the Wolfshook.” The only song played from the breakthrough Aura EP was the perfect culmination to the show by bookending unrelenting speed with a sinister psych-rock mosh part. Beneath the clamor, Bölzer has the unique ability to take simple song structures and repetitive riffs and drums and make it interesting. Even when those qualities are a little less obvious, it is unparalleled.