Bölzer in Toronto, 29 May 2018

Easily one of the fastest rising stars in black metal’s subterranean, it’s surprising that it has taken Switzerland’s Bölzer this long to indent Toronto. Bölzer’s rapid escalation to the nearest thing that can be considered black metal rock star-ism before the duo even released an album is an astonishing rarity. Without any gimmicks or tangible controversy behind them, they deservedly ascended to the highly esteemed black metal pantheon – and when one considers the context of this music, this is 100% justifiably so. This is the final date of their current North America tour and the Toronto metal enthusiasts’ expectations are high. This show has the ill fortunate of colliding with Slayer’s supposed final Toronto gig in addition to Flotsam and Jetsam, these other concerts presumably stealing some of the attendance that would be here.

Bölzer / Tchornobog / Völur @ Coalition, Toronto on Tuesday, 29th May 2018

Toronto’s doom folk oddity Völur are determined to haunt the beer-stained Coalition with nature’s mystique. Their set up is highly irregular for a metal band in that there is no guitar. Laura Bates wields her violin as the lead instrument while interplaying with bassist Lucas Gadke, exhibiting an earthly amount of bass introspection. Without a guitar, evidently lots of thought has gone into how to interpret the instrument’s omission. Each band member possesses formidable musical abilities, the music tip-toeing towards progressive arrangements. There is a wealth of dissonant bass passages that sound chaotic and disorienting, complimenting the growls from Bates and Gadke, not a million miles away from the avant-garde iconoclasm of early maudlin of the Well. ­Moods vary anywhere between scathingly aggressive and dutifully pagan. Selections from last year’s Ancestors album including “Breaker of Skulls” and “Breaker of Silence” are deceivingly complex. On stage, the three-piece are mysterious yet gracious and it feels like they are playing for each other as much as the audience. The performance is uncharacteristically ritualistic and flies by far quicker than the reality. Völur are a true gem in the Toronto metal scene.

Next up is black/death/doom metal Tchornobog (Ukraninan for ‘black god’), based in the United States and playing Toronto for the first time. Last year saw the band unleash their eponymous debut album, which elicited praise from those fortunate enough to excavate it. The sole member is Markov Soroka and tonight he has hired hands fleshing out the line-up. As the combination of metal subgenres suggest, Soroka draws his influences from across the extreme metal palette. There is a pronounced Ruins of Beverast strain, some Pseudogod-style fury, suicidal black metal brooding and atmospheric sojourns. Riffs are often disorienting and mangled, plunging the listener into a chasm of odium. The song lengths are drawn out and the innumerable intricacies in the songs demand multiple listens. The band strikes an austere presence, with a thick paint black line going across their faces and over their eyes. The Coalition’s sound is murky but this does not detract from such malevolent yet rich music. The venue becomes more populated as the set expands and it appears the spectators enjoy this otherworldly take on black metal.

Headliners Bölzer take some time setting up – frontman KzR grows increasingly frustrated at the soundman as he cannot hear his monitors. This results in the Swiss duo getting on stage half an hour later than scheduled and the venue is now busy with those who started their nights at other destinations. The first song to fill the void is “Roman Acupuncture” from the demo of the same name. Despite the audience’s raucous enthusiasm from just seeing these black/death icons on stage, the sound is muddier than it should be, negatively tainting the suffocating sounds. This is followed by the usually outstanding “Zeus – Seducer of Hearts” that also receives similar disappointing treatment at the Coalition tonight. The set diverges to the opinion-dividing album Hero when the two-piece launch into “The Archer”. This song is less aggressive than the earlier pieces with a concentration on atmosphere and more varied guitar efforts with progressive influence. This songs also sees extended use of KzR’s clean vocals, which sound too strained live to be affecting. However HzR’s drumming is compelling enough, propping up the spaced-out guitar meandering.

The cacophony that emanates from the stage from just two individuals is to be applauded. Their dynamic stage presence compliments the more boisterous elements of their tracks. Most of the set is drawn from Hero; “Spiritual Athleticism” features the churning dark riffs from their earlier days, “Phosphor” has doom-drenched background with arcane guitar leads and rough shouts, while “I Am I’ embodies an almost restful state with its dense soundscapes. As the set progresses with this solid block of Hero appointments, the fans’ energy drains. However, the vicious older “C.M.E.” kicks the lethargy out of the more ardent fans in the venue. This is stalked by what can only be pronounced one of the most popular underground songs in the genre in recent years: “Entranced by the Wolfshook.” This musical missile rips bones from bodies with heavy death metal bludgeoning and wounding black metal strikes. This is enough to have the fans raise their fists in admiration, a spirited ending for a performance that was certainly far from Bölzer’s strongest, unfortunately for Toronto.