ALBUM REVIEW: BOLT GUN - THE TOWER
AVANT GARDE AUSTRALIANS DISTIL A MONOLITHIC FUSION OF STYLES
In underground metal, it’s not too difficult to judge a book by its cover pretty accurately. Band names and art work give it away almost every time and you know what you are in for when appearances aren’t deceiving. A band name like Bolt Gun might evoke the speediest of speed metal and cut off denims over leather. Oh how wrong because this Australian outfit are shadowy, experimentalists with an underground heritage of challenging fusion. The Tower is a powerful and engrossing distillation of art house noir, panoramic post rock and baleful black metal.
The opening title track is a monolithic build that rises patiently yet inexorably from hushed, falsely soothing, ambience inflected with saxophone and strings to a grimly rousing dissonant crescendo juddering with reverb. It is desolately vast, unsettling and ultimately crushing. There is almost an industrial tinge to the edgy post metal screeds of guitar while the vocals are distant ghoulish screams lost in the wavering fizzing static. The track then reaches a plateau of wispy and foreboding ambience and ethereal effects before taking a punishing metallic twist that writhes to a fade-out.
A pulsating, lonely drum beat heralds the brooding monster of The Vulture which photosynthesizes into driving blackened post-metal, barren and unforgiving and a bit raw. The track then breaks into a bizarre and insistent blackened jazz breakout with fraught saxophone solos. It’s a twist that is as unexpected as it sounds yet is entirely in-keeping with the song and the album’s aesthetic before a more conventional burst of black tremolo and percussion bridge into a gaseous unfolding space tragedy of synths. Freestyle jazz drums introduce a tense emergence of The Sacred Deer one of Bolt Gun’s more conventional black gaze tracks, relentless and windswept intensifying into a blitzkrieg of blastbeats, blaring tremolos and tortured indecipherable shrieks.
Each track on The Tower is gargantuan and none run under eight minutes. The song structure has a loose formula of creating tense, claustrophobic ambient introductions rich with industrial samples. These lead into swells of layered noise where grandiose tremolos, agitated electronica, trailing hisses, and percussive booms over-react chemically with distorted black metal vocals before surrendering into lingering fade-outs.
By the time of the album closer, A Faint Red Glow, the expectation is for its gentle haze to be yet another prelude for more deafening world-ending cataclysm. Instead its restraint is an apt bookend; hymnal droning and subdued lazy saxophone hover warmly like an out of body experience. As an album conclusion it is a nice respite though does not really develop as a song and becomes more of a meditation. Pastoral, serene with a sense of planetary enormity you get the feeling its somnambulant dreaminess represents the quietude that follows the violence of a mass extinction event.
The reappearance of saxophone throughout The Tower gives the record an arty, avantgarde dimension that contorts underground metal mores yet it avoids indulging in eccentricity. It works well in what is an immersive ride. The term ‘cinematic’ is often thrown around too casually to describe atmospheric music but seems appropriate for the towering, layered vista Bolt Gun manifest. Sometimes a more urbanised iteration of Wolves in the Throne Room, with the thundering scale of Cult of Luna and old school black metal rattling, Bolt Gun throw in jazz, post-rock, abstract ambient, and industrial. Bolt Gun’s heady synthesis of styles is compellingly spliced rather than genre-hopping eccentricity.