The Tower feels like ascent. You’ll feel light as air, floating upon the ether in warm sunlight, only to crash to earth in plummeting gravity. While journeys are not uncommon across metal’s many weathered and storied expanses, Australia’s Bolt Gun offers a vertical trek. Its experimental fervor, blackened climaxes, and monolithic weight, and above all, the emphasis on atmosphere, offer scenic vistas and groveling earth alike, hurtling towards the summit and the zenith. Always majestic, as if in reverence to the colossal structure always in view, The Tower feels like a chronicle: a breathing, organic, but dense legend.
Like the vicious item of its namesake, Bolt Gun is composed of two halves: brutal barbarism and a mercifully quick death. Considering themselves an experimental metal band, utilizing descriptors like ambient, doom, dark jazz, black, post-metal, and noise, they have a storied history: three full-lengths, a split with electronic one-woman show Uboa, a collaboration with the legendary Igorr Cavalera, and a bevy of singles and EP’s. Influences tacked onto The Tower likewise feature a range: second-wave black metal, Locrian, Swans, Colin Stetson, and Bohren & der Club of Gore. In this way, The Tower feels like an apex, the peak after the great struggle, and revels in clarity and opaqueness alike. Benefitting from its scattered influences and grounded by a post-metal backbone, there is a journey and destination and you’d be foolhardy to miss it.
Balancing ambiance, vicious black metal, and mammoth post-metal is no easy feat, and Bolt Gun accomplishes each with gusto. The Tower is composed of five mammoth tracks, each between eight and thirteen minutes long, each with fluid movements patiently guiding ethereal ambiance and patient post-metal sprawls to descents into pummeling darkness and scathing noise and back again, tied together with drawling saxophone and a clear sense of direction. Beginning slowly and patiently, the Isis-inspired hollow and atmospheric opener “The Tower” builds to a blackened conclusion, furthered by follow-up “The Vulture,” which rips into a straight second wave tremolo a la Dark Funeral by its respective ending. “The Sacred Deer” revels in dynamic sludge songwriting punctuated by haunting ambiance and mathy drumming, while “The Scapegoat” embraces the Corrections House punishment in vigorous tempos and scathing noise – serving as the climax of the album. Ambient closer “A Faint Red Glow” is a view from the summit, as gravity gives way to weightlessness in the morbid sunset. Saxophone appears in nearly every track, providing a droning menace in “The Vulture,” a distinctive noir feel in “The Tower,” and a fluid ray of light in “A Faint Red Glow,” a range neatly conveyed throughout.
While fluidly stitched, Bolt Gun suffers from minor setbacks, namely that there is so much going on in The Tower. While some might find the opening title track too sprawling and boring, only to be T-boned by manic noisy black metal, others might find the harsh noise backdrop of “The Scapegoat” too much. While Neurosis-influenced post-metal is a solid backbone for Bolt Gun, in some tracks it can feel too little, as The Tower’s reach exceeds its grasp, such as the sudden drone conclusion of “The Scapegoat,” or the jarring gears of “The Vulture.” “A Faint Red Glow,” while a gentle conclusion to a mammoth and punishing album, is frankly too long, and “The Sacred Deer” feels a bit lackluster in comparison to its bookends.
This is Bolt Gun’s first full-length since 2020’s Begotten and collaboration with Cavalera The Warren, and they rose to the challenge. The Tower can be an unwieldy beast, with plenty of imperfections to behold, but its adventurous approach is what sets it apart from so many other milquetoast post-metal offerings. Released in relative obscurity in a month absolutely stacked with heavy hitters, Bolt Gun will likely appeal to few with its unique blend of vicious and contemplative, but those who dare venture on this vertical pilgrimage will find scenic vistas and rewards aplenty.
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Avantgarde Music
Websites: boltgun.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/BoltGun
Releases Worldwide: September 15th, 2023