On their debut record Offerings of Flesh and Gold, Bull of Apis Bull of Bronze blend mystical black metal with a mythical vision of a better world. They describe themselves as “a collective against hierarchies” who are “aggressively antifascist…and anticapitalist,” and their haunting music is clearly embedded in those intentions. The end result is all at once cathartic, inspiring, and excruciating.
Many lament the saturation of black metal with politics, but it is deeply necessary. More so than any other genre, black metal has explicit stratifications of ideology. Slayer and Pantera may dabble in thinly veiled racism, but Burzum and Emperor spawned a well defined sub-genre of nazi metal. It makes sense in a way for it to be black metal to succumb to right-wing extremism, and it makes even more sense for the genre to now give voice to the left. The concentration in black metal of theatricality, gravitas, and extremity lends itself to transcendent visions of the future. And visions of the future is exactly what distinguishes opposing radical political ideologies from the mainstream: we see a future rid of hate and control and violence; they see a future rid of us. And as much as the mainstream likes to think the world is static, the future is always coming, and it will be one of those visions. That’s what makes Bull of Apis Bull of Bronze and other explicitly anti-fascist black metal bands so important.
With only three protracted songs across a 55 minute record, Offerings of Flesh and Gold is without a doubt an ambient project, but their approach is strikingly solemn. There are no dreamy harmonies or atmospherically soaring chords that one might expect from an ambient black metal album. In fact, despite the space and silence on the record it feels like there is very little oxygen. The vocal delivery alternates between a barely audible rasp and a torturous shriek, as though he were speaking to us from within a sarcophagus or a brazen bull. Even the solitary booming drum at the start of the album is cavernous but muffled, setting the stage for an increasingly claustrophobic feeling.
The central theme of the album is self-determination, that most dangerous and ambiguous of powers, taken up consistently by black metal. “We will melt the thrones to cast bowls and spears. / So man may know the true god, themselves. / And none shall ever go hungry again.” In true sacrilegious black metal fashion, BoABoB seem to blend the Abrahamic story of the golden calf idol with both the ancient Greek brazen bull (a potentially apocryphal torture device) and the sacred Egyptian Apis bull, the representtion of fertility or balance. There is a hell of a lot going on there, and more to unpack than I am willing to tackle, but given those last few lyrics of the album the immediate connection is clear: the oppressed of the world will lock the wealthy inside the machinations of their own riches, roast them alive as a sacrifice to our self-empowerment, and form the tools for a better world from the melted remains.
From their album artwork to band name to the lyrics BoABoB certainly build an ancient mythical ethos, but do so in a way that leaves modern connections open to interpretation. For example, the tale of the golden calf has been linked to the idolatrous bronze Charging Bull of Wall Street, and given the full context of their anti-hierarchical intentions it is clear that BoABoB meant to open up that kind of interpretive space. The bridge in the middle of the opening track ends with a repeated whisper: “Growing pains never stop, we have outgrown our shell,” which seems to directly reference the prefigurative politics of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). It’s almost a direct quote from the end of the preamble to the IWW constitution: “we are forming the structure of the new society within the shell of the old,” and yet BoABoB gestures beyond – the shell is already bursting, they say. The hoarsely whispered chant is so subtle and low that even after the last distorted note of the bridge fades away, you still have to physically strain to hear it – the experience is akin to leaning out to the edge of your seat and squinting. It’s easy to miss because they don’t include it in the lyrics note, but that same mantra returns at the very end of the track as well. The verse in between paints a horrifying image that makes perfectly clear their vision for the world. It reminds me of the parasitic wasps that lay their eggs in the bodies of caterpillars: “We will bear our young and birth them / in your lungs / in your hearts / in your minds / And in your young / and they will gorge themselves on you, and grow fat, as you were.” This world was not made for us and it must be remade. Like wasp larvae erupting from the bloated body of a caterpillar, we will take what is not offered. This is the prophetic vision that BoABoB offers. The shell is bursting, and a new generation is ravenous.