If you consider yourself a fan of death metal but have never listened to Bolt Thrower, I would find that problematic. These purveyors of war themed death metal are arguably one of the greatest death metal bands to ever exist. They achieve this through growled vocals and mammoth riffs that can smash in a man’s head at a moment’s notice. This is the the fourth day of the fourth month and this is the fourth album by the band conveniently titled The IVth Crusade; the stars have aligned for this review and I am more than happy to finally given Bolt Thrower their due with this classic 1992 album.
The crushingly slow pace of “The IVth Crusade” leads things off for the band as guitarists Gavin Ward and Barry Thomson set the tone for vocalist Karl Willetts to dominate. The pace changes here and there but the true constant is the main headbanging riff that will help to destroy all in its path. “Icon” is next and the slowed pace at the outset is more than welcome as the band builds up steam before its attack. A distinctive main riff is employed yet again and bassist Jo Bench (one of the first women in extreme metal) makes a good bit of her appearance as her bass wobbles behind a wall of guitars and Andy Whale’s drums.
Blasting through the gates is “Embers”; eviscerating the competition with the combination of ferocious guitar parts and the lyrics “From the glowing fragments of what remains, The soul shall rise from amongst the flames.” The band is able to surge through 5 minutes of graphic imagery, the grind elements of the band’s earlier material serving them well as they decimate with ruthless efficiency. Who said music has to be complex to be good? Simplicity and brilliant song writing is what Bolt Thrower are all about. It could be argued that“Where Next To Conquer” is the question that Bolt Thrower might ask themselves when they prepare to write new material, as the sheer force of their music is practically unbeatable by their peers. The main riff here bores deep into your consciousness and once again, showcases why you pacing is so important in the pursuit of creating music that has the power to resonate with the listener.
“As The World Burns” crashes through the barriers like a steel tank, pelting your senses with heavily damaging shells and debris. Powerful lyrical imagery includes “No tomorrow for eternity’ The apocalyptic prophecy’ Few shall survive the final war‘; as the band prepares their assault. The buzzing guitars are enough to make fans of old school death metal squeal with joy and provide a truly tremendous feeling. “This Time It’s War” and “Ritual” make a fitting pair as they serve as the balance between 2 styles of warfare as the former resembles the German blitzkrieg and the latter is more akin to a march by moonlight. “Ritual” has a particular mission – to diminish the value of faith as it “allay’s your life” and since The Crusades were religious wars, the band is also intelligently downplaying the reasoning for starting a war, at least for those reasons. The solos that burst in toward the end of the song make for more wonderful guitar sections and help to show that this band can destroy at any tempo.
With great emphasis on the song’s title “Spearhead” continues the assault with riffs galore and more headbanging than your neck can surely handle. The song is mostly on the mid-tempo side of things but as the band have demonstrated in earlier tracks they’re able to make the lack of speed even more potent than a breakneck grindcore song from which they’ve slowly transitioned away from over the years. Following this, “Celestial Sanctuary” significantly increases the momentum whilst sacrificing none of the aggression and power that they built the foundation of their brand of death metal on. What is taking place here is the thought of death of a soldier and he seeks refuge in heaven after completing his divine service to the Lord; running from the darkness of war to the purity of heaven is what was sought and now attained.
Rounding out the album are the tracks “Dying Creed” and the outro titled “Through The Ages”. The former achieves a level of abrasive battery with its potent riffs and exemplary lyrics the song is able to provide the power of the battlefield without the need for melody as their is no love in their war. “Mankind – The dying creed, Reared on ignorance and greed On suffering we feed devouring all beyond our needs.” The main riff bores itself into your minds and makes for ample destruction of your eardrums as well as your neck. The outro serves as a veritable history lesson that references various wars beginning with the Roman conquest of Britain, all the way to the Gulf War of 1991. The track is completed with the cryptic lyric “ Mankind’s destructive nature – Throughout the ages“. A great end to an album that nearly defines what war is and was.
Bolt Thrower have been a well known band in UK death metal history since their inception in 1986 (as a grindcore band) and had their best period with a trio of albums, namely: War Master, The IVth Crusade, and …for Victory the band would then put out 3 solid albums afterwards before considering their career (as recording artists) over. The band still play one off shows including this year’s upcoming Maryland Deathfest. For those who listen to extreme metal and have not yet endured the battle pain of Bolt Thrower; now is the time to start for the band will be less forgiving if you neglect them any longer. Feel free to drop me a comment about a band you’d like to see covered, or just leave one as a sign of good faith. For what I’m currently listening to you can always check out my Last.fm page. Let us enjoy some UK death metal and some roots of death metal for now and until next week.