A Devil’s Dozen – Bolt Thrower

Do we really need to do a Bolt Thrower Devil’s Dozen? Could not any thirteen, randomly selected Bolt Thrower tracks produce a list comparable in quality to the one below? Perhaps, and doing so certainly would have saved the Last Rites staff a few headaches. But that fact in itself is a testament to the band’s legacy of consistent excellence. Bolt Thrower might be a one trick pony, but this pony’s trick is one of the best in extreme metal.

So here’s to the mid-paced kings (and queen), here’s to the gods of war-themed death metal, and here’s to nigh-on thirty years of not fucking up a winning formula. Last Rites is proud to present a Devil’s Dozen of Bolt Thrower.

 • • • • •

CONTACT – WAIT OUT

[Honor – Valor – Pride, 2001]

Riffs, riffs, riffs! This song is full of them! Sadly, Honour – Valour – Pride is largely ignored because of the absence of Karl Willetts, but Dave Ingram does a good job on vocals with a more gravelly delivery. But, back to the riffs! From the opening roar to the riff at 4:48 that I completely lose my mind over, “Contact – Wait Out” is one of Bolt Thrower’s best songs, regardless of who’s on vocals. The follow up song, “Inside The Wire,” is almost just as good, too.

[DAVE SCHALEK]

 • • • • •

POWDER BURNS

[Mercenary, 1998]

Coming off a four year hiatus to follow up a legacy built in but a few years, it was hard to know what to expect from Mercenary under the umbrella of a new label and a door still swinging from numerous lineup changes. As “Powder Burns” is a continuation of the song “Embers” off The IVth Crusade, Mercenary was a continuation in style by a band using their signature strengths to make it through the recording process intact. It wasn’t about revolution, it was about holding the line with dignity. The only variance in tactics that could distinguish this from previous tours was a more polished sound mostly attributed to Metal Blade now selling War Bonds on their behalf. A line was also etched deeper in terms of style, a series of slow hammering melodies rather than the raw bludgeoning speed that their music featured when Bolt Thrower first entered the battlefield. The resounding charm of “Powder Burns” is the sensation of watching a graphic battle scene in slow motion, the melodic build up to each gunshot and the crushing impact of every hit. I’ll have popcorn ready if Oliver Stone or Steven Spielberg ever decide to try and encapsulate this song on film.

[MARLO REGHENAS]

 • • • • •

THROUGH THE EYE OF TERROR

[Realm of Chaos, 1989]

Lucky #13 from Earache Records certainly did a fine job of solidifying the young label as one of the prime movers of extreme music in the late 80s/early 90s. Twenty-five years later, Realm of Chaos remains an untouchable death metal record, thanks to its 34:20 of relentless & raw tank warfare. And whether it was intentional or not, Bolt Thrower threw down the grossest, grimiest, gnarliest, galumphingest riff to date with the amazing “Through the Eye of Terror.” This freak of nature drags from the gate like a prehistoric saber-toothed sloth pulling itself out of a burning tarpit, but it also manages to slaughter the land with a rapid succession of M61 Vulcan fire directly to the face by the time it reaches its savage midpoint. Enemy scrubbed.

[MICHAEL WUENSCH]

 • • • • •

SPEARHEAD

[The IVth Crusade, 1992]

If The IVth Crusade is the densest, most monolithic album in Bolt Thrower’s storied catalog, then “Spearhead” is likely The IVth Crusade’s densest, most monolithic song. If that’s true, then why is it also one of Bolt Thrower’s very best songs? Well, friend, after the patient drum lead-in tees up Willets’s very first thrown bolt – “SPEEEAR HEEEEAAAD!” the song refuses to even acknowledge the possibility that a world exists outside of itself. Here, the world is only a muddy, grinding, pummeling heartbeat that tramples all and sundry under merciless foot. Few bands in heavy metal’s history have more perfectly captured the sound of their subject than Bolt Thrower.

[DANHAMMER OBSTKRIEG]

 • • • • •

REMEMBERANCE

[…For Victory, 1994]

When it comes to metal tunes fired from a gun, some folks turn to the lock & load attempt behind “Suicide Nation”; others, the slightly more dramatic spray of Vio-Lence’s “Serial Killer.” But why bother simply clipping the enemy when one shot from a howitzer cannon can so easily pound them flatter than shit on an anvil? That is “Remembrance” in a nutshell. A very, very big nutshell that’s traveling at approximately 2700 feet per second directly toward your head. What seals the deal here, however, is the brilliant manner in which Bolt Thrower eases into the song’s ensuing brute slow-down. Pulling that surly howl of “HATE” from the chorus to usher in such a ruthlessly heavy drubbing around 2:20 is just so… Well, Bolt Thrower. Toodle-loo, head.

[MICHAEL WUENSCH]

 • • • • •

THE KILLCHAIN

[Those Once Loyal, 2005]

As well as any other Bolt Thrower tune, “The Killchain” exemplifies the band’s mastery of ingredients that just beg to be misused by lesser acts. After all, the tune revolves around the kind of riff that any number of 90s bands might play sloppily in drop-D, along with a supporting super chug riding underneath. But it is Bolt Thrower’s sneaky talents that allow these could-be-schlocky elements to evolve and develop, paying off in huge moments like the beastly bridge. Add in Karl Willetts and Martin Kearns’ impenetrable drum drive, and you’ve got the kind of tune that will both inspire and befuddle many a beginner band. They make it sound so easy, so why isn’t it this easy?!

[ZACH DUVALL]

 • • • • •

LEST WE FORGET

[…For Victory, 1994]

Bolt Thrower’s beefiest album produced many gems, but “Lest We Forget” has the most facets. Holding fast to the band’s eternal embodiment of war, the song features ample riffy rampage of the memorable sort atop martial rhythmic perfection.  Several manifestations of Bolt Thrower’s trademark melodic approach appear. Brilliantly obtuse harmonies serve the song without crossing over into egregious cheese; Bolt Thrower’s brand of victory is never joyful.  The track’s unforgettable chorus isn’t a plea for humanity amidst the insanity of war, but a reminder that we cannot become wholly animal; some part of us will always regret, remaining haunted by our own deeds.

[ATANAMAR SUNYATA]

 • • • • •

THOSE ONCE LOYAL

[Those Once Loyal, 2005]

Didn’t I just say (along with everyone else in this article, I’m sure) “riffs, riffs, riffs?!” Well, here we go again with the title track of what is arguably Bolt Thrower’s best, most consistent album. Like my other pick, “Contact – Wait Out,” “Those Once Loyal” has a specific moment that I just completely lose my mind over, the riff that starts at 2:21, a play on the song’s main riff, but with Jo Bench’s bass a huge, dynamic presence that just gives this song so much weight.

[DAVE SCHALEK]

 • • • • •

IN BATTLE THERE IS NO LAW

[In Battle There Is No Law, 1988]

Bolt Thrower’s earliest effort fell in line with Britain’s fledgling grindcore scene, even if this realm of chaos wasn’t all that grindy. Sure, In Battle is Bolt Thrower at their most lo-fi, their most punk, but they’re still pretty much death metal, taking a thrash base and upping the ante into full-on warfare. Karl Willetts’ voice is higher, more barked, and the production is as rough as Bolt Thrower would ever get, but the basis is intact. Andy Whale’s flailing drums fly and flam beneath a gnarly thrash riff, all of it as grisly as a battle in media res.

[ANDREW EDMUNDS]

 • • • • •

WAR MASTER

[War Master, 1991]

Aptly brutal and merciless, “War Master” finds mankind locked in combat, in “…the epic struggle for survival”. Taken from Bolt Thrower’s third album of the same name, “War Master” evokes the eternal fight for dominance––be it fantasy based or reality driven––and the crushing song combines echoes of Bolt Thrower’s grindcore beginnings with the band’s monolithic and signature death metal sound. There’s percussive cannondale, Jo Bench’s bulldozing bass, Karl Willetts’ echoing bark, and those ten tonne hulking rhythms and the gloomy solos. All of which means that earth-quaking heaviness is heaped onto morbid brutality on “War Master”. The quintessential Bolt Thrower stance, right there.

[CRAIG HAYES]

 • • • • •

WORLD EATER

[Realm Of Chaos, 1989]

Though it was inspired by the Warhammer 40k tabletop game, “World Eater” would serve perfectly as the theme song for both Galactus and Unicron, each immense and immensely powerful, god-like, planet-destroying beings. “World Eater” also happens to distill all the best aspects of Bolt Thrower’s sound into one song: the patented trudging pace, a devastating, but infectiously melodic main riff, a bit of blasting chaos leftover from the band’s grind roots, and Karl Willetts doom-heralding roar. “World Eater” is also the first song to feature a particular riff that would reappear on four of the band’s six subsequent albums. I won’t tell you which riff, but if you have listened to the tracks accompanying this list, you have already heard it more than once.

[JEREMY MORSE]

THE IVTH CRUSADE

[The IVth Crusade, 1992]

The citizens of Constantinople had no idea the doom that awaited them in 1204 during the titular Fourth Crusade, but Bolt Thrower’s classic telling of the event still begins with simple foreboding. The message was clear: there might be an agreement in place between these crusaders and their Byzantine hosts, but the only way for this to end was in brutal bloodshed. The song’s gargantuan (and earned) impact at 2:28 is sound of the visiting swords being turned on their supposed allies. The raging solo that follows the sound of a populous and ancient city being viciously sacked. The only gods present in this crusade were those of greed and lust for power. The deity of Rome had no place here; insignificant was his existence.

[ZACH DUVALL]

 • • • • •

CENOTAPH

[War Master, 1991]

In late April, down my end of the world, hundreds of thousands of people from across New Zealand and Australia will gather at dawn ceremonies to honour soldiers from both nations who fought and died in wars big and small. We’ll stand, as Bolt Thrower’s Karl Willets bellows on “Cenotaph”, in front of monuments “carved in stone––a tribute to the dead”. We’ll mark those “destined to silence”. Pay our respects to those “never forgotten” as “war’s memory lingers on”. And we’ll no doubt wonder what we have learnt staring at those huge monuments, “to war’s terminal conclusion.” Bolt Thrower have written plenty of doom-laden songs about bloody battles. But “Cenotaph” is the band’s most powerful reminder of the cost of all our warmongering, and of our path to “mankind’s oblivion”.

[CRAIG HAYES]

 • • • • •

Posted by Last Rites

GENERALLY IMPRESSED WITH RIFFS

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