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Treads, tanks and tons of steel - 90%

MacMoney, November 13th, 2010

Starting with a history lesson, in 1994 Bolt Thrower had come out with perhaps their best album compositionally; ...For Victory. However vocalist Karl Willets's performance had left something to be desired. He wasn't bad, but perhaps somewhat weaker than normal, hurting an otherwise great album. Turns out he didn't have that much of an interest in delivering death vocals anymore so he left the band. But when things with his replacement, Dutch Martin van Drunen of Asphyx and Pestilence fame, didn't work out so well, Karl was once again called in to do vocals on Bolt Thrower's next album, 1998's Mercenary. An alright album by normal standards, but Bolt Thrower's weakest effort in years and Karl's vocals showed clear signs of his disinterest and he didn't stick long with the band, leaving that same year.

Enter Dave Ingram, freshly out of Benediction. His entrance understandably doesn't create as much interest as a more acknowledged veteran's like van Drunen's, but he is - apparently - easier to work with and the band enters the studio to record an album, this one, Honour, Valour, Pride. The band must've realized themselves what a lackluster effort Mercenary was and decided to put 110% effort into this album. Their general sound and style often gets compared to being run over by a tank and while some of their earlier albums more or less resemble this, none of them - aside from Warmaster - manage to capture that particular sound nearly as well as Honour, Valour, Pride. The success of it comes from a number of facts. First of all, the material in general is slow to mid-paced, which allows the grinding riffs to come to the forefront to crush the listener. The very powerful mids in their sound, backed up by the loud and low rumble of the bass, are absolutely perfect for their kind of riffs. The reverb and slight echo that's been part of their guitar sound for the past three albums is toned down a fair bit. The riffs are mostly ones with a lot of one-note repeats yet always with a little twist, or of the more melodic-variety like the lead riff that controls the verses of Honour. The drumming is not technical or fancy, but the new drummer, Martin Kearns has a lot more groove to his beats in comparison to his mechanical and boring predecessor, Alex Thomas. It goes very well with the surprising amount of groove found in the guitars and quite skillfully Bolt Thrower have made this groove work for their crushing sound rather than against it. A little groovy twist to those crushing and grinding riffs enables them to stay fresh just that much longer.

Now the part that probably garnered most interest on the album: the vocals. Yes, as previously mentioned, long time vocalist Karl Willets is gone and replaced by Dave Ingram of Benediction. On the earlier albums of his previous band, Ingram had had a formidable bellow, but the later ones saw his style develop into more of a hoarse shout with a slight hardcore influence, a style definitely not suited for Bolt Thrower's style in 2001, even if that's the direction Willets's vocals had gone on Mercenary. Fortunately, that is not the style witnessed on Honour, Valour, Pride. Instead it is a gruff growl with a lot of power in the mid-section, quite reminiscent of what Willets had been doing a few albums back. Ingram's voice is a bit deeper as well as lazier, more laid back and impassive. The vocals are very monotone, staying in the same pitch most of the time, but that really fits with the atmosphere of crushing treads and pummeling riffs.

On a grand scale, not a lot has really changed on paper from the previous strategic design of Bolt Thrower's assault. It is just the tactical plan that has been altered. The band seems a lot more into the music this time around in comparison to Mercenary. Songwriting is more inspired, more cohesive and works better. The new members vastly outperform the ones they replaced and the band's general performance shows them being lot more relaxed and in harmony with their music and each other. All in all an album that improves a whole lot on its predecessor.