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Bolt Thrower's 7th album was an impulse buy for me. I'd only a couple of weeks before bought Realm Of Chaos and was just getting stuck into it's crushing WH40K space war anthems, but when I saw the awesome packaging and attractive price at an underground shop, I got it, and i'm not disappointed in the slightest.
The opening crescendo of military snare drumming quickly explodes into an ominous riff typical of Bolt Thrower before accelerating into a speedy dual guitar attack supplemented by stomach-churning bass and vital double-bass drumming. Enter the low, belching vocals showcasing an expansive perspective of war and battle, and end five minutes later with just the right touch of progession finishing-off the song nicely, and your breath still racing to catch-up. Thier attack could be described as limiting because of thier almost concrete-set trademark sound, but you can tell Bolt Thrower are revelling in thier own highly distinctive niche of death metal. Every single song in thier back catalogue is powerful on it's own, but thier constant style has made some of the albums blur somewhat in the absence of strict listening attention. Not anymore! Honour Valour Pride is a continuation of the same formula, but as churned-out by a band that has gone through a couple lineup changes. For better, thier new drummer Martin Kearns couldn't fit more perfectly into the war-machine. There's nothing jaw-dropping about the way he hits the skins and he doesn't put-in as many offtime fills as Andy Whale before him, but his stamina at the bass pedals adds a clean, driving and often creative pummeling that sounds perfect and crafting in the alternating fast/slow tempos of Bolt Thrower's music. The two opening tracks, plus 'Valour' and 'K-Machine' show him-off well. Likewise faultless are original members Baz Thompson and Gav Ward on guitars. They churn-out the same gloomy riffs, rapid-fire stringwork and melodically spiked, mildly progressive tunes, but efforts such as the valiant solo opening '7th Offensive' and the titanically foreboding intro riff to 'Valour' are but a few that partition this album into seperate tracks nicely.
The lyrics refrain from the graphic nature of many other death/grind bands, instead building on things like vague visual intensity, tactile and aural textures and moral grounds exposed through tragedy and the qualities exposed in man through conflict. (refer to the album title!) 'Await the call, Oncoming storm, Let come what may, No light so full of hope as that of dawn' ("Contact - Wait Out"),'Splinters of man, Counterparts as one, Now in times of peace, Rain falls on lonely graves' (Valour) 'Honour the fallen brave, Valour with thier lives they gave, Pride that will never fade, We still remember' (Pride) Those are some out-takes that demonstrate Bolt Thrower as attempting to depict more than just cheap violence that leave any consideration of meaning totally to the listener. The departure of Karl Willets has seen Dave Ingram (ex-Benediction) step-in to provide the vocals. Critically, Ingram is monotone and banal in his delivery. He is competent in his own right, but cannot nearly compete with the pure animal aggression and guttural intensity that Willets had offered Bolt Thrower. Despite this, Ingram is as good a replacement as anyone can expect; his style doesn't verge much from what is expected of Bolt Thrower, and on the plus side his more ordered delivery makes the lyrics more comprehensible.
As another soundtrack to war, Bolt Thrower's music is an excellent combination of action-oriented speed, grim chugging, heroic guitar flair and dark, crushing melody. At face value, they have a samey feel throughout thier albums that demonstrates an unswerving comfort in what they do, and that they rely on riffs for writing songs rather than experimentation or varied structures. This album in particular contains a good variation of memorable riffs and distinctive songs without compromising thier style or theme, and as such, Honour - Valour - Pride is an excellent release from one of the most experienced death bands around. It offers a well structured and considered approach that really makes it feel like a themed album, and not just a collection of songs. The limited edition release comes with a bonus track (of just the same quality) and some stunning packaging that makes it seem that lil bit more important.