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Bolt Thrower are widely regarded as a legendary death metal band that incorporated the lyrical theme war to produce some of the genres greatest ever albums and tracks ever to be released and gained a good following due to artwork that was of the influence of the computer game "Warhammer". In their first album "In Battle There Is No Law" they incorporated the lyrical theme 'war' but the style they played in this album is different to their other albums. The album has a lot of influences from other genres such as hardcore, punk and grindcore whilst merely touching death metal. This an album that I think is overlooked sometimes and I think it should be seen as an album that sets up Bolt Thrower into becoming one of death metal greatest bands ever!
So on to the music and the album starts off with the album title itself 'In Battle There Is No Law' and it starts with a marching like drum beat before being joined in with high pitched guitars before vocalist, Karl Willets comes in with his deep vocals before starting off a nice rhythm with the guitars of Barry Thomson and Gavin Ward, before one of them going back to this high pitched sound whilst the other plays the rhythmic part. Like in a lot of other tracks in this album you can always hear the double bass of former member, Andrew Whale drums; the drums throughout this album have a very grindcore feel to them. Track 2 of this album "Challenge of Power" starts off with fast going drums before the guitars come in with this heavy sound before fading out and coming back in again before going into this fast paced sound. Although one of my best tracks in this album, you can't really hear Karl vocals very well; it's sometimes like a distant noise in the background which makes it a little dodgy, probably due to the poor production on this album, although having said that Karl vocals have a very hardcore punk/death metal sound a bit like Evan Seinfeld of Biohazard, another hardcore punk/metal band only Karl vocals are a lot deeper and of a dirty sounding.
The grindcore influence of the drums then spreads to every instrument in this album on track 3 "Denial of Destiny" not only are the drums are at that fast paced grindcore influence but the guitars also are starting to sound very fast again with this grindcore influence before slightly touching hardcore/punk, death metal on the more heavier parts giving the album a mix of tastes which I quite like; the band exploring into different genres, and trying to fit it in to the albums criteria of this 'war' lyrical theme and I think this works like a treat. Very few bands can explore a range of different genres and then incorporating it into their music and Bolt Thrower in this album do it well.
So, let's talk about the not so great production: well I'm afraid at some points it makes the vocals as I say a 'noise in the background' at some points in this album, songs like "Denial of Destiny" parts of "Blind to Defeat" and "Concession of Pain" and "Attack of the Aftermath" and I think also at some points the drums and the guitars seem to have more priority over Karl vocals and consequently stops the listener from trying to hear the vocals and get a bit more of a feel to the track or album. The guitars on the other hand are a different story; I thought these had a nice sound and could just about get a good sounding from them, they were very clear on the heavier parts they played but a little off on the higher pitches but all in all, they were fine along with the bass playing by Jo Bench. The drums were good but I think they were a bit too repetitive with the grindcore blast beats but to be fair the drums had a very raw sound to them.
A good album, but if the production was better it would be an amazing album but I suppose it was all they had back then in equipment terms and they just had to go along with it. Musically, I think this album really sets up Bolt Thrower for what it is today as this legendary death metal band that incorporated war as a lyrical theme and not forgetting the guitar tuning they play with which makes them stand out from a lot of death metal bands, there is something about them that stands out and the album on a whole was more of a taster of what was to come and therefore I think Bolt Thrower started to gain that good following.
It would be almost impossible for me to think of Bolt Thrower's debut without also considering British extremity as a whole, or the process of how metal's evolution was devoured and regurgitated back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean, growing darker and heavier with each wave of new acts to don the genre and render it further inaccessible from its 70s roots. In Battle There is no Law! was one of a trinity of influential English albums to take on the emergent death metal medium, but it had some clear differences from its contemporaries Reek of Putrefaction and Scum! For one, where Carcass and Napalm Death were verily heavily expounding upon a punk and hardcore foundation, Coventry's carnal crusaders were more or less skipping that step and composing riffs that functioned off a thrash base. All three have been associated with the origin of 'grindcore', but rather than get into a tired semantic debate, I'll just state that In Battle... is easily the least imbued with that style's characteristics. The lyrical inspiration was also something else: rather than rallies against a corporate Earth, or medical grotesqueries privately intended to curb carnivores from their diet of flesh, Bolt Thrower, named for a weapon in Games Workshop's popular Warhammer 40K setting, had a fairly unhealthy obsession with, you guessed it, warfare. One that they've never shaken in over 25 years of existence.
Unlike its follow-up, Realm of Chaos, this debut doesn't necessarily delve into the the universe of that war gaming milieu, but focuses more on historical violence and the theoretical aftermath of civilization's plummet post-nuclear armageddon. And this is important, because it helps define what exactly made the band so standout and special to begin with: the atmosphere. In Battle There is No Law! is not the most righteously riffy of creations, granted, but it hits you on numerous visceral levels. For one, the tuning and timbre of the guitars is entirely oppressive and downtrodden, from the base thrash chugging structure to the roiling and fleshy grooves, Bolt Thrower simply did not sound like its US peers and death metal progenitors Death, Obituary, and Autopsy. The Brits were peddling more of a condensed flood of atrocity, and the debut never really lets up across its 30 minute play-length. Rather than creating eerie tremolo lines in their songs, they simply bashed the listener over the head with alternations of tank-tread grooves and accelerated processions of chords that almost seemed like a relentless upgrade to the speed/thrash metal sect (I hear a tint of Sodom or Hellhammer, certainly). Add to that the exertions of shredding solo here, either tapped or just wailing away on random strings of notes, and you get a pretty interesting contrast that only adds to the overall atmosphere, thanks to the unapologetic level of effects applied to the lead tone. Truthfully, there were probably only a half-dozen 'memorable' riffs on the whole of this disc, but this is so fucking heavy that it thrives off its nihilistic production regardless. Not a lot of other shit in 1988 can claim to have been this intense...
Whale's drums here incorporated scads of double-bass rhythms from the get-go, and this is likely the album's most prominent influence on the decades of death and grind since, not to mention the proto-blasting involved in tracks like "Challenge for Power" and "Concession of Pain". I've read comments about how the playing on this and the sophomore were 'sloppy', and perhaps that really is the case, but I think it's only amplified by the sheer volume of his beats, which sound like a few score mortars being fired off in conjunction. Transitions often feel a little random or misplaced through the tracks, but that doesn't do the music a disservice per se, only adds a bit of youthful chaos. Though the bass guitar itself is not the loudest ingredient, In Battle... as a whole definitely leaves a depth charge concussion on the soul and skull, and Jo Bench definitely laid out a proper, voluptuous low end which creeps beneath the meat of the rhythm guitar like carrion crawlers coming out to feast on the mounds of war-dead. Karl's vocals here are actually at their highest pitch through the band's career, one of the biggest dividers between this and the later Bolt Thrower albums. He's not got that same, brute guttural, but more of a bloody, bluntness that he intersperses with growls (closest comparison would be some of Chris Reifert's tormented mania). Certainly more of Karl's accent shines through than you'd expect. In a way, this is one of his more interesting and diversified performances, but I can see why some might have preferred the grimmer, streamline approach he'd take on later.
I have read other opinions of how In Battle There is No Law! is some sort of anomalous work in the band's catalog, and how it's aesthetically disparate from its successors, but I must disagree. Just about every aspect of the record forms a perfectly natural staging for Realm of Chaos, only there the band decided to go for an even bleaker sense of atmosphere, honing in for higher quality, drudging riffs and using the Games Workshop fiction as a direct lyrical source. It's arguably busier than most of the more condensed riff cycles they'd adorn later, but not hugely complex in structure. Overall, though, I'd say this immediately establishes the band's identity, the sophomore simply solidifies it. Unfortunately, Realm of Chaos does such an amazing job of manifesting its otherworldly, oppressive imagery into unforgettable songs, that given a choice, I'll seek that out for my Bolt Thrower fix 10 out of 10 times over this. That's hands down one of my favorite death metal recordings ever, despite In Battle There is No Law! being my first exposure. But I don't wanna sell this short, because it was quite impressive for its day, far more structured and compelling than Scum!, From Enslavement to Oblivion, or Reek of Putrefaction, and the punkish cover art and original 'logo' are both pretty iconic, even despite my preferences for Space Marines. Often more brash than brutal, but a gem all the same, and well worth hunting down if just to experience one of the death metal's formative sounds.
I guess everyone's gotta start somewhere. Bolt Thrower's debut album is not only devoid of what most people instantly connect with the band, it's also a great deal of fun to listen to. This was recorded and composed back in their 'street' days, when virtually no one except the band, close friends and some other bands knew about them, and as such, we get everything associated with that, low budget, muddy production job, some degree of sloppiness (although Karl is delivering the vocals with machine gun intensity and precision), et cetera. But none of it really matters, as this is a truly enjoyable listen from start to finish... just isn't particularly memorable one.
Don't get me wrong, it's not unmemorable as in bad, it's simply that if you listened to any later Bolt Thrower record, this will seem irrelevant, both musically and in the terms of band's sound. This album really sounds like some mishmash of hardcore punk, grindcore, and old school death metal, but it seems like at this point in their career, the band didn't really know how to mix it all together in a fully kickass manner (see their 2nd album, Realm of Chaos, for the RIGHT mix of that). We have punkish riffs, rhythms, then we get blasting grinding sections, and also some slower and more melodic parts. It's outlandish (speaking from my point of view), but it's pretty good to listen to from time to time.
Another problem would be the lack of songs individuality. At this point, I've listened to this album at least 20 times in it's entirety, and I can only recall and recognize 3 songs. Of course, the title track is an unforgettable anthem, the band is still playing it live most of the times, and it opens with pounding drums while Karl delivers the spoken intro with some of the coolest lyrics in existence:
In the fight for existence and life
There is no law
And in the presence of eternal death
There is no law
And as the struggle for power and domination prevails
In the arising slaughter
It shall be every man for himself
As in battle there is no law
The song progresses from hardcore-influenced opening, to death metal solos, to grindcore verses, before calling it quits with the opening riff. Forgotten Existence is also worth mentioning, with it's melodic intro and outro riffs, really standout. The final standout track is Psychological Warfare. It has some of the coolest lead guitars in death metal, something a lot of bands would mimic later. The rest I couldn't recognize for the life of me, I know the song titles, and if anyone would ask me: 'Hey, do you know that song Blind To Defeat?', I'd say: 'Yes, of course, it's from Bolt Thrower debut.' But I wouldn't be able to recall how it goes. To quote myself once more, I recall having tons of fun listening to the entire album, so the track must be cool. The songs just lack identity, that's all.
This album was a nice gateway for the band to write some stellar masterpieces later on, and it's great for what it is. Hardcore/grindcore/death metal shitload of fun, headbanging all around, air guitar noodling, etc. It also marks the birth of the world's best death metal band. But for all it's intentions and influence, I can't give it more than seventy five percent. People at that times probably started listening to the band with this record, but I'd recommend Realm Of Chaos, The IVth Crusade, or Those Once Loyal as a start for someone that's just getting into death metal at this point in time.
Favorite moments: the title track, intro to Forgotten Existence, lead guitars in Psychological Warfare.
Bolt Thrower's early material is a far cry from the sound they would come to develop. The old Bolt Thrower, while not necessarily superior, was much more raw and primal, as well as having a much lower tolerance for melody. While rooted in death metal, this can hardly be deemed a straight up death metal release. The most notable ways in which Bolt Thrower veer away from the typical death metal formula is through the prominent inclusion of crust and grindcore influences. The culmination of these different styles is one hell of a raw and punishing listen.
While just about every death metal fan has heard their preferred style mixed with grindcore (although most of which was released after In Battle There Is No Law!), a fusion of death and crust is a little less expected. This mix of style is still somewhat of a rarity now; imagine how unexpected it would have been back in '88. The crust element is responsible for much of the album's character. The punk edge adds a distinct personality that would not be present if they stuck with a more orthodox death metal sound. The most enthralling part of this influence is in the riffs. The riffs sometimes mirror some of the more successful names in crust punks, while taking it into a different context. The riff that starts one minute into the title track sounds a lot like seminal crust punk outfit Nausea (who started just a year before Bolt Thrower). There's a riff in "Concession of Pain" that sounds very much like old Amebix.
It should not come as a surprised that there are elements of crust and grindcore on the same death metal album, seeing as grindcore evolved from crust punk. What these influences mean for In Battle There Is No Law! is that it will be a very raw and unrestrained album. The production is unpolished, to say the least. The drums, while not complicated, are very hard hitting and high in the mix. This creates a high sense of abrasion. The whole album comes off as sloppy, albeit in the best way possible. Instead of coming off as painfully amateurish, the lack of production and the rawness of the music makes it feel more real. Although high quality production is obviously appropriate in many scenarios, it can sometimes take the heart out of the music and make it feel less human. Raw production is completely fitting in this situation, as it compliments the simple (yet very hard hitting) riffs and creates a filthy atmosphere that goes well with the album. The most clear thing in the mix is the lead guitar, which fits in somewhere in between normal fast-paced soloing and what would generally be considered wankery (although in this case it is not at all a bad thing).
While there is nothing specifically wrong with it, the songwriting here can't stand up to what Bolt Thrower would later become. Because of the production and the style they play, the songwriting sometimes gets lost in the mix. This is not really a hindrance to enjoying the album, however, as In Battle There Is No Law! isn't really about songwriting. That isn't to say it's not important, but it's not where Bolt Thrower excel here. The riffs and the leads are both amazing, but this album's number one triumph is it's style. This successful mix of genres being blended into one coherent sound is no easy feat. It should be noted that when this album was released, this kind of thing wasn't really done.
This album proves that Bolt Thrower were innovators from the beginning. Their raw beginnings are very interesting, especially in the context of their career. After this album they would gradually transform into a more melodic band with a higher focus on songwriting. Although this later sound is where most people know Bolt Thrower from (and with good reason, Bolt Thrower has never released an album not worth hearing), their crusty origins are fascinating. While being sloppy and having raw productions may prove to be a handicap to some, it gives early Bolt Thrower charm. These songs would sound silly with overly polished production. In Battle There Is No Law! is a successful early step in the riveting journey of Bolt Thrower's career.
Debut albums by legendary metal bands are always a tricky bunch when it comes to judging them, especially when looking back at the albums years after they were released. In some cases it can be the band's best work, their worst or it could just be an average album. So what about "In Battle There Is No Law!" the debut album of death metal legends, Bolt Thrower? An album that showcases the band at their most raw and primitive state (Not counting demos of course). Well, before the answer to that question, an even more important one. Is this album even a pure death metal album?
Bolt Thrower is of course a death metal band, but "In Battle There Is No Law!" is definitely not a pure death metal album, but more of a metalpunk or grind album. While death metal pioneers in the US, like Death and Possessed were creating their brand of death metal based on their love of thrash bands like Slayer, Kreator, and Dark Angel, Bolt Thrower was worshiping Discharge and other punk bands that roamed the UK at the time. The songs on this record are definitely more likely to be found on a Napalm Death or Repulsion album than a Morbid Angel or Obituary one. The classic death metal tremolos aren't present for the most part, but instead ridiculously intense riffs being pushed by punk-driven beats.
Now, for the actual music. This record is pretty damn fast throughout, with some headbanging, mid-paced moments placed in the perfect spots.The album kicks off with the track "Attack in the Aftermath," which is one of the better songs on there. A cool drum intro starts the track and is followed by some power chords that resemble a lot of punk bands at the time (The tone), before being launched into blistering solos and fast riffs, accompanied by Karl Willets' savage vocals. This, more or less, is pretty much the description of all nine tracks on the record. Nothing but nontechnical solos, headbang inducing mid-paced riffs, great drumming, extremely fast riffs and a heavy vocal assault, and I wouldn't have it any other way.
Back to the original question. Is Bolt Thrower's debut album their best, worst or is it somewhere in the middle? Well, there's no such thing as a bad Bolt Thrower album, but this one is definitely not their worst, but it isn't their best either. One thing is for sure though, this album was just the beginning of what would become the best overall death metal discography ever.
"Attack in the Aftermath"
"Concession of Pain"
"In Battle There Is No Law"
Originally written for Nightmare Reality Webzine
The Bolt Thrower warmongers are arguably the first death metal band to come up from the fertile metal land that is Great Britain. Death metal is an American creation put to life by Floridian and New-Yorker kids who were influenced by the new thing in the metal world at that time; thrash metal. Unlike their American counterparts, Bolt Thrower also drew their influences from a couple of British-grown genres namely crust and hardcore punk. While a genre creation may be a solitary affair, its evolution is pretty much a collective one where besides being influenced by the same core sound, they each have their own respective influences. That's why when new genres are born, the originators sound relatively different, they may go in completely different directions after some experimentation within their new sound, but after their first releases, most of them - sometimes with the help of new bands - build upon their work to develop the genre's defining sound. Bolt Thrower may be the most important figure in British death metal and an underground one but if they were first heading in a pure death metal direction is an interesting overlooked question.
Bolt Thrower's debut In Battle There Is No Law was released in '88, when death metal was just getting started in the United Sates. While the British probably got a sense of what was happening out there, something different was happening on their chunk of land. While metal pretty much came from the UK, so did punk. Most NWoBHM bands - which influenced thrash metal in turn - like Motörhead or Tank were influenced by punk as extreme metal bands that started popping up in the late '80s. While thrash bands were forming in the US and Europe, the UK didn't seem to get in the thing, maybe because they were all listening to punk bands, but still were probably somewhat influenced by their aggression and extreme sound - or just thought Motörhead wasn't extreme enough - which they blended with their own hardcore punk making what we know as grindcore. So while death metal was the new thing in the US, grind was so in the UK, with Earache starting to release some material of Napalm Death or Carcass. The Bolt Thrower guys were probably making their own bred of grindcore though their punk influences being a lot more apparent and with some death and thrash ones. As Carcass or Napalm Death, they probably were trying to write death metal, but probably saw the genre as extreme metal in general. Like stated earlier, they weren't in the thrash thing, so when wanting to do their kind of death metal, they didn't looked at American bands for much inspiration besides their aggression, but at their own hence the totally different direction people started to call grindcore. Since In Battle There Is No Law showcases an early stage of the band, you can clearly dissect every influence out there from the punk vibe some riffs or drumming of "Forgotten Existence" have to "Blind to Defeat"s grinding thrashiness. Each song at least grinds and has a clear influence of crust punk, thrash or death and Bolt Thrower's first album is arguably a grind release.
Other than its influences, In Battle There Is No Law is a raw, filthy and aggressive sounding album with the band member's inexperienced performance and songwriting giving a certain feel of youthful spontaneity at times. Well while not being really technical, the guitarists are competent, they do some solos and tapping with only small faults but another matter of interest is how they actually sound; raw and heavily down-tuned which help give the album a certain filthy atmosphere. As far as Jo's bass goes, you can hear it but besides sounding really raw and crunchy, that's pretty much it. If the riffs aren't that sloppy at all, it's not the same case for Andrew Whale's drumming. It's not a bad thing in itself, it does fit rather well the guitar's raw sound and he seems like beating the hell of his kit - we're at war, remember. You can also hear glimpses of the direction his style will take with some cymbal slashing moments. Actually he never really got that much better of a drummer, he kept his hard hitting playing but tweaked it with time, making some of the most headbangable, intense and... war beats in metal. Karl Willets isn't the beast he would become but he does a competent job, his vocals are less guttural and throatier, there are barely any growls but he still has a certain edge to his voice he would latter attain by doing some really low growls. Still, I find his voice rather appealing and fitting for their more primitive sound. The songwriting is mostly of the grindcore style; from the grinding riffs to the slower groovier ones, the other influences are mainly heard in the riffs and drumming themselves. And that's something that makes In Battle There Is No Law a most interesting listen; the songs have a certain duality to them, a riff can sound thrash and grind at the same time. The aforementioned “Blind to Defeat” is a good example; it starts with a unmistakably thrash riff played with one guitar while the other plays at the same time the end of the riff with an appropriate thrash drumming. After that a similar riff is played at grinding speed as the drumming, then the first riff is played in one of those groovy grind riffs fashion. Mostly the same thrash riff though with the exception of the beginning, it is played in a way that can't be more grind and a similar thing can be said about "Psychological Warfare" too, if not, there is something unmistakably grindcore for the better part of the song. Even the vocal delivery sounds grindcore for the most part. Otherwise, the thrash or grind riff may have a punkish vibe - or it may be a punk riff instead. Though it is not completely devoid of death metal influences, some riffs are definitely death metal, but there is too much other influences even in the most death metal songs to call the album that way.
While the album has an overall consistent quality, the title track is without a doubt the highlight, so much that it alone deserves a whole paragraph relating their first battle. It's highly unlikely that any Bolt Thrower fan who does not own the album has never heard the track. It's brutally simple, one dimensional but at the same time addictively appealing. It's a combination of simple yet genuinely catchy, aggressive riffs. The drumming isn't less sloppy either though being a high point of the song. While looking from the most possible objective point of view, it is surprising the song ends up being that good considering what has previously been stated, it probably works because it's an honest, effort full of youthful energy of some passionate kids. I mean it's one of those genuinely headbangable songs. With that almost-impossible-not-to-headbang-to cymbal-snare-cymbal-snare with the double bass drum accompanying beat shortly followed by a small roll fill and a kind of not any less headbangable groovy grind/thrash hybrid riff, two identical consecutive power chords played at the same time as a simultaneous cymbal/snare hit making you want to do two punches in the air and/or two headbangs, are played after three times the beginning of the riff. After the riff being repeated a couple of times, a really similar one - one that makes want more to do a kind of wave-like headbanging - with the two powerchords still at the end follows. Sure there are so many headbangable songs, but one that you can't resist its power? Not that many, if you're not doing so, you're either waging war in the pit - well you can always do both too - or not much of a warrior. The riffs have this kind of back and forth energy whose gravity it creates drawn you toward its unilateral motion as a black hole would do. War isn't that much of an easy place to escape, particularly when you have such a unit as the all-destroying-we-show-no-mercy Bolt Thrower.
So In Battle There Is No Law is far from what Bolt Thrower now plays, in fact, it's not that much of a death metal album. Early death metal could be a somewhat appropriate description since it's an album hard to clearly define while casually listening to it the first time as it's a mish-mash of several metal and non-metal genres with an aggressive and heavy sound. But after some listens, the grinding becomes far more apparent and with its "social context", I can safely say it is one of the first, defining grindcore albums sitting on the same shelve as Scum, Reek Of Putrefaction and World Downfall though it is not considered so. In fact, Bolt Thrower's first purely death metal album is Warmaster, Realm Of Chaos still had a lot of grind influences, though was pretty death metal. And their former was a lot more from the Swedish style than the American one, it was also released when Nihilist, then Entombed, put out their first materials. But as a grind album, as previously stated, In Battle There Is No Law is a most varied one. The raw, heavy as a tank sound is more akin to death metal as some attacks are more punk or thrash making their waging first battle a most effective one, being the first victory of the unstoppable onslaught the war machine would continue to bring upon Earth.
Back in 1988, metal and punk music had only recently acknowledged each others' good points. I was a punk rocker back then, and punks scoffed at metal. We thought it was all glam with dudes dressed like women shrieking in falsetto vocals about fucking 14 year olds. I had metalhead buddies who thought punk music was faggy, with guys wearing pink hairdos whining about getting dumped by their girlfriends.
We were both right and wrong. Finally, metal and punk found some common ground. The problem was (for punx, anyway), that the metal bands that began openly admitting that they were a little punk too were sounding better. Metallica doing Misfits covers was what turned me onto metal (besides good ole Black Sabbath). All the punk bands that crossed over started to suck. D.R.I., Suicidal Tendencies... Just didn't have the talent and they sounded like they listened to too much Anthrax. Crust punk was a genre of talentless drunks who wished they could play like Slayer but who had no hope.
Enter Bolt Thrower. These guys were punx who loved Discharge but who checked out Slayer and knew what they wanted to play: Death Metal.
And ya know what? I'm listening to it now and it's pretty fuckin good. And not just in a nostalgic way. The production is raw (some might say it's awful), but to me that's part of the appeal. It sounds tinny. You have to turn the bass up but then it's kinda muddy. Sometimes it sounds like a wall of noise. Fuck it. Enjoy it for what it is. This is essentially 80's crossover.
The riffs on this album are as catchy as a lot of their later albums such as Warmaster, the IV Crusade, and For Victory. At 4:30 of the opening and title track, when Karl roars "NO LAW!" it still gives me the shivers and makes me grin. "Psycholigical Warfare" is another good one. Catchy riffs and buried solos.
All in all, maybe you have to have heard it back when death metal was young to truly appreciate this album. I can't say for sure. If you wanna hear a band who's overproduced and has had the road paved for them by countless death metal bands over the course of 20+years, then "In Battle There Is No Law" probably won't do it for you.
If you wanna hear an album with soul and energy, especially with the knowledge that they developed to be one of the better bands in their genre, check this album out.
Let's face it, Metal and geeks go together like heart attacks and obese people. From the earliest days of metal to the coldest of black metal bands, nerds have helped shape the way our genre is. Whether it’s an unhealthy knowledge of history, or the ability to write pages of Tolkien fan fiction, many of the bands which helped progress the genre have had some kind of geek side to them. In Bolt Thrower, I present you with the Warhammer Nerd, not dissimilar to a Dungeons and Dragons nerd, just with a little less role-playing and little more arts and craft. Warhammer geeks typically involve grown men who play with small plastic toys, mainly because the talent to paint in a detailed and skilful way takes years to develop. While they and D&D nerds have many similarities (living in basements, general lack of tans), there has always been a large difference between them; The Dungeons and Dragons nerd has been fully welcomed into the metal community, where the resilient painters and gluers of this fine genre simply haven't managed to get themselves noticed. Here, on Bolt Thrower's debut, we are shown in full force the folly of our ways.
Bolt Thrower were very different to the magic and orc themed bands that had been accepted so willingly into metal, they didn't care about who was fighting, or why they were fighting, or what side they were on, all they cared abut was kicking the other guys ass. This is an 'Us' vs 'Them' album, where we have no idea who 'Us' and 'Them' are, other than the fact 'They' are going to get their faces pounded into the earth. This is why it's such a shame that Warhammer nerds haven't put their minds to this type of music before, this sort of death metal is all about the love of the battle, and Bolt Thrower love the absolute shit out of the battle.
This, along with the much more refined, and to be honest more enjoyable follow up Realm of Chaos, is very different to their later, typically more famous material. In Battle There is No Law is a ferocious beast, featuring a large grind influence which hasn't been seen in the band since the 80's. Musically it doesn't really fit the war themes as well as the later, crunchier tank-like albums do, but it's more than made up for with sheer blasting intensity. Indeed, those looking for the catchy and bouncy rhythms which typically make up the band's sound are going to be confused and shocked by this album, because it's a totally different bestial creature.
In Battle There is No Law is a dirty high speed monster, complete with blast beats and harsh gurgle growls from the one and only Karl Willets. The album revolves around grinding tremolo riffs with very occasional grooving, heavier riffs and screechy wild soloing. There's the odd clean lead guitar section, such as the intro to Forgotten Existence, but typically this album is like trench warfare, dirty, harsh and brutal. In fact, this album holds many similarities to early grindcore, it's nowhere near as in your face and cutting as Scum or Horrified, but this works to it's advantage, the tempo changes and room for songs to grow allows the album to stand out from the emerging grind scene, and in a way helped solidify death metal in the UK.
The album is an interesting one due to the varied nature of it. If there is a flaw that you could bring up about the band over their career, it would be that they have got a certain lack of versatility to their sound. This isn't a really bad thing, because what they do, while not varied in the slightest is so very, very good, but this debut shows another side of the band, the wide eyed adventurous side of Bolt Thrower. This album grinds, slows down to a doomy pace, lays down crushing grooves, has both clean and crazed screeching lead work, has ultra low growls mixed with out-of-breath grind shouting and drumwork which covers the entire spectrum of metal that had been played by anyone in the genre to that point. In Battle There is No Law combines everything from the UK grind scene and everything from the US death metal scene into a reasonably cohesive whole, and shows a huge amount of forward thinking, something which the band doesn't really have in their arsenal anymore.
Sadly, for all of its charm and ideas, this is album much like the paint-job of a 12 year olds first Space Marine, sloppy and fairly carelessly done. From the cheap production to the actual quality of the band's performance, the album has many hallmarks of a band just starting out. Everything is quite messy, the low end is very muddy, the higher elements of the sound are piercing yet very thin, and Benches bass is a low and murky as ever, but it doesn't really rumble enough to really give off that armoured vehicle-like vibe. The band don't play particularly well either, this is simple music, and you can tell from select solos and riffs that these guys (and girl) know their ways around their instruments, but there are still plenty of fairly obvious little mistakes, most noticeably on the drums during tempo changes. At first it seems to help create a bit of a live atmosphere, but it's pretty clear to see that this is simply an element of careless amateurism which would be shed by the next album.
With that said, these negatives simply hold back how good this album could have been, rather than actually make it unenjoyable in the slightest, the music on offer is as solid as ever, but with a little more colour than what the average Bolt Thrower album provides. In Battle There is no Law is a call to arms to all of the guys painting figurines in their grandparents basements, throw down your fine tipped brushes, and crush your plastic tanks, pick up a guitar and write some dirty visceral death/grind and show those over-achieving dwarf and elf focussed upstarts a thing or two about being nerdy metallers.
Whether or not one can appreciate the powerful piece of artistic aggression that is Bolt Thrower’s “In Battle There Is No Law” largely depends on what they view as death metal and when it truly became a fully evolved beast. It tends to exist in two worlds, one to a lesser extent than the other, largely because of when it was put together. For most modern trustees of all things brutal and atonal, most of what came out in the mid to late 80s under the death metal moniker was nothing more than the most aggressive extreme within the thrash metal paradigm without actually crossing over, often referring to it as death/thrash or extreme thrash. By the same token, those who enjoy the crisp, percussive quality of thrashing death metal albums like “Seven Churches”, “Schizophrenia” and “Scream Bloody Gore” would probably have a hard time getting around some of the production practices that were beginning to work their way into the death style by the later 80s, hearing it as a sloppy version of thrash metal with too much of a drum presence and guitars that go way muddier than Slayer and the Teutonic trio would have dared to venture at this point.
Ultimately this album shows the greatest appeal to those who either have a keen sense of death metal history and an appreciation for its evolution, or those who are also predisposed to liking the early works of Morbid Angel and Cannibal Corpse, albeit in a much simpler format and with a less guttural interpretation of the vocal style. It is essentially a step forward to the modern approach in terms of its heavily raw and untamed production, as well as the heavy use of blast beats and a very loosely tonal approach to harmony. It is driven along by a fairly simple riff set that varies between the wild tremolo characteristics of German thrash and the mid-tempo crunch of various American thrash bands. But the extremely dark and low end guitar tone goes well beyond anything conceived of within the thrash metal realm, creating this post mortem mixed with live suffering type of atmosphere that is quite morbid, yet not crossing over into the exaggerated state of brutality that started rearing its head with early Suffocation and Cannibal Corpse’s “Butchered At Birth”.
This is one of those albums that can be picked apart for a number of flaws if one dwells upon the parts rather than the whole. Many could point out the formulaic and very limited approach to riffing that often settles itself into a fairly standard groove, and then remark that the album is primitive and obsolete compared to the wildly technical and extremely dissonant character of various later albums in the genre. Some can and have pointed out that the muddied guitar character and bombastic drum presence, which when coupled with a still 80s analog and reverb injected production creates a sound that detracts from the overall heaviness of the album. But the truth is, the whole of this doesn’t lend itself to some sort of new pinnacle of heaviness, but instead an atmosphere of horror and dread that lives up to its title. The overloud drums become a series of artillery rounds, the muddy guitar tone becomes the sound of flesh being ripped by lead bullets, and the aggressive yet still human sounding voice of Karl Willetts becomes the mutterings of a deranged eye witness to the carnage taking place.
When approaching the twisted death march that starts off the opening song and title track “In Battle There Is No Law”, in all its post-Black Sabbath meets thrash metal glory, and the chaotic nature of the rest of the song and all the individual anthems of destruction that follow, what emerges is a combination of a battlefield atmospheric aesthetic and the interpretation of those unfortunate enough to be caught in it. In other words, when heard for what it intends to be, you’re too busy being freaked out by the implicit gore and violence in each muddled riff, pummeling blast beat and morose vocal bark to care about whether or not breaks the speed of sound, throws in a thousand unrelated riffs, or meets the Deicide standard of groovy death metal. It does contain a somewhat similar lead guitar tinge to the wild and highly ornamented style of Slayer, which tended to influence a large number of early death metal bands even into the mid 90s, but otherwise it is in a completely separate class from what many consider to be the standard for death metal in the modern sense.
Obviously not every classic needs to be either perfect or genre defining in order to claim such a status. There does tend to be a level of sameness between a lot of the shorter songs, thought to a lesser degree than was present on “Reign In Blood”, and the band does tend to refer to a rather limited riff set. This band would get even better over the years with multiple albums, evolving the character of their sound while sticking pretty close to the basics established early on in this genre’s development. But this is not the equivalent of an SRB rocket that becomes obsolete once it has launched the shuttle into orbit. This is an essential part of a rich history and tradition for arguably the best death metal band to ever come out of England. For its time it was an extremely bleak and forbidding album that likely tortured many a virgin eardrum, and a good deal of it does translate to modern listeners, though it will naturally take on a different character for those raised on bands like Cryptopsy. But its greatness as an album is obvious, and its status among classic early releases in this genre is well earned.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on May 31, 2009.
In Battle There Is No Law has always seemed to me to be a low point in the inimitable Bolt Thrower’s career. In some ways, I’ve really wanted to enjoy this album, but I find that I just can’t get much out of it. Although to many it may seem to some like blasphemy to write a review for a Bolt Thrower album that is anything but unambiguously positive, I’m afraid that Bolt Thrower’s first outing simply doesn’t have the power that the band would develop so well on later releases. Before you cry out “For the love of Scarlett Johanssen, what folly could possibly motivate you to write of our beloved Bolt Thrower in this way?” hear me out. In Battle There Is No Law may not be a bad album, but it suffers from a couple of flaws that prevent it from realizing the band’s potential.
For a start, there’s the unfortunate production. The production fails to distinguish the trebles and mids sufficiently, which results in the drums and vocals overwhelming the guitars. I’m all for chaotic, dirty death metal but inaudible mud is another thing entirely. Instead of serving the listener a delicious, heaping helping of riffs to form the main course of a feast worthy of Valhalla, the production seems to highlight the brussel sprouts of the album, by which I mean the cringe-inducing, overused hi-hat that scrapes away insistently at your eardrums throughout most of the album. Granted, the production does contribute in some small way to the warlike atmosphere of brutality that characterizes Bolt Thrower’s sound, but that’s not enough to save the album. The low, almost gurgling guitar and bass sound sounds mean but it’s too muddy for this to translate into any sort of visceral impact.
The result is that the riffs are completely inaudible which, as any metalhead will tell you, is a fucking catastrophe. Furthermore, once I figured out what riffs the band was actually playing, I generally found that the riffs just didn’t strike my fancy. There are some notable exceptions, particularly on the title track/opener and a couple of tracks toward the end of the album. However, the bulk of the album just doesn’t cut it, which is made all the clearer by the occasional moments of inspiration that remind you that, well, Bolt Thrower is a really talented death metal band. It’s hard not to be disappointed after you hear the title track, which commands you to bang your head with one of the greatest Bolt Thrower riffs ever. After I’ve just finished making a fool of myself singing along to the riff – DUN-NA-NA-NA-DUN-NA-NA! DUN-NA-NA-NA-DUN DUN! – it’s hard for me to get very excited over “Challenge for Power,” which just sounds sloppy. The same idea was definitely executed better on Morbid Angel’s Blessed are the Sick, which set the standard for bizarre, aggressive riffs and chaotic solos.
Most of the time, though, the problem with the album isn’t that there’s so much happening that it all just gets lost, as on “Challenge for Power.” Rather, a lot of songs just have ridiculously simple riffs – two chords and a slow, simple picking pattern do not make a song, unfortunately. Granted, there are some interesting ideas on the album – the bass, for example, is well-done, considering the fact that it’s relegated to a very small role on the album most of the time, following the guitar parts through the murky production. However, the album fails to provide a really enjoyable listening experience, particularly when compared to the band’s later output.
For all that, this album does have at least one thing standing in its favor: variety. The band doesn’t stick to just one compositional style or song structure, simplistic riffing notwithstanding. The drum parts, in particular, are quite varied, including everything from early, old-school blast beats to slower (but still driving) rock beats. As a consequence, the album does demonstrate Bolt Thrower’s versatility and creativity. The problem isn’t that the band lacks ideas or artistic motivation but, rather, that those ideas are simply not executed well on this album. Indeed, this almost leads me to believe that Bolt Thrower were possibly too ambitious on their debut effort. As a young band, their songwriting and playing just doesn’t seem as focused as it does on later albums.
Considering the significant improvement that could be noted already on Bolt Thrower’s sophomore effort, Realm of Chaos, and the general awesomeness of the band’s discography, I feel pretty safe in saying that this album is not at all essential for most metalheads. If you’re a total Bolt Thrower fanboy, and there’s certainly no shame in that, then you might be interested in this album for the sake of completeness. In Battle There Is No Law has some major flaws but, in one sense, those flaws just demonstrate that the album gives insight into the band while the band was still developing into the War Master that it would later become. Thus, I’m fairly confident that I can recommend it to fans of Bolt Thrower but, if you don’t regularly pleasure yourself to Jo Bench, you probably don’t need to own this album.
June 11th, 1988
The battle plans were set: guitars at the ready, bass cocked back to devastate, the artillery battery to make sure the enemies are pinned, and the vocals with which to charge at them. No pain - no mercy for the weak. We will trample over the Unspoken King’s pathetic army of poseurs before the sun sets, or we will proudly die trying. Their heads shall hang from the banners and the lamentations of the sluts shall be heard between the hemispheres. For psychological purposes, let’s throw some coarse chemical weapons in for fun.
“Aren’t those outlawed in battle, sir?”
“This is still a battle, private. That’s the name of the game.”
June 12th, 1988
While still in the early hours of the morning, the Unspoken King and his army lie asleep from the excessive partying because they don’t know any better. Bolt Thrower, taking this battle as seriously as their honor, is as prepared as their budget allows them. In this early stage, they’re at their most unpolished, raw, gritty, and crusty. Following this battle, they’ll improve these characteristics, but every great band needs a grainy beginning. The artillery (drums) is set to rain down meteors and the guitars are standing by to go over the top with the tanks (bass) in merciless support. Willet’s lectures his troops one last time before he sets them loose like the demons of Hell.
“In the fight for existence and life
There is no law
And in the presence of eternal death
There is no law
And just the struggle for power the domination prevails
An arising slaughter
In revenging, every man for himself”
*The order is given, the whistle is blown, the adrenaline at its peak* – “AS IN BATTLE! THERE IS! NO LAAWWWW!!!”
The battery pour persistent double bass down like no other, but the sound isn’t as booming as hoped – instead the sound is very low and drowned. The lighter artillery (toms) are much more filling without any metallic annoyances, but have a sloppier skill while trying to keep up with the quota of rounds fired per minute. Where is the skill and training? This redundant style of fire is used on almost every song, except the more melodic ones like “Forgotten Existence” and in the later stages of the battle (the gas attack) on “Psychological Warfare.” The rhythm is more concentrated and the drums mix it up a little bit in a catchier pattern – those shitty poseurs were completely caught by surprise and the King woke up from his slumber… he was at a loss for words do to the overwhelming firepower.
The battle was broken down into nine general attacks, with all instruments taking part in each assault (tracks) – no pain, no mercy. Casualties were larger than predicted on the second, fourth, fifth, and the ninth assault; all showed signs of uninteresting tactics and lack of power, melody, and opted more for straightforward bashing. The greatest loss in all the assaults were from the bass which, although taking part in every operation, seemed to be drown under the harsh drive of the riffs. Its feats could still be heard as the air was filled, but otherwise there was little to listen to by the bass.
The troops (guitars), even just having come out of training, worked spectacularly in combat. When they found out law was bullshit in battle, they went all out and initiated no ceasefire under, even within the areas of no resistance. While the aforementioned assaults took on a more boring approach, tracks like the opening, third, seventh, and eighth attacks were by far the most successful. They blended different tactics such as headbanging rhythms, tremendously catchy thrash riffs, and a symphony drum tempos. Solos were apt on these ones and while glorious, were mostly lost under the unyielding charge of riffs. Their sound was grindy, churning, and yet not too thin to sound aggravating.
This battle is the first for Commander Willets as well, who cannot help but sound amateurish, tired out, and lets loose more of a gasping growl than a menacing one. Blame this problem on production or the crust influences the group held at the time; Willets still couldn’t pull of a real death metal growl. It works with the monotony of the battle and on its own is harsh and persistent, but it wasn’t the highlight. Compared to the other army’s commander, The Unspoken King… well, lets just say he was speechless.
June 13th 1988
Countless bodies of poseurs littered no man’s land on a scale not seen since the first day of the Battle of the Somme (1916). Heads were mounted on banners, decapitated bodies filled craters left by the well-spent artillery shells, and blood spilled rampantly. The only remaining photograph depicted is shown on the cover art - to much dismay in black and white. Perhaps it is best left with no distinct colors, lest the image become more than just a vintage warning to those who fuck with Bolt Thrower. The battle wasn’t a decisive victory for Bolt Thrower, but it proved their effectiveness and brutality, even under less brutal of productions. This would be the only battle that wasn’t massively thunderous, wickedly deafening, and a professionally executed operation. Nonetheless, In Battle There Is Now Law remains a short, seminal piece in the circuit of vintage battles fought between poseurs and those who stood for something worth dying for. As for the Unspoken King… well, twenty years later he’d be able to fathom the slaughter on his very own album…
Easily the best thing to come out of England in the late 80s, Bolt Thrower took the best aspects of the grindcore of bands like Terrorizer and Napalm Death, combined them with the thrash and first wave death metal of the late 80s, down-tuned their guitars a bit more and unleashed what probably would have been UK’s best death metal album, had they not returned the next year and made an even better one. The sound is very organic, owing perhaps to the loose sound of the guitar and the relatively low (compared to what we’re used to in death metal these days) standard of production. This organic sound suits Bolt Thrower very well, as one of my main grievances with their later work is that they lose some of their personality on the cleaner sounding albums like ...For Victory and Mercenary. This is filthy, dirty death metal full of grit and the production on this as well as on Realm of Chaos suits the band perfectly.
The riffs are fast and grinding, and will draw comparisons to bands like Repulsion as well as bands like Slayer. The music is unrelenting, though it slows down occasionally, it never loses its brutality. It is for the most part a full-speed assault, but Bolt Thrower has some great riffs, interesting drum beats and perfectly timed tempo changes that keep the music from becoming dull. Though it does get a bit repetitive, this is a good effect and the music is in a way hypnotic, much like its successor.
These are just about the best vocals on any Bolt Thrower album. They’re very grindy and are dripping with scorn, which will remind the listener of Napalm Death. Lyrically, Bolt Thrower are singing about warhammer and the like, although thankfully they hadn’t yet adopted that awful logo, using instead artwork that could have passed for a crust punk demo.
Overall this is a great, classic death metal album that needs to be in every metalhead’s collection. It’s not quite as good as Realm of Chaos, but it’s still awesome, and great fun. It’s easily their filthiest offering, and has a more prominent grindcore influence than their later works. I highly recommend this.
Sofar (up till 2007) there are only two Bolt Thrower albums that would get less than 90 points from me and 'In Battle The Is No Law' is definately NOT one of them! I consider the album something pretty different in their discography. That is because of the sound (production) and the still obvious hardcore punk attitude of it. It is by far the most filthy album they ever released and it still reeks of squatters after all these years.
Though it can be said it is their most sloppy and monotome album to date, it has a certain charme. That much of a charme that I never seize to love it. The titletrack remains a classic Bolt Thrower song even though it just rages on in a non syncopated way after 2 minutes of introduction. Of course a whole lot of the songs are pretty much alike, and especially the drums are the weakest point of the album but it's the entire atmosphere of the album that hypnotises from start to finish. The guitars are not that heavy as on later albums but their sound is beyond frightening (in a good way), also Karl Willets is far from his best here.
Highlights are, as said, the titletrack with its superb yet simple intro (spoken words, drumbeat and screaming guitars) and also 'Concession Of Pain' which starts of great with a solo and has the most catchy chorus. Also there are plenty of good riffs to be found throughout the album ('Psychological Warfare', 'Blind To Defeat', 'Forgotten Existence' for instance) though less 'melodic' than on future releases.
As I mentioned before, the quality of the album lies not within individual songs but the album in its entirety. The ‘bad’ sound and monotomy are two key elements here. There is no album that sounds even close to 'In Battle The is Law'. And that it saying something.
I was pleasantly surprised at this early Bolt Thrower offering. I had already heard their 1989 disc, "Realm of Chaos", which I don't like too much, as it's waaaaay too grind-y. This actually isn't all that grind-y, which is what I was expecting. There's definitely grind here, but it's not so prevalent as to make me insane with blastbeat induced hatred.
The production is pretty weak, but you can hear everything, and the guitars hit you like a lead parakeet, and the vocals are actually pretty varied as far as Bolt Thrower goes. Some of the vocals are actually kind of high and raspy which is nice, and quite surprising.
There's nothing spectacular here, of course, but a good listen and a nice thing for every Bolt Thrower fan to have (actually the cover is my favourite part -- hard fucking core!). The second half of the album is quite a bit better than the first half, with songs like "Attack in the Aftermath" and "Psychological Warfare" ripping your head off, spitting down your throat and then trying to twist your head back on again with riff-heavy bludgeonry.
And yes, this is Bolt Thrower. It's ALL about war.