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Crusty Origins - 88%

dystopia4, September 24th, 2012

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.