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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.