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Realm Of Chaos shows a huge leap forward for Bolt Thrower. Although released a mere year after their debut full length In Battle There Is No Law!, the sophomore shows improvement on just about all fronts. Here, they have found their signature imagery, refined their songwriting and put forward an all around more cohesive effort. Although somewhat less prominent, the grindcore and crust influences are still evident. The sound is aggressive and raw enough to capture the aura of war, but the songwriting and composition are coherent enough to make this a highly successful all around listen.
In Battle There Is No Law! represented a more free floating chaos; it featured heavy doses of grind and crust and while the aggression and sonic disarray were enough to carry it, the songwriting was not at all a prominent force. It was more an amalgamation of riffs, aggression, crazed solos and overall anarchy. For their second coming, Bolt Thrower has distilled their songwriting chops without sacrificing the raw energy of their sound. These songs feel less abstract in their chaos; while the pandemonium has not subsided, the band's tumultuous nature has been given a more focused direction.
The somewhat dissipating nature of their grindcore and crust influence has not left a void in Bolt Thrower's sound; the band has become significantly more doomy. The tempo is often slowed down, creating an effect of creeping menace. While their more doomy work would see its highest success in The IVth Crusade, it sure as hell works here. The grindcore and crust leanings are still somewhat a force in their music, they just manifest themselves in more subtle ways. The crust influence is most notable in the coarse production, and a vague Amebix influence can be detected in the occasional riff. The grindcore aspect can be noticed in some of the faster sections, especially in the blast-heavy drum work.
The riffs are much improved. Not that they were bad by any means on the debut, but they are more consistently of high quality this time around. The opening riff of the album on "Eternal War" and the riffing on "World Eater" are instantly classic. The frenzied leads are nothing new from the debut, and definitely not their finest lead guitar work. However, they are certainly adequate. The drumming, although flawed and unrefined, is very effective in the context of the release. The faster sections sometimes slightly lag behind, but this does not matter. Some may call it sloppy, but it goes a long way to compliment the raw warlike atmosphere the band is going for. The production on the drums feels dry - not as in boring, but in a way that evokes images of eroding bones scattered amongst the seared, barren remanence of a battlefield.
I didn't notice the bass until I actively tried to seek it out. Although not all that important on a casual listen, its worth lies beneath the surface. Very distorted and downtuned, Jo said that while playing bass when recording, it was tuned so low the strings felt like spaghetti. Without the bass, this would sound thin and lose part of it's vigour and all encompassing effect. Karl's vocals work perfectly in this situation, they are simultaneously vicious and restrained. While they are powerful and hard-hitting, you can make out a fair amount of the lyrics and they are more accessible than a good deal of death metal vocals.
This release shows Bolt Thrower starting to find themselves as a band. Gone is the punk inspired artwork, replaced with their immediately recognizable imagery inspired by Warhammer 40k. This theme also works it's way into the lyrics. In fact, the cover art was produced by Games Workshop, the makers of Warhammer 40k. This whole release shows the band improving their ability as musicians and demonstrates a strong improvement on composition and songwriting. While the debut was certainly a good album, it's successor is a great one.