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My issue with this albums predecessor, War Master, harkens back to the old style versus substance debate. With its old school authenticity and overall badassery, its style was not one to be fucked with. While still a worthwhile album (although not mandatory Bolt Thrower listening), its substance couldn't compete with its style - although consistently adequate and even regularly good, the songwriting and riffs were rarely great. Where War Master stumbled, The IVth Crusade conquered with ease. If filtered through the weak-ass production of Honour - Valour - Pride, War Master would be hard pressed to get even a dedicated fan coming back for more. However, if this record was played through that lens, while it would still lose much of its bite, the undeniable quality of the songwriting and riffs would still easily warrant multiple listens. For their fourth coming, Bolt Thrower go whole hog and create an essential death metal album - one with kick-ass riffs, stellar songwriting, a strong brooding atmosphere and potent lead guitar work.
While building off the template created with War Master, probably the biggest departures from that album is the addition of atmosphere and an increasingly slow tempo. No, although this album is heavy on atmosphere, Bolt Thrower have certainly not thrown in a gamut of keyboards and pensive clean guitar parts into the mix - these songs still don't let up in their devastating portrayal of war (which spans both the realms of fantasy and reality). While the downward shift in tempo definitely helps cement the atmosphere, what really gets the job done is the slow-burning, brooding leads. Lingering and evocative, these no doubt do wonders to bolster this album's emotional intensity. This record has a distinct place in the Bolt Thrower discography, introducing an unmistakable doomy tinge to their sound. While much of the band's material tends to be mid-paced, this album frequently features sections much slower than their norm. Despite much of Bolt Thrower's work conjuring up mid-battle mayhem, this offering brings to mind a battle's end. One image frequently running through my mind when listening is an ancient city, set ablaze against the backdrop of the blackness of the night sky.
Although much more than the sum of its individual pieces, central to this album's success is the mastery of all facets of its sound. The riffs, while the band's most simple yet, kick immeasurable amounts of ass. Following the trend set in War Master, there is no shortage of chug-laced grooves. The creeping leads are not at all where the lead guitar work ends; although diminished in quantity, the frenzied solos of previous recordings have not been completely eradicated. The drumming, now relieved of furious blasting (although swift double bass is still plentiful), is more simple than ever. Like the riffs proved, this is not a bad thing for this album. This simpler style wholly fits the sound and the drum's timbre is excellent. Although not at his most vicious, Karl's guttural barks certainly deliver while completely fitting the nature of the songs. The songwriting, much more accessible than what one might expect from death metal, is to the point and wastes no time fucking around.
This is no doubt accessible, which has come to be somewhat of a dirty word in extreme metal. When I was much younger, first getting into underground metal and still hadn't breached the inaccessible walls that most death metal lies behind, I could still easily digest the title track (I still had yet to hear the album in its entirety) and it has never fallen off heavy rotation since. One could easily get into death metal through this album, starting the journey of working up to the more unapproachable material. However, this album is the furthest thing from entry level fluff. Calling any Bolt Thrower album merely gateway material for teens would be all but absurd. This album has heart, there is no denying that. Everything is carefully crafted - from the riffs to the songwriting, from the lyrics to the production. Moreover, accessibility does not automatically equate with a sugary or fluffy sound. While this may be easily digestible, lightweight it is not.
From the trademark leads on the title track to the slow, creeping menace and well thought out narration (detailing notable wars throughout human history) of closing track "Through The Ages", The IVth Crusade is an unmitigated success. Taking no prisoners and emitting a grand total of zeros fucks, Bolt Thrower are at the top of their game. The doomy atmosphere on this album makes it one of the most distinguished in the band's discography. A master of all intricacies of their sound, Bolt Thrower deliver a fully realized and thoroughly awesome slab of war-laden death metal. If not one for getting into bands by chronological release date, this would absolutely be a great place to start with Bolt Thrower's discography.
The IVth Crusade proved a welcome turnaround from the diminishing returns of its predecessor War Master, and brought back a fraction of that oppressive, Realms of Chaos heaviness, but this praise comes with a price, for his album was also pretty much the peak of Bolt Thrower's cycle of artistic development as a band. That is to say, all four of the albums since this one have not really shown any meaningful progression beyond this, apart from minor production details, marginally divergent instrument tones, levels of melody, and precise lyrical subjects. Not that this implies they're all worthless in of themselves; hell, I enjoy Those Once Loyal just as much as The IVth Crusade. But I've never been able to shake the feeling that they've been riding their own, viscera splattered coattails for many years now, reaching that creative summit early on and providing nothing since but a rehash of musical ideas. From a band which recorded one of my favorite works in its genre, I simply expect more, but at least when I first acquired The IVth Crusade, I had high hopes that the band could continue to develop.
Whereas War Master was a fraction too clean, and void of the many impressive tracks required to capitalize on the crushing atmospheres of Realms of Chaos, The IVth Crusade seeks to accumulate some of that filth again, caking its tank treads with a grimier, slightly fuzzier guitar tone that burns an impression into the audience more successfully. They'd once more gone with Colin Richardson as producer, but he's able to extract a bleaker, moodier Bolt Thrower here, and the result is something I was rather expecting from its predecessor. Granted, this album isn't exactly in tip top shape as far as the riffing quality, but its gray faced grooves and economic implementation of melody help to compensate for any dearth of searing progressions. I've long felt that there was more of an old school 'Florida' aesthetic at work here. The stark simplicity of the songwriting was nothing new, but the slower paced chugging patterns would occasionally remind me of Obituary (1988-1992 era) in both tone and structure. The IVth Crusade also paces itself very well, from the sobering and glorious title track opener through a number of relatively distinct classics in the band's discography, like "Spearhead" or the lumbering "As the World Burns". There are definitely a few lulls in the excitement through the 53 minutes, and it might have benefited from about 10 minutes of trim, but little of the material is banal enough that you'll want to turn it right off.
Really dug the balance of guitars and drums here. The latter were probably Andy Whale's most taut and professional performance to their day, with a lot of double kicks that coursed along to those saturated, processed rhythm guitar grooves. It's clear they were aiming at a lot of low end resonance, so the snares and cymbals aren't set as centerpieces to the mix, but despite that the drumming is clear and functional. The bass guitar stands out slightly more for me than on the prior two albums, itself cast in a bit of fuzz, but the guitars distract the ears away from those frequencies with few exceptions, and it still seems a tad too complacent. As for Karl Willetts, he's hardly dispensing syllabic lines that feel innovative or fresh after War Master and Realms of Chaos. I think the issue is that he, too, is really no match for this guitar tone, and since he's no longer using the most ominously morbid of inflections, he's perhaps the least potent force on the album. The use of faint, atmospheric synths is not unwelcome, but they're perhaps too buried in the background, at least the bridge of "Ritual". The idea of using narrative, cleaner vocals in the bonus track "Through the Ages" is an interesting one for Bolt Thrower, but simply reading a chronological tour of historical battles felt cheesy...
I mean: yeah, we get it. War is a paramount, tragic admission of mankind's failures. You'd have be living on another planet with no line of communication to NOT realize this; but it still seems a little hammy for Bolt Thrower, a band whose militaristic themes, both fictional and historical, are a big part of their popularity. But at least the slow, doom-like riff behind it was pretty sweet, and I don't wanna digress too far: despite its few flaws, The IVth Crusade is still far and away one of the Brits' best albums. At worst its just treading the band's familiar conquests with due consistency, but at best its an evocative, grim, hypnotic experience, with a more philosophical and historical lyrical theme that examines more than just the battlefield, but far reaching societal implications of idol worship ("Icon"), dreams of the afterlife ("Celestial Sanctuary"), and the nuclear irresponsibility of progress ("As the World Burns"). All told, a damn solid, quality listen which has held up for two decades. It only rarely engrosses me to the extent that Realms of Chaos did, but its better than just about anything else they've released since, with the one exception I noted above.
Where do you go after releasing three awesome albums in a row? Do you stick with what brought you to the forefront and risk being labeled as generic or repetitive? Or do you take an even bigger risk and tweak your sound? Well, this question is pretty irrelevant when the band you're in happens to be Bolt Thrower. "The IVth Crusade" isn't a departure from their normal sound, in fact you could say they took a step back. The band's previous full-length "War Master" saw them at their most savage since "In Battle There Is No Law!" and it also saw the band lose that doomy guitar tone. On this record, however, that sound returns and so does the crushing mid-paced massacre that was found on "Realm of Chaos."
One of the main reasons that "War Master" was such a flawless album was because of the drums. The double bass pedals resembled heavy artillery machine guns and added a lot of heaviness and speed. On this record, the drums aren't as much of a stand-out, but there are still plenty of great fills that add to the overall heaviness of "The IVth Crusade." Karl Willets' trend of heavy vocals continues here and I can't think of a better vocalist for this war-themed troop. The solos are also great and much like the ones on "War Master" they stray away from the Slayer worship and fit the music beautifully. It's little things like this that add to the epic sound on this record. Remember people, it's the little things that matter.
As mentioned earlier, this is Bolt Thrower's most epic album yet. The songs are all relatively longer, heavier and more doomy. Just listen to the intros on the title track and "This Time It's War." Extremely heavy powerchords with some melodic tendencies always fit the mold for an epic feel. The doom elements also appear later on in some songs like "Spearhead" and "Celestial Sanctuary." But Bolt Thrower never overdoes it with the slower parts and they always manage to keep the listener interested by mixing in assortments of death metal style tremolo bursts or headbang-friendly mid-maced riffs.
Once again, Bolt Thrower provides us with another masterpiece and continues to prove why they are the greatest death metal band to ever grace this earth. While this album may not be as strong as it's predecessor, there is no reason why anyone who's enjoyed the band's previous work can't enjoy this one.
"The IVth Crusade"
"Where Next to Conquer"
Originally written for Nightmare Reality Webzine.
The IVth Crusade receives a lot of praise for its patient songwriting and simple-yet-effective riffs. I can see where that's coming from, but what I don't understand is the alleged slegdehammer-like effect it's supposed to have on the listener. Might be my eyes speaking (the artwork would fit a NWOBHM-style album a lot better), but the earth-flattening power of Bolt Thrower in their early days is nowhere to be found. BT going Candlemass sounded like a truckload of awesome, but it just ain't there. Some of the riffs sound plain awkward. Admitted, there are some catchy ones (in This Time It's War for example), but overall, I find it rather stale. Might have something to do with the production, which has some strange frequency peaks and lacks punch, but I don't really see any potential for significant improvement through that.
Rant on the drummer: now there's a man who takes it easy. Not in a good, doom metal-like way (Candlemass you say?), but in a plain lazy way. For death metal standards at least. It's not like he doesn't lay down some quick-handed fills, but all they do is sort of be there. I was frustrated throughout the entire album because of the possible grooves they let slip for straight beats.
Vocals deserve some criticism as well. I thoroughly enjoyed their gritty strain in the earlier grindcore-oriented stages of Bolt Thrower, but they don't match with the new format.The lyrics I usually don't pay attention to, but I can't help snickering at them. As the World Burns is a prime example of that.
Never mind the bass.
Of course, they've been in the business long enough to know how to put together a well-executed album. I could still enjoy it, but I'd never choose to listen to it over most of their other works.
(Has some similarities with Death's Spiritual Healing if you discard the obvious musical differences. Bland drumming, powerless guitar tone and just a few good moments.)
Bolt Thrower occupy a curious place in the death metal pantheon. Rightly hailed as legends, they are also curiously underrated. Their dedicated niche of followers support them on all fronts (line-up changes, interminable waits between albums, etc.) for which they are rewarded with a consistently excellent string of mid-paced death metal records. And yet the band is hardly ever held up as one of the true guiding lights of the genre. Perhaps this is because their lyrical focus is so doggedly war-oriented. Or maybe because their music, while crushingly heavy and well-constructed, isn't particularly brutal or accomplished. Personally, I would rather listen to Bolt Thrower than just about any other death metal band out there, current or otherwise, because the elements that go into making a great Bolt Thrower song are so simple yet so powerful that they stay locked in your brain for days.
Take, for example, the title track, "The IVth Crusade", that drops in with one monster riff, a riff so powerful, so eerie and heavy, that it just stops you dead. It's as good a riff as any ever written. Once the beat kicks in, an overwhelming aura of majesty and grandeur takes over, a swelling sense of power, fear, and awe all stoked by this crushing, lumbering beast of a riff. Then there's Karl Willets, whose massive vocals eloquently survey the scene, a belting forth of carnage from the lower diaphragm. Few singers can go so deep, so clearly, with every word enunciated. This song sets the stage: take a mammoth riff over pounding rhythms, add some vocals and a few tasteful leads and you get a deceptively simple formula that yields devastating results.
Now most albums would falter on the enormity of such an opening but BT just keeps the tank rolling, gradually gaining speed with the dual chariot assault of "Icon" and "Embers" - pounding drums, rattling bass, the whole earth a tremor beneath the oncoming assault. "Where Next To Conquer" thunders forth with another super-catchy riff that laces your brain like embedded shrapnel. And the hits just keep coming: the slow groove of "This Time It's War;" the epic scale of "Spearhead;" and the supreme heaviness of "Dying Creed." Each track a deliberate variation on theme, each tweek an emphasis on craft. Bolt Thrower are songsmiths, forging in the darkest bellows, hammering out a heavy metal madness.
A few things possibly hold this album back: Jo Bench's bass is near-inaudible, a misfortune for how much power she could add. Also, the production is airless, a vacuum that sucks up any residual heaviness. Bolt Thrower is not a band that should sound enclosed. Luckily, the songwriting trumps these faults. As do the guitars, which are full and rangy, crisp and heavy. I'm also not really a fan of the "Through The Ages" outro, which runs long and adds little to an otherwise excellent album.
Truth be told, Bolt Thrower's early career did not impress me that much. Perhaps it was my still novice status as a fan of death metal, or perhaps I had no idea what to expect and what was delivered with the likes of "Realms of Chaos" just didn't set well with me. Since that time, I've latched onto Bolt Thrower and they remain one of my favorite death metal bands ever. Taking a single look at their 1992 opus, "IVth Crusade" is going to exemplify their greatness.
For me, "IVth Crusade" embodies some of the most enjoyable traits death metal has ever taken on. Not many bands within the genre (at least around this time period) were into a mostly consistent mid-tempo approach to playing the style, and in 1992 most bands were becoming more and more technical. Death was branching away from their horror inspired works of their earlier career and moving into the technical masterworks of "Individual Thought Patterns" and "Symbolic." Malevolent Creation released "Retribution" this same year, laying their own cards on the table as far as upgraded songwriting and musicianship went. Bolt Thrower didn't necessarily take this route, which is not to imply that their album is any less amazing, since everything going on here is pure excellence.
The production here is perfect for this time period, especially in the realm of death metal as the style was heard back then. The guitars possess a distinctive punch to them without becoming overbearing, which one could say about all of the instruments here. The drums are kept back and not allowed to overshadow everything else while the vocals are at the forefront of the action but perfectly counterbalanced by the instrumentation. Unfortunately, and as with just about Bolt Thrower release, the bass is there but doesn't stand out very well. They managed to correct this persistent problem on "Those Once Loyal," but here the bass work is hard to pick out of everything else going on here.
As far as songs go, there are a number of war-inspired powerhouses to be found. The opening title track is one of the best in the band's catalog, perfectly bringing out all of the positive elements about this band. With such a powerful opener to kick things off, its only natural that the album would have a hard time following it up. Later songs, however, such as the crunchy "Ritual," or the epics in "Spearhead" and "Celestial Sanctuary" give the title track a good run for its money. The closer in "Through the Ages" is a spoken word track laid over a slow, heavy background that could easily be recognized as doom metal. The closer isn't exactly my favorite track here, but it fits its role to end the album in a suitable manner, especially since the lyrical subject pertains to war - exactly what most Bolt Thrower songs are about.
As good as Bolt Thrower are and have always been, they have yet to outdo this release. "Those Once Loyal" and even "Mercenary" have come close in varying degrees to matching what makes this album so special, but even they can't completely hold a candle to the quality material offered. As someone who is rather hard to win over in the genre of death metal, Bolt Thrower managed to hit every nail perfectly to gain my attention. The fact that there isn't a dull track or even a dull moment to be heard on this entire release only reinforces that statement. From the epic music that bombards the ears to the epic artwork by Delacroix that drives the album's primary lyrical content home, "IVth Crusade" is a release that every death metal fan must hear at some point in their life.
War is a subject that is heavily exploited in metal and its many subgenres, but very few come close to capturing the ambience of war in their music. Britains Bolt Thrower are one of these bands, and I shall go on to say that they are pretty much the best in the business of war themed metal. Not only that, but in my opinion, one of the finest, most honorable acts in the death metal scene.
Consisting of 10 tracks and a sombre spoken word outro, The IVth Crusade is the bands 4th full length album and stands out as a highlight in their discography. Production oozes that "early death metal" feel. The downtuned guitars crunch through like tanks over rubble, yet doesnt drown out the rumbling bass. Solos are all well timed and memorable, and add only to the mood of the song without ever feeling out of place.
The drums are also perfect in the mix, as it syncs in well with the rest of the instruments, without sounding too dominating or weak. For the most part of it, the underlying drums are simple patterns that support the guitars. But once the double bass kicks in, you would see how it adds more to the "heaviness" factor of the album. The vocals are what I consider a shining examples of how said department can sound killer while sounding (gasp) clear at the same time. This vocals style conveys the emotions of war without which the album could never be complete. Not that I dont enjoy indecipherable vocals, but its a welcome change to hear Bolt Throwers vocal style once in a while.
Concerning music, Bolt Thrower sure know how to write a tune that can hold your attention.The heaviness and brutality becomes obvious from the very first second of the album. They manage to get enough variation out of the handful of riffs that make up a song, so it remains interesting till the end. And it works fine for me . Because, personally speaking, I really dont feel the need to hear a new riff every 10 seconds. What matters is whether or not the song conveys an emotion to the listener. And as far as this album goes, there is plenty of emotion. So much so that after a point, it becomes more than another metal album, it turns into the soundtrack of war itself.
To sum it up, There are no blast beats, no ridiculously gutteral vocals, no ultra-complex guitar sections here. Just old-school mid-tempo death metal with a lot of class that leaves a few dozen smoking craters on the current death metal scene.
Bolt Thrower have always had an amazing ability to place the listener in the position of what they sing about. In this instance it's simple. War is the answer and Bolt Thrower are the driving force. With every pound of that soul crushing drum Bolt Thrower's march for death metal domination strives on. Boundless and without comparison, Bolt Thrower have lead the line not only for British death metal over recent years, but for global death metal. Acquiring fans from here, there and everywhere they drive on through the rain to take the tag of one of the world's leading creators of death metal music. I've always held Bolt Thrower in high esteem after I discovered them through their fifth album, '...For Victory' and it's for victory Bolt Thrower create this very music.
Often seen as pioneers of the genre, Bolt Thrower released 'The IVth Crusade' in 1992. Slowly becoming one of the most respected acts on the scene is no more than Bolt Thrower deserve. Despite numerous line-up changes and uncertain periods in the career of the band itself, they strive on like a raging war machine to the sound of their very own drums. Pounding furiously like the heart of a soldier in the midst of battle. With every step towards the oncoming enemy, the drum sounds louder and louder. Becoming more fast and furious with time until the sides clash in battle.
Bolt Thrower are known somewhat as experts of their genre, death metal. Simply because they have the undoubted talent to create some of the heaviest and ferocious music with uncompromising double bass drum beats, low growls and unbeatable solo's. It's the very latter element that makes this band so damned special. The ability to create catchy solo after catchy solo is a must-have in the industry today if you want to make fans and maintain the one's you have. The use of two guitarists acts in the favour of Bolt Thrower. A mesmerising melodic masterpiece. An epic of all proportions.
The IVth Crusade is the cornerstone of the transformation of Bolt Thrower into a major force. It marked a period when the band become simply untouchable by any other. Their supreme and majestic style of play earned them a place in death metal's hall of fame. Fast, fierce and vehement. Riffs that ebb, flow and groove through the veins of the listener is imperative as it gains control of your attention and saps all your energy, forcing you to bear witness to one of the greatest death metal creations in the history of the genre.
The notable highlights are 'The IVth Crusade', 'Where Next To Conquer' and the epic 'Spearhead'. Although the production has a slightly dated feel to it, this album is certainly not to be overshadowed by anything else the genre has come up with.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have your face completely demolished by a mortar in the midst of battle? Bolt Thrower play the most badass war metal ever created and they do so with some serious death metal influences which certainly make it even more kick ass. The death metal influences can be found in the lower pitched death influenced growls and the death metal guitar riffs found throughout this LP.
The groove based metal riffs for which they are known for are in full effect here, but they speed up considerably as well on every song. The variety of tempo changes really keeps the album from growing monotonous. The guitar tone utilized throughout is extremely distorted but harmonized with a clearer sounding second guitar to form some truly mesmeric melodies. The guitar solo on “As the World Burns” is neo-classical and awesome.
The drumming really surprised me on this release because it’s quite varied and gives the rest of the instruments a wider canvas to operate within. The production captures every nuance of the drums and every other instrument as well, but it still gives the album an overall feeling as though you’re hearing it live. The only flaws I can think of regarding this release is that some of the songs sound similar, but they’re all masterfully done so this isn’t necessarily bad to the war/death metal fan in all of us.
A surprising album after their opus magnum ‘War Master’ and the last one to be really considered ‘progression’. The pace was down and the last remnants of grindcore, blastspeeds and hardcore had finally disappeared. Remaining was a rumbling form of low death metal with a more than average load of melody. Yes, melody. Who’d had thought that during the ‘In Battle…’ days.
Although not melodic in the classic sense but more semi-melodic and harmonic, resulting in actually very catchy songs. Filled with the melancholic minor scale type of writing, the album sounded like a lament for all those who died during the crusades. Excellently chosen album title of course.
Do not expect a mellow album by the way. Of course it still is a heavy piece of down tuned death metal the old way. Andy Whale had really gotten into form on this album, playing tighter and more dynamic than before. As said the guitars were at their most melodic, some of the riffs were even catchy, and the performance of vocalist Willets was what you’d expect. The album had a very high compositional quality from start to finish without specific highlights apart from maybe ‘Where next to conquer’ which is one of the most catchy songs. Ohw, before I forget, the melodic outro ‘Through The Ages’ with its spoken words is simply beautifully atmospheric.
After all these years even the fans who had been disappointed at first by the lack of speed, would eventually be persuaded by the individual melodic quality of the ‘Fourth Crusade’. Another highlight in their discography.
I picked this album up a while ago when I was looking for BT’s “Those Once Loyal”, I found this instead and decided to give it a go and I’m very glad I did.
This album is a great example that Death Metal can work well at mid paced tempos and doesn’t have to be played at break neck speeds. Most of the songs on “The IVth Crusade” are mid paced, although there are slower and faster moment respectively. The album certainly has a Doom Metal feel to it that is most obvious on songs such as “As The World Burns”, “This Time its War” and the title track. The atmosphere throughout the album is one that portrays inevitability, despair and the brutality of warfare.
Despite there being little to no variety stylistically throughout the almost 1 hour long album (pretty long for Death Metal) it doesn’t get boring as Bolt Thrower understand the importance of good old fashioned hooks and catchiness. They do not go for all out brutality that so often results in the music becoming boring as hell.
The production of the album is very thick, particularly in the Guitar department, the Bass is certainly there but don’t expect to hear any thumping Bass lines. The Drums are mixed perfectly with the other instruments and establish the mid paced crushing rhythms that prevail throughout the album. Karl Willets’ Vocals are a very low and raspy Death Growl that remains surprisingly audible (I’m sure sometimes you can pick out his Brumie accent!).
Musically the band doesn’t try to be overly technical and most of the music is pretty simple. There are plenty of Guitar solos (something that’s always good in my opinion) and the riffs are usually pretty catchy and sometimes quite melodic (the best example of melody is on the title track). The Drum rhythms are largely devoid of blast beats but have lots of double bass, overall Andy Whale (who was never going to win any awards for technicality) manages to play some interesting rhythms through the album that suit the bands music perfectly.
The best songs on the album are probably the first four, “Where Next To Conquer” being my personal favourite song due to the very catchy riffs. Overall this is a great album and at the moment is the only BT album I own, I’m certainly going to buy some more albums from the bands back catalogue.
Arguably, death metal has never been a stalwart bastion of atmosphere. From its beginnings in the noble form of 'Seven Churches' so many years ago, much of its atmosphere has been rather more incidental than intentional: be it Obituary's rotting funeral procession on 'Slowly We Rot', indeed influenced by its four-track origins, or Suffocation's peculiar breed of claustrophobic riffing on 'Effigy Of The Forgotten'. However, if one could describe a traditional death metal band as 'atmospheric', Bolt Thrower would indeed be one of the first in my mind to be bestowed with such an adjective. Six years after their inception (when 'The IVth Crusade' was recorded), Bolt Thrower had marked themselves not merely as one of the heaviest and most steadfast members of the still young death metal community, but easily one of the most atmospheric, and on this album, possibly the band at the very top of the then-underrated heap in that regard.
'The IVth Crusade' is genuinely daring in its strict adherence to atmosphere. Not merely in regards to aesthetics, though Bolt Thrower's is a cultivated one indeed. No, from the opening strains of the title track one can really feel placed in the midst of the mental battlefield that is Bolt Thrower. That riff, with its graceful upward climb and low tom accompaniment, sums up what Bolt Thrower is: epic, romantic, but unfailingly crushing in both these dimensions. Never a band to let excess technicality get in the way of the natural beauty of warfare, songs such as this one progress in orderly but exquisite fashion, with the unfolding quality so befitting of this sort of artist. There is a grace to the proceedings: an inherent knowledge of goal and form as well as content. Listening to a Bolt Thrower song is a complete experience, as it touches every one of its corners with a precision worthy of the very highest of artists.
Heavy is an operative word; heavy and majestic, and perhaps much of the majesty is due to the incalculable weight of strings here. Jukka Mattila of A.M. and Stumm has stated that one of the marks of great sludge metal is the sense that each instrument weighs enormously, and that every note must be heaved onto the earth at the expense of the player's wellbeing. On that note, Bolt Thrower indeed has this same sense of weight, but instead of the writhing of sludge metal, the players of this band are giants themselves, wielding weapons (for that is what Bolt Thrower's instruments genuinely are) of incredible weight, but with incredible strength as well. The music here is vast and awe-inspiring, easily reflective of the battlefields that Bolt Thrower so obsessively detail in their lyrics and compositions. Every chord strummed, every bass drum struck is another bullet through the atmospheric air for Bolt Thrower, and indeed it works remarkably to bring their compositions to life.
Operating at generally mid-paced tempos, Bolt Thrower manages to drive forth a sense of urgency and destruction in their music, like great swarms of locusts expending their wrath on the sinners below. Be it the warning of apocalypse or the simple description of the trenches, Bolt Thrower sees war from all angles, and indeed interprets them all as being representative of life itself, and not merely a detached representation of the human experience. The conductor's baton-sway before dramatic plunge of the middle riffs of 'Embers' tell an eternal story of mingled triumph and devastation, of the eternal battle not merely between humans, but within ourselves: an existential struggle inside each and every entity. And they do it with such strength and groove and style and imperial jack-booted style that one can't help but be swayed by the music. Each member adds their own pinch of magic to the proceedings: strings and percussion work in tandem with every note denoting some allegorical significance in the greater scheme of the album.
Brutal, not merely in execution, but in message as well. Bolt Thrower is a band that remains unchanging in a sea of entropy, but not due to stagnation: but to show us the eternal truths that tend to escape us all.
Hmm, hard to believe I’m the first one to write a review for this album. The title track was one of the first Death Metal songs I really got into. It must have been some time in the mid nineties that the respective video was played quite frequently on Headbanger’s Ball (whatever happened to Vanessa Warwick?!), and that awesome melodic guitar passage which is repeated throughout the song got me hooked in an instance. Before that I never really got into Death Metal because the “singing” completely turned me off. However, the sheer brutal force of this song made me change my mind. This is definitely one the greatest Death Metal tracks of all time, both with regard to the music and to the lyrics, which are quite intelligent and memorable (“Vanquished in the name of your god – one of the same to whom we once prayed…”).
As for the remainder of the album, there really isn’t anything negative to say. Bolt Thrower are very competent musicians, that’s for sure. Pounding drums and double bass, a massive wall of guitars, and a good vocalist in the mighty Karl Willets. The only downside to the otherwise adequate production is that the bass guitar isn’t very audible, so don’t expect any great pumping bass lines in the vein of a Steve Harris.
The music on here is mainly mid-paced, old-school Death Metal, which is exactly what this band is known for. However, they also throw in the occasional fast passage, something they have almost completely abandoned nowadays. Still, variation is a big problem with this record: while you really can’t say anything negative about the individual songs, it is also quite hard to discuss them one by one, because they all tend to just run together in a way, i.e. they are not very distinguishable. Apart from some melodic lead passages, the songs sound very much the same, and that made me lose interest in the album relatively quickly. I still listen to it from time to time, but I really think this one could have been so much better had the guys opted for a little more variety!
Anyway, the above remarks aren’t meant to indicate that this is a bad record in any way, it’s just that the songs are completely overshadowed by the massive opener. If you like your Death Metal heavy, brutal, and predictable, however, you really should get this. It’s not a classic (apart from the title track), but it’s still a very solid album with no crappy songs on it.
Choicest cuts: The title track stands unrivalled, although the album picks up again towards the end (“Spearhead”, “Celestial Sanctuary”, and “Dying Creed”). I should also note that “Through the Ages” is one of the few long outros that are really worth listening to.