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I've been meaning to write this review for a long time and the sad news of Martin "Kiddie" Kearns dying finally spurred me on. Kearns drummed on this, Bolt Thrower's seemingly final album, the monumental Those Once Loyal.
Ten years ago, Bolt Thrower were in an awkward place. Their previous two albums had been warmly, if somewhat mutedly, received but it was clear that very little gas was in the tank. Vocalist Karl Willets was in-and-out of the band and Benediction's Dave Ingram did the vocals for the underwhelming Honour - Valor - Pride album. Questions as to Bolt Thrower's relevancy were being trumpeted and I was among those who wondered if BT could re-capture previous glory. Then Those Once Loyal dropped and all questions of form dropped with it.
This is a mammoth record. Staked the continuing goodwill of their fanbase and the full and honest return of Karl Willets on vocals, BT deliver nine enormous tracks that highlight the band's powerful songwriting dynamics. The opening one-two punch of "At First Light / Entrenched" settles all claims. The first of the two is a grandiose, melodic, rabble-rousing epic of glory in battle followed immediately by a churning, double-kick extravaganza of muddy, sweat drenched death metal reality. Here the band do what they've always done: reveal the Janus face of war.
And unlike other war-minded death metal bands, BT aren't afraid to switch up their songwriting: "The Killchain" is death-n-roll where the roll is the tread of tanks; "Last Stand Of Humanity" brings back a burst of speed under the soloing not heard since War Master; hell, all the songs are dynamically articulated with rising crescendos in the choruses, slight melodic underpinnings, and a titanic fury of riffs and vocals. Some people mistake BT's musical simplicity for poverty of ideas but each track here is smartly written, catchy and heavy, delivering on the promise of war.
Rhythmically speaking, Baz and Gavin's riffs and solos are straight neck-breakers; and Jo's bass is finally, truly present as a dark, gloomy rumble beneath the surface. Kiddie's drums are to-the-point simplicity, delivering just the right amount of double-kick energy, tasteful fills, and highlighted dynamics. And Karl's vocals are as righteously gruff as ever. It is unfortunate that the Metal Blade production job again robs the band of some its necessary heft. None of the Metal Blade albums sound quite as heavy, harsh, and nasty as the previous Earache ones and I do wish they dirtied up the guitars a little more here. They're a touch too bright and clean for my taste. It's a minor nitpick but the one bone of contention that keeps this from a perfect score from me. That said, Those Once Loyal is one of the best Bolt Thrower recordings and a great access point for those new to the band as the songwriting and production are catchier and less extreme overall than their earlier, more seminal releases.
RIP, Martin "Kiddie" Kearns, 1977-2015.
Bolt Thrower, a band so steeped in the critical acclaim of their latest studio album (way back in 2005) that hasn’t released any new material ever since. Such abstinence rarely pops up in the realm of metal, since most metal bands release new material in a two or three year interval and expand their catalog relentlessly. Call this cessation an act of utter honesty, or maybe an act of lethargy, whatever the case may be I find this album to be an impeccable release of death metal mastery and indeed a difficult album to top off.
No technical wankery, no hackneyed lyrics, no dead pan production, all the good qualities of an excellent metal record you’d want can be found on this disc. The songs are laid over a simple yet durable slab of common metal elements, but don’t let the simplicity fool you because it has been crafted very well, a trait that is hard to spot on most current metal releases. Lots of dynamic elements can be traced in the tracks from outright sonic slaughter to slow paced chug-a-lug riffs to furious vocals and blazing solo’s. What makes this album stand out is that there is no excess, no saturation, everything has been coalesced perfectly, and there is space, all of the songs are like living entities. You don’t get the sense that you are listening to a band with only one guitar virtuoso blazing his ass off with a support crew of nobodies! Or a circle jerk of psychotically talented musicians with no chemistry whatsoever.
Everything is so tight and in sync, the riffs bolster the album and pack the perpetual punch. Baz Thomson and Gavin Ward have seriously done justice to the guitar work and cooperate in a synchronized manner throughout the songs, they know their metal! Lots of texture and dynamic exists within the rhythm department, the riffs are sometimes reminiscent of an old school death metal vibe but with a more modern edge making the songs feel original and maintain freshness throughout the listening experience, and most important of all is that they are just so fucking heavy because they retain key death metal riffing concepts without formulating bland and repetitive riffs. A good example would be the sonic palette “Last Stand of Humanity”. Fans of bands like Benediction will definitely relate with the guitar work because their craft is analogous to this release. Solo work is just top notch, no wank fest for sure, it’s just as reliable as the riffage following crazy tremolo dives, fast finger paced string slinging and distressed vibratos.
Another laudable factor is the audible bass thanks to a crisp and leveled mixing job, Jo Bench’s bass work really anchors the songs and delivers serious tremors all over the tracks mostly by following the guitars (a good example would be The Killchain & Anti-Tank) but in some cases deviates from the norm and adds much more depth in composition (Entrenched).
Drums are very snappy and clear, no over production has besmirched the woody tone of the kit and Martin Kearns has been faithful to the rudiments of metal drumming and delivers his beats with alacrity, lots of punk based skank beats here and there, a plethora of fast double kick drumming and heaps of concise drum fills, no blastbeats mind you, but you certainly don’t even sense the need for any!
Karl Willets is like a fucking T-Rex behind the microphone, a battering ram trying to pillage a huge gate, there is a deep guttural undertone to his vocals, spitting out words with a visceral attitude but the anomaly is that his vocals are decipherable and easy to understand and follow.
Overall a must own album for any death metal fan and definitely worth your time!
In the year 2081 when the world is recovering from thermonuclear war which ravaged Earth and razed all of civilizations grandest monumental cities to the ground, humanity will be salvaging the remnants and artifacts of pre WWIII Earth. Among the rubble and desolation will lie the pinnacle of humanity's achievements. Scientific achievements, the greatest literature, surviving architecture and music among others. Humanity will be faced with stitching back together the puzzles of the old world by using remnants of the past and of course will cater to the strengths of our achievements. In science DNA and the theory of relativity will stand shoulders above other scientific advancements. In literature Shakespeare, Dickens and Tolkien will be read aloud on a pulpit to the denizens of the new world. The great skyscrapers of New York and the pyramids of Giza will be seen as the pinnacle of architecture. When pre war music is discovered, Mozart, Pink Floyd, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin will be among a host of music to be consumed as relics of a time gone by. Among these records, one band will stand tall among the giants. With consistency, strong song writing, intelligent lyrics and musical integrity at their core. That band is Bolt Thrower and this is their masterpiece, their magnum opus. Hyperbole? maybe but I mean every word.
"Those Once Loyal" is the defining moment in Bolt Thrower's career, the ultimate maturity of one of death metals most enduring acts. "Those Once Loyal" isn't just any old record, it eclipses anything released in the 2000s by a long shot and stands tall with the genre defining records of yesteryear. The album oozes class from start to finish, backing up this is the incredible song writing. No filler here only quality from the start. Lets talk about the start for a moment. "At First Light" the opening track sets the tone for what is to come, the first 50 odd seconds are taken up by a slow melancholic atmospheric section before kicking straight into what is one of metals great intros, slow in comparison of what is to come but it is without a doubt a Bolt Thrower riff and features a ridiculously cool lead guitar lick. The riff is used appropriately throughout the song without being abused. Yes this is an excellent Bolt Thrower song starting off an excellent Bolt Thrower album.
One thing that really stands out on this album more so than on previous Bolt Thrower albums is Martin Kearns drumming. While he did the drumming on "Honour, Valour, Pride" he really hit his stride with this album. Don't expect Derek Roddy or George Kollias style relentless precision and speed but take nothing away, the drumming is tastefully done and fast when it needs to be. Throughout the whole album the drumming is intense but groovy when it needs to be. "The Killchain" is possibly the slowest song on the album barring the intro which is that running theme intro heard on "Powder Burns" or "Embers". I feel out of all the times this iconic riff was used "The Killchain" is by far the best use of it. It builds up and then forcefully stalls and seats itself into the main body of the song really naturally. This song is groovy and features my favourite drumming of the whole album. Slow, methodical but bloody hard hitting. "Anti-Tank (Dead Armour)" is another song that features genius drumming, not for it's technical prowess but how it fits into the overall song. During the outro of the song Kearns does a triplet on the bass drum and fitting with the theme of the song it sounds like a brief burst of gunfire. These are the little details that Andy Whale could not do that really helps sell this record as Bolt Thrower's best.
This album like all other that preceded it features those chunky, bass ridden, heavy hitting riffs that Bolt Thrower are known for and should really patent. "Granite Wall", "Those Once Loyal", "Salvo" are just some of the songs where the heavy hitting riffs are the centerpiece of the song, it just proves that to be mercilessly heavy one does not have to resort to speed and blast beats. Throughout there is beautiful melodic interludes that give a brief pause from the relentless war that is this record, there is no point really picking one song to show. They all feature some melody throughout.
"When Cannons Fade" is the climax of this album, wow what an outro. Intense speedy riffing, brilliant leads, tasteful drumming, incredible lyrics. This is Bolt Thrower and this is why we love them. This song is an example of Karl Willets lyric writing at its best. He actually went out of his way to research his lyrics at various war museums dotted around the United Kingdom such was his dedication. In no way are the lyrics background to the music; music alone this album is great but the lyrics just help top off the experience and are forcefully delivered by the decipherable growls of Karl Willets;
As the silence grows
The resonance of thunder
Deep in the soul
Conscience still remains
Horror - amongst the flames
Ashes keep on falling
I close my eyes
And even now
The distant memory remains
Of the last laments
To be played
I dare you to listen to this piece of music and lyric genius and not get goosebumps, it's not obligatory it's mandatory. To top it all off it's the finishing of the album and when it finishes you'll instantly think "wow what an experience". This song features incredible melodic interludes between versus and a brilliant solo before the epic ending, it just has everything you want in a metal song.
Music writing aside this album sounds superb, the production values are really well done. The guitar retains that career defining Bolt Thrower sound but packaged in a 21st century production job while not diminishing the aesthetic value that Bolt Thrower's sound is. Everything is perfectly mixed, the leads whether it be a full blown solo or melodic interlude lick stand out when they need to. The bass guitar is never hidden behind the guitars but never sticks out either, it's all blended excellently. Martin Kearns has stated his dislike of triggers on drums and it really shows on this record, the drums sound natural not like an endless barrage of clicking.
What else can be really said about this album? As long as I'll write reviews for this site you will never see another 100% by me (well unless Bolt Thrower themselves top this) such is the ferocity and brilliance of this amazing death metal record. I may seem like I partake in too much hyperbole when talking about Bolt Thrower but their music speaks for itself, I have gotten many non death metal fans to listen to this record and each one of them loved it. That doesn't mean this isn't a death metal record or that it isn't heavy, trust me it is on both counts. It just shows the maturity in the song writing and symbiotic relationship between the band members that can only come from consistent lineups and a love for writing good music. I do have one problem with this record, it's just too good that Bolt Thrower themselves will not release a new record unless it tops this, which lets be honest is nigh on impossible.
Okay, two things really quick, you following me?
1) Bolt Thrower is awesome
2) Bolt Thrower is overrated
Still with me? Good. Now, I don't mean "overrated" in quite the same sense as when I use the term in reference to Overkill, because most Bolt Thrower fans will readily admit that Mercenary and Honour Valour Pride are nowhere near the level of quality that the band is capable of and would regularly produce between the years of their inception and 1994. And I don't mean to imply that their good albums aren't as good as people say they are either, absolutely not. I jerk off The IVth Crusade and Realm of Chaos just as much as the next fanboy. When Bolt Thrower is on point, they are on point.
No, what I mean is that I believe the band has two structural flaws, and while they're big enough for me to notice and wish weren't there, aren't enough to really deter my enjoyment of their classic works. Oddly enough, they're the result of two of the more iconic members of the band, Karl Willets and Jo Bench. I mean come on, let's be real here, Willets was never a particularly gifted vocalist. He sounds like somebody's dad making fun of that devil worshipping music you kids listen to. When it comes to music as heavy and crushing as this, I feel it could really benefit from having a vocalist who sounds more like a raging behemoth or an undead bringer of vengeance, and less like the villain from a particularly bad anime dub. Bench's bass also tends to get a ton of kudos, on this album in particular, and I just can't bring myself to agree. Bolt Thrower has always been really bass heavy and I won't deny that it's one of their defining features and also one of the reasons they're so damn good in the first place, but it has more to do with the guitars and how everything coagulates into one sound than it does her bass in particular. Any time it gets a break where we get to hear it solo, I can't help but think that it sounds like an underwater fart. "It sounds like a rumbling tank", yeah that's cool when used metaphorically, not when it literally sounds like a rumbling combustion engine. It's just way too distorted and has very little tone of its own when not complimented by the guitars.
Now, those are both legit complaints that I feel keep this album from being perfect, but those are my only two complaints. Those Once Loyal is the album that killed the band's studio career because they feel like they personally can't top it. I can't help but agree with them. Every single song has at least one instantly classic riff, be it one of their super fast ones like "Entrenched" or "Symbol of Eight" (the second best bonus track of all time), or one of their groovier numbers like "The Killchain" or "Salvo". It's hard to really describe it, but every ounce of praise they earn for their riff writing is 100% deserved. For a death metal band to have not used a blast beat since 1991 is pretty goddamn daring, and indicates that for them to still be monumentally popular and relatively successful (as successful as you can be in that nebulous realm of death metal that sits in between the mainstream like Cannibal Corpse and the underground like Fetus Stench) they need to be pretty damn good at some other aspect of their sound. Fortunately, they really are. Pretty much everything they do here ends up being instantly memorable, from that opening melody to "At First Light" to literally every single time a riff is being driven along by double bass. I'm not even kidding when I say that the verse riff for "At First Light" (the one at 1:27) is my favorite non-trad metal riff of all time. I've been spinning this album for years, and yet I was able to recall almost every track's main riff after the first two runs through. This shit is hooky, and I love that about it. It's the same impossible-to-describe quality that makes None So Vile such a classic. It's brutal and relentless, but betwixt all the dark violence, it's also loaded with melody and hooks and bouncy riffs.
I know it's the most cliche thing in the universe to compare a Bolt Thrower album to something war related, but seriously, they really embodied the whole WWI theme of the album by making it so fucking groovy. What do you think of when you hear WWI? Mustard gas and trenches. How would you musically personify deadly poisonous gas and deadly hidey holes? Suffocatingly heave grooves, that's how. There's very little "flair" here and almost zero technicality. It's the exact opposite of "all style, no substance", and yet while it's very stripped down and basic, it's so incredibly well written and focused that it becomes its own style. They've been reveling in this exclusive style for roughly fifteen years at the time this album came out, and still to this date I've heard almost no bands that sound anything like them.
It's difficult to really go on at length in regards to Those Once Loyal. It's the culmination of everything the band had been working towards up to this point in their career. They've kept this lineup stable, and they've admit to themselves and to their fans that this is their best work and they won't disappoint anybody with a half-assed album, so this will continue to be their last album until they're fully convinced that they've written something better. Frankly, I don't see it happening, this is the best their songwriting ever got. Despite it's basic approach, it's extremely varied in execution. The churning title track contrasts with the blisteringly fast "Last Stand of Humanity", and there are even whiplash inducing tempo changes within the tracks themselves (see: "Entrenched") that work marvelously. The extraordinarily bass heavy mix and signature sound of the band do every possible favor for the songwriting, and it all ends up as this cohesive, well oiled machine. I get tired of hearing Bolt Thrower get jerked off at every possible opportunity, but whenever I listen to them I can't help but find myself parroting the praise. Believe the hype, kids. If you only hear one Bolt Thrower album in your lifetime, make it this one.
Originally written for http://lairofthebastard.blogspot.com/
Having been together since 1986 Bolt Thrower have survived the ups and downs of the metal scene, and through all of this they have relatively retained their core sound, often times being called the AC/DC of death metal. It was with their 3rd album, War Master, that they found their niche within the death metal community.
Since 1991 they have ever so slightly tweaked their sound with each new album but never strayed off the beaten path. So what do we get here? We have thrashy death metal with guttural vocals that sound brutal as hell, yet Karl Willets is fully understandable. The bass is completely audible on every song adding a low end to the music that is crushing, and the guitars while fast are also melodic. But we're not talking twin leads and Iron Maiden worship here. The riffs are catchy and memorable while still being punishing. The drumming is nothing overly special, but it is well done and plays its part.
Those Once Loyal is great album and holds together well. It starts off with At First Light, the best song on the album for me. An acoustic piece begins the track but its a short build up to the start of the song. The riffs here are monstrous and the solos are fun. The chorus is very memorable both musically and lyrically/vocally. This is definitely a must to listen to!
A couple songs later we have The Killchain, a continuation of a few songs the band had done on previous albums. This string of tracks creating a sort of on going song which is kind of a fun idea they came up with. More specifically the intro and outro riff used on The Killchain will be very familiar to those who have heard the band's past releases. Its that heavy as hell chugging riff that has become a mainstay for usually at least one song on each album starting with Realm of Chaos.
Those Once Loyal, the title track is another good one. The chorus especially has a lot going for it but so does the rest of the song. The band slows it down through parts though it doesn't hinder the fluidity of it all.
This album lyrically deals with themes of the First World War. The song is At First Light about soldiers ordered out of their trenches and into battle. While Those Once Loyal is talking about “traitors” who are by some seen as heroes, and Anti-Tank (Dead Armour) speaking of as the name suggests, tank warfare and things of the sort.
I wont go through every song because its just not necessary, they are all excellent! I have to say the band has succeeded in creating an album chock full of groovy/melodic masterfully crafted riffs. I love the fact that unlike a lot of bands Bolt Thrower decided not to mix the bass out of the album. In fact its mixed almost evenly with the rest of the music which shows their confidence in the skills of Jo Bench (who is also considered one of the first females to play in an extreme metal band).
This probably will go down as the bands best album and unfortunately, probably their last. They were so pleased with how TOL turned out that they didn’t feel they could surpass it so they decided to not even make another album. With an entire discography dedicated to the topic of warfare and a distinguished sound Bolt Thrower are ending their careers with a bang.
Originally reviewed by me at http://abaddonsmetalshop.blogspot.com/
Bolt Thrower's 8th studio album was a breath of fresh war arriving at the perfect time, as it had been far too long since the band released anything of importance. That isn't to say Mercenary or Honour Valour Pride were necessarily bad albums, but they lacked the impact of a Realm of Chaos or IVth Crusade (still the band's best work in my opinion). For Those Once Loyal, Karl Willets returns to the vocal artillery and the magic is captured yet again, surpassing their last 'good' album, 1994's For Victory.
A subtle symphonic text preludes the furious "At First Light" before the glorious melodies and brutal groove of the verse arrive to stamp you into the fucking dust. "Entrenched" opens with an almost Slayer like nihilistic thrashing, which grows thicker into the verse and the rallying cry of the breakdown. "The Killchain" once again channels that similar, flowing thrash into a brutal, bouncing hook, and a chorus which is simultaneously evil and majestic. "Granite Wall" channels that same sort of groove which dominated Realm of Chaos, and the title track is a slower, somber wartime masterpiece which drags you back into the desolate conflicts of our sorry humanity. "Anti-Tank (Dead Armour)" catches you with Jo Bench's distorted bass blitz and then layers on the hooks. The album saves some of its best tracks for the later hours: the subtle and infectious "Salvo" and the winding battery of instrumental "When Cannons Fade". The bonus track "A Symbol of Eight" is also decent. The lyrics throughout retain their battlefield savvy:
'Stranded in no mans land
Water always tastes the same
Trapped within this shell hole
There is no shelter from the steel rain
Dead men again'
The record is a crusher in terms of its sonic breadth. It retains the band's old school, subtle ability to 'entrench' its listener into the horroscapes of hopeless warfare through its shifting morass of endless, brutal grooving. Yet the band continues along its path of delivering an edge of transcending melody and majesty above the bloodshed (a trend which began some time ago on The IVth Crusade). Truly this is a band in fine form if they can still issue a statement like Those Once Loyal. But until they do so again, at least...we have Hail of Bullets?!
A band who inarguably remain Britain’s true premier death metal act, Bolt Thrower remain unsung heroes, with praise for their valiant efforts in the name of deathly warfare tragically lacking amongst modern quarters. A shame, really, but not for Bolt Thrower – rather, for those who will contest that modern death is all about such mediocrity as Beneath The Massacre or such insipid scum as Waking The Cadaver. It’s these fools own laughable losses that they fail to appreciate this – a modern death metal album that plays by unorthodox rules and still manages to hit harder than anything you’ve heard mangled through good ol’ Pro Tools of late.
Bolt Thrower are certainly similar to the brave veterans they display their admiration for – the band have been through one hell of a long haul to get where they are and are fully knowledgeable on the tactics needed to achieve the best result against the inferior foe. That very end result, in case you’re wondering, is one that sees Bolt Thrower’s superiority over the lesser force beyond question.
Opener ‘At First Light’ does not dwell on the bleak, ominous atmosphere established by the intro but instead breaks that grey dawn with a pummelling assault that more than assures the observer of Bolt Thrower’s place of importance in modern metal. A crashing shrapnel hail of double kick drums joins with ferocious riffery, backed up with a pounding bass and all driven forth with a vocal mauling that joyfully lacks in overproduced gloss and revels in it’s raw grit and power, as though razor blades had been mixed in with the rations. The Victoria Cross then, to be awarded to all the valiant troops of the Bolt Thrower division… and this is only the first track.
As with any co-ordinated military strategy, the band is fantastically aware of the dynamics of an (aural) assault, and exploits them superbly. This is an album that does not throw itself headlong into chaotic disorder for the sake of it – rather, Bolt Thrower’s approach is carefully considered, and instead of plunging headlong forwards the band measure their attack against what will achieve the most powerful effect.
The likes of ‘The Killchain’ and title track ‘Those Once Loyal’ are not hyperspeed bursts of guitar noise or overreaching blast beats but slow-burning, groove-based monstrosities that will have heads banging just as they will have toes tapping. Of course, this general lack of relentlessly fast hellfire will undoubtedly put off many who are concerned only with sensory overload, but ultimately you have hear an album that satisfies because the band are highly adept at exploiting the power of the deathly groove, never overdoing anything for extremity’s sake. While this is certainly an album that does stand up to plenty of modern death metal acts in the brutality stakes, it remains one that will satiate deathly appetites of a less conventional yet still bloodthirsty fare.
Bolt Thrower remain a force to be reckoned with.
Bolt Thrower is the definition of consistency. They have barely changed their sound since Warmaster (their demos and full-length debut were different from what they have become known for), but have still managed to create some of the most crushing metal that manages to separate itself from the pack in many ways. If you’re wondering how exactly they go about accomplishing such a task, let me just say this: there isn’t a single blastbeat on this entire album.
The riffs on the album can be described as death metal with deep roots in thrash that are as upbeat as classic NWOBHM. Many of the thrashier riffs are accompanied by steady double-bass and are extremely catchy while still managing to be heavy as hell. As soon as the short sample (?I can’t really tell if it’s a sample or something the band recorded) on the first track is over and the song starts, you’ll be tempted to bang your head even if you’ve never done so before. Trust me.
Every band member gets an equal share of the attention; every instrument (bass included) is audible at all times. The riffs, licks and solos are all very well placed and well executed; these guys don’t have technicality on their mind when they’re writing, every riff and solo on the album has substance and purpose; this is some superb songwriting. None of the songs are repetitive but still manage to have highly memorable individual riffs (something that is difficult to do without driving the same one into your ears over and over), and there’s a good enough amount of variation between the tracks to allow for each song to be able to be told apart from the next.
These guys create some awesome disjointed rhythms that fit very well together, perfectly balanced out by balls to the wall thrash riffs, as well as some melodic moments and solos. The bass is very well played with some creative licks that deviate from the rhythms while managing to sound like it fits perfectly with the riff it’s accompanying. The drumming is never excessive (as mentioned before, there are no blastbeats on this album) and flows along nicely with the songs with a good deal of variation.
The clear production does a lot for the album as well. It’s obvious that they weren’t going for the somewhat raw, crunchy sound found on some of their other albums, and instead wanted every note played to be heard perfectly, which plays a small part in making the album so memorable and easy to digest.
The lyrics are fairly clearly pronounced by the deep guttural growl of Karl Willetts (who rejoined the band for this album after their previous vocalist left), and tell a fairly interesting “story” (if you want to call it that) about World War I, continuing the band’s tradition of war-themed lyrics.
Overall, Those Once Loyal is a worthy addition to Bolt Thrower’s catalogue that is enjoyable from start to finish. I don’t just recommend this album to death metal fans, but to fans of any metal genre.
Originally written by me for http://www.sputnikmusic.com
I thought of various ways to open what in all probability will end up being a blithering, inadequate expression of the undying adulation I have for this band and nothing seemed good enough. At one point, I even considered laying down a simple, self-explanatory “It’s a Bolt Thrower album” and closing this review. However, I persisted and now you will have to endure a verbose rant on why Bolt Thrower are the best fucking death metal band on the planet this side of the initial Morrisound fecundity (and err, that side of the Swedish proliferation too.)
If they were to be described in their very own lyrical style, Bolt Thrower would be “The raging Panzer Leopard 2 that zeroed in on the enemy stronghold and conquered the hostiles.” Of course, that’s a metaphor for “death metal so intense and heavy that you headbang till all energy is drained from you and your neck is a boneless mess.”
Bolt Thrower’s musical direction is quite simple really. They only aim to annihilate everything that stands in the way of the mighty, towering colossus that is Bolt Thrower. And the way they accomplish it is so effortless it is almost ridiculous. Bolt Thrower’s music is never overly ambitious. Bolt Thrower know where their forte lies and endeavor to create music within such constraints.
I believe that the reason Bolt Thrower have endeared themselves to hordes of metalheads worldwide is that like the most iconic heavy metal bands of our time such as Motorhead or Iron Maiden, their approach to the way they handle their musical arsenal hasn’t changed over a career spanning the better part of 2 whole decades. In fact, I consider Bolt Thrower the Iron Maiden of the death metal world. Really, the similarities are startling.
The most glaring similarity is in the way these bands write music. If you walk randomly into a room where music was playing, you would recognize immediately if that song is by Iron Maiden because they have a trademark style of songwriting. In that aspect, Bolt Thrower too have established a certain style, a particular trademark method of songwriting which is unique to them. There is an established framework, like the E-D-C-D Iron Maiden progression. Bolt Thrower’s emphasis through the years have been on riff-driven chug-a-thons combined with some of the most DEVASTATING mid-song breakdowns in metal history backed with reliably pounding mid to up-tempo double bass and grooving mid-section beats. This ability to create a multitude of ALBUMS, let alone songs, within this blueprint is what sets a great band apart from the also-rans. This also is the reason why you can never go wrong with a Bolt Thrower release. It’s because you know that they’re going to be sticking to the plan and just delivering another solid death metal release.
Oh, not to mention the fact that both of them are British as well.
Let it not be said that I did not warn you about how wordy that rant was going to be.
Now that we have a few facts established, let us delve into the album
Pre-release, there was quite a buzz going on about this owing to Karl Willetts’ return to the band. Willetts will always remain the definitive voice of Bolt Thrower for me. It’s not that Ingram did a bad job in any way, it’s just that Karl Willetts delivered the thunder on ostensibly one of the greatest death metal albums of all time and everytime I pit someone against something like that, it just doesn’t work in the contenders’ favour. So what did Bolt Thrower do to celebrate? They wrote the best goddamn death metal album of 2005, that’s what they did.
Bolt Thrower’s no-nonsense approach to death metal is a treat unto itself. Bolt Thrower just step up and put that fist right in your face from the word go. Those Once Loyal starts off with a short, ominous war-knell and bursts into At First Light. The hauntingly melodic slow intro followed by Willetts’ full throated roar of “AT FURST LAAAIIIT” as the band switches into “destroy” mode is pure death metal orgasm. Entrenched is a typical Bolt Thrower crusher, staring off with all-out intense riffing with a catchy (in the death metal way) riff over the chorus. Next is arguably the song of the album, The Killchain. Interesting observation: The intro is the same riff as on Embers from The IVth Crusade The intro flows through into a MAGNIFICENT riff, so beautifully simple, yet something only Bolt Thrower could possibly pull off. This song combines some of the finest Bolt Thrower elements: a chugging monster of a mid-tempo riff with a catchy chorus and a positively neck-snapping mid-section breakdown. It’s impossible to stay still to something like this! The title track flaunts a style wonderfully reminiscent of the title track on Bolt Thrower’s magnum opus, The IVth Crusade, with a slow, sledgehammer of an intro giving way to a chugging riff-fest over mid-tempo double bass. There is absolutely NO filler material on this record, every track is fucking brilliant. Jo Bench’s rich, gain soaked bass sound complements the guitars perfectly and there are some pretty impressive basslines in segments if you listen closely enough.
While the overall reliable Bolt Thrower sound has not changed in any way, there are notable improvements in certain areas. This is the best production job that any Bolt Thrower album till date has had. Not in a clinical, Andy Sneap way but in the sense that everything sounds grander, with all instruments getting their space. Another thing is the heightened sense of melody that the band seems to be acquiring. The slower parts are getting some serious melodic harmonization action and the solos are top notch.
If you’re a self-respecting metalhead, this needs to be in your CD collection. NOW.
Originally written for http://www.kvltsite.com
Karl Willets is back. This of course has great sentimental value but let’s be honest, Dave Ingram did a great job as well. I am not sure if the presence of Wwillets gave the group some new energy, but they sure as hell reinvented themselves on ‘Those Once Loyal’
To put it short, this is their best effort since ‘For Victory’. The energy is back. So are the dynamics and incidental up tempo parts. Apart from continuing the earlier ‘For Victory’ blend, there are also some new elements in their music here. Most notable is Jo Bench’s bass guitar. At times she does more than just play the same lines as rhythm guitar and her bass has a superb production, being both filthy as well as having very clear definition. This gives the songs an extra edge. Do listen to her lines on ‘Entrenched’ and you’ll know what I mean! The over all clear sound makes this even more obvious. I could even state this is the best production a Bolt Thrower album has ever had.
The album is packed with dynamic death metal that includes most facets and styles Bolt Thrower have been about. The energetic shredder ‘At First Light’ is a highlight at once. ‘Entrenched’ has interesting refreshing riffs and ditto bass lines and has become and instant Bolt Thrower classic. Also worth mentioning are the doomy melodic title track ‘Those Once Loyal’ and the very groovy ‘Anti-Tank (Dead Armour)’.
Even though their previous two albums were fairly good and entertaining, ‘Those Once Loyal’ managed to simply outclass them. It became a definite highlight in Bolt Throwers discography.
Bolt Thrower’s “Those Once Loyal”, an album I will proudly look upon as my first ever true death metal album. Ok, maybe not the most true death metal album around, but come on, tell me it’s Nu Metal.
Bolt Thrower has put out a stunning release almost 20 years since their debut. As a basic rule, it’s closer to old school death metal than the newer stuff. It’s not overly fast or technical, it doesn’t have super aggressive vocals, the vocals are truly growled, not “growl-screamed”, and finally the songs are mainly around the 4 minute mark, with no grind influence coming through at all.
However, it also has some of the best production I have ever heard on a death metal record on its side. As well as brilliant sense of groove and dare I say it melody, or at least rhythm, resulting in a far more coherent and less random and disjointed sound than many death bands. Both signs of more modern sounding death metal. So they’ve hardly got the most brutal reputation around.
The British band has been around for quite a while now, and this talent and knowledge of how to make good heavy music has obviously been developed well. The sound has no truly dominant elements, which is nice, seeing as almost every really heavy band in the last 10 years has lived off overpowering drums. Here everyone is given a fair go.
Karl Willets is a stunning vocalist, with his vocals not only being a stellar growl, they are also thrown into the mix at the perfect volume. They sit perfectly in amongst the guitars and are easily audible, while not getting in the way of other band members. It helps that his lyrics are miles above par for the genre, but his controlled, not calm or relaxed, but certainly not strained tone is able to make most songs extremely enjoyable.
Baz Thomson and Gavin Ward handle the guitars. Again, they are made to fit perfectly with the rest of the band. They’re not too technical, nor are they overly simplistic in their grooves. They provide so much flow for this album, the solos seem merely a way of changing the structure of the song, rather than simply showing off their talent. With that said, this album has very good solo work. While they don’t go too far out of the constraints of the instruments around them, the solos manage to still sound incredible, shown most openly with the intro solo of “At First Light”, which grabs the listener within the first minute.
The guitars are also really, really heavy and powerful. The tuning is low and they are used perfectly with the Bass of Jo Bench. Yes, Bench is female. Yes, that is “Un-death”. But no, she doesn’t suck. In fact she is amazingly talented, and also is amazingly powerful. If you’ve read any of my other reviews, you’d see that I can’t hear Bass. Bench manages to put the bass right up with the guitars. Just as powerful, yet not out of place.
Not only that, I’m not sure if it’s tuning or playing style or just plain studio cheating, but it sounds crazy. She actually makes it rattle and rumble and generally sound like something large is stomping around amongst the bands recording studio.
Completing the low-end pair is Martin Kearns on the drums. He is pretty much solely centred on the bass drums, not unlike most modern Death metal bands. However, he doesn’t use blast beats, I'm pretty sure he is triggered, but doesn't sound it, in other words, they sound like real drums. With that said, he doesn’t play complex, riff following stuff like Raymond Herrera of Fear Factory or Tomas Haake of Meshuggah, instead he sticks to simple bass rolls at high speeds. Not stupidly fast, just fast, his arms actually do most of the time keeping. And very little more. With that said, he is still impressive enough, and does sound perfect with the band. Like the rest, not being ambitiously technical or original, just focussed on what works.
“Just focus on what works” seems like it could be the bands motto when they wrote “Those Once Loyal” as the band seems comfortable with everything they do, unfortunately, this leads to its limit in brilliance. Don’t get me wrong, this album ranks pretty high on my list of favourite albums, but it does get a little tiring. Not because the band sounds the same often, "Salvo" seems to be the only song without any real original greatness, it’s just that there’s no deep listening here. Other than listening specifically to the abnormally loud bass of Jo Bench, I never found myself breaking the music apart section by section. Enjoying a brilliant drum fill here, or a strange melding of the guitars somewhere else. The lyrics, focussing on war, war heroes, remembering war heroes, are good, but not stunning, merely giving the brilliant Willet a chance to growl. Bolt Thrower simply made a brilliant album to listen to. Nothing more.
The album opens up with the stunning “At First Light”. The song features an intro solo, but other than that, it follows the structure of everything else on the album, it moves along a decent speed, has very little riff variation, however, the riffs used do ALL kick ass. Willet growls about being in war in his usual indecipherable, but somehow not overpowering voice.
Really, the whole album feels like a bunch of verses, with no choruses, simple 3 bridges in each instead of a chorus. As the “chorus” sections all sound different. With one of them being repeated at the end. Bolt Thrower don’t exactly have the most dynamic approach around, but mixed up enough to not be boring.
Entrenched is a nice quick number, it flies along with Willet sounding like he’s actually putting some stress on his voice. The low end on this song is killer, with Bench’s bass, while oddly quiet, roars along helping the tempo, and Kearns manages to fire of some stellar double bass work, specifically on the slow downs. Everything just sounds in control here, even when making you shake your head aggressively for no reason. Like basically all the songs here, the solo kills.
One of the only pot-holes in the album comes along in "The Killchain". Where, after a nice build up, the band seems to get lost and simply wander around in a pretty dull mid pace sleeping pill for almost five minutes. However, all is recovered in "Granite Wall" which successfully manages to tap the accelerator a few times, creating an energetic sound, with extremely catchy riffs. The song tests out the mid tempo waters some more, without sounding lost or directionless.
The title track drops into midpace properly, but sounds perfectly war-machine like. However the tempo picks up big time in the best track on the album… "Anti-Tank (Dead Armour)". It features a fantastic catchy as all hell riff, insane Bass work. Vocals which sound like there’s some effort. This will cause you to make messes in your pants.
Unfortunately, the next three songs all follow a more mid-paced vibe, Last Stand Of Humanity still sounds fresh, and is still a pretty damn good fast to mid-paced song. However Salvo seems to be lacking a little, and runs on way too long, and lacks any catchy riffs, or simply aggressive rhythms. "When Cannons Fade" is mid-paced again. However it still manages to be a catchy, addictive song, and rightfully deserves to be a fan favourite, Despite having some of it’s thunder being taken away due to the previous song, which doesn’t really put you in the mood for another mid-paced song.
Where Swedish bands like Opeth and At the Gates are Modern Death Metal’s training wheels, Bolt Thrower is Old School Death Metal’s training wheels. Definitely not deep enough for someone deeply rooted in the genre, but to someone with an urge to move into Death Metal, Those Once Loyal is a good place to start.
Ever present, long lasting and regenerated. British Death Metallers Bolt Thrower are back with vengeance with their eighth full-length to date, "Those Once Loyal". I've liked Bolt Thrower for many years now, ever since i heard "...For Victory" which completely blew me away so naturally i was highly anticipating this album, especially because Bolt Thrower hadn't released an album for several years. This band makes me proud to be British.
Ever since 1986 Bolt Thrower have been flying the Death Metal flag and producing music to blow the socks off listeners world wide. Given the fact that they have been around for over a decade now, it's even more astonishing when you hear this new and fresh album and quite clearly they have produced probably their best album to date in "Those Once Loyal". Each and every song is powerful. Bolt Thrower possess a certain heaviness and creativity that will continue to boost their ever-growing fan base and give old fans a delightful treat. It comes as no surprise that Bolt Thrower have a powerful edge behind the music, with the bass and drums trudging on like a war machine to the sound of a victorious warrior in renewed Karl Willets who rejoined the band in 2004 after a six year absence. The lyrically themes are fitting to say the least. Willets vocals are intimidating and enforced by the driving force of the music. Innovation and creativity are high on the list with this release. Solid riffs churn out one after the other in a dominating and powerful manner in a fashion unlike any Bolt Thrower album has produced before. Each song consistently good and of a high standard, which we've never seen before from Bolt Thrower. In the past there have always been one or two tracks which have disappointed, but i cannot find any here. For once the music completely sets the scene and keeps it going. Clear production allows the instruments to do their job to the full extent ... Bone crunching riffs, heavy rhythm sections and pounding drums, all of which contain brilliant precision and overwhelming ease that Bolt Thrower ooze.
Highlights: At First Light, Granite Wall and When Cannons Fade.
Their career proves everything . More than 15 years in the death metal genre and this band still has the talent and endearment to make powerful and heavy music. After four years of absence, they return with a new album which is really remarkable and interesting.
Every song here has its exceptional strength and heaviness. It’s really characteristic that the riffs in every song are distinctive enough and you can’t be bored with this album even if you listen to it too many times. The bass sounds are absolutely perfect, Jo Bench surely knows how to do her job, the heavy bass tunes give a totally powerful warlike atmosphere .The grunt and sharp solos are filling every song with extra energy and vitality. The harsh, deep vocals match totally with the music and the result is one of the best metal releases in 2005. The most of the tracks here have this mid-tempo rhythm and the musical structure is simple but really interesting. The band still preserves their traditional death metal sound but they’re not tiresome at all, the tunes, the riffs and overall every song here is full of freshness and a pure essence of talent.
So if you like straightforward and sturdy metal, you must be sure that this album is for you. It’s another solid release from Bolt Thrower, there are no experimental things here but this is not a disadvantage. Bolt Thrower use the same formula years now and they don't disappoint me at all. The album lasts 40 minutes and is utterly enough for the fans of this rough music. I hope that these guys will continue to keep company with us in the future with great album as “Those Once Loyal”.
This is my first Bolt Thrower album, I just happened to pick it up thinking it looked interesting, and how happy I am that I did.
The first track I listened to was When Cannons Fade, the name just appealed to me and I wasn't expecting anything amazing from this album, so I just gave it a listen. Within the first 5 seconds, I was hooked, the simple yet so intense guitar moves introducing the track kind of sum up the album for me: This is pretty simple instrument playing in comparision to most of the Thrash bands I listen to, but it's perfectly done and sounds amazing. I'm sure other drummers will agree that the drumming on Those Once Loyal is very simple to play, but its combinations that I would not have expected to sound so refined and perfectly support the music.
All the tracks are great, there is not a single weak track on this album, it's all slower paced Death Metal, something which I can appreciate a lot more than most Death Metal which many times sacrifices skill and creativity for speed and just shit-sounding heavy blasting (stuff like Deicide).
Another great thing about this album are the solos, the solos kick in at exactly the right moment and are really audible over the the background music.
Favourite tracks: The Killchain, When Cannons Fade, A Symbol of Eight, Anti-Tank, At First Light.
This is the eighth album from Bolt Thrower, a British band playing war-themed death metal.
The sound on this album is the best Bolt Thrower have ever had. The lead guitar is crystal clear, backed by heavy rhythm guitar. Both lack the muddy sound of the early Bolt Thrower albums, and they've got more life than on later albums. The drums have a nice, crisp sound, showcasing their precision. The bass sound is especially excellent -- rumbling, rattling, crushing everything under endless waves of low-end, yet the individual notes are quite audible. It's the perfect testament to Jo Bench's bass work. Karl Willets is back on vocals for this album, and his growls sound great... as always, the lyrics and vocal performance are highlights of this band, and the sound here gives them plenty of power.
There's obviously been a change in tactics in the Bolt Thrower war-room these last few years, because the songs they've written for "Those Once Loyal" are the best they've penned in more than a decade. The last two albums sounded lackluster compared to their early work, but this one is chock-full of dynamic riffs and punishing slow sections. "Those Once Loyal" is nearly on par with "The IVth Crusade", better than "...For Victory", and completely destroys everything recorded since. I'll give it a track-by-track review.
"At First Light" comes in with an atmospheric intro that instills a feeling of impatience in the listener. This breaks into a powerful main riff, which leads almost immediately into a solo. Then the vocals come in, and... ARGH IT'S BOLT THROWER! This song should put to rest any worries the listener might have, with its headbangable riffing, infectious chorus, and precise breaks. "Orders... unquestionable! All rank and file... expendable!"
An air-raid siren introduces "Entrenched", a straightforward attack enhanced by pounding drums. I love the bass work on this one -- during most of the song, it's not right up in front, but it really makes this one work, as much of the dynamism of this song is in the low-end.
"The Killchain" starts out with the well-known intro from "Cenotaph", a Bolt Thrower tradition. Unfortunately, this song is the weakest on the album. The main riff is much too modern-sounding for my ears, and the song sounds out of place as a result. There's no solo to speak of on this one, either. That said, it's a decent song, as the interesting vocal performance goes a long way to save it.
"Granite Wall" belies its serious subject with some speedy, aggressive guitar work. There's a lot of variation in the riffing on this song, which allows the band to show off some smooth transitions. The last minute or so is just amazing, with a ripping solo immediately followed by a CRUSHING mid-paced section. The purity of feeling here is overwhelming.
"Those Once Loyal" is a stately tune, squarely in the vein of Bolt Thrower crushers like "Unleashed (Upon Mankind)" and "Silent Demise". This song's chorus summons up tremendous emotion with its powerful vocals and triumphant guitar. Things speed up near the halfway mark, only to be brought back to respectful attention for one last tribute to the fallen. This one is bound to become a Bolt Thrower classic.
"Anti-Tank (Dead Armour)" starts off with a great bass solo, its rumbling, jangling rhythm setting the tone for another Bolt Thrower song about TANKS. And for good reason -- if there's a better metaphor for this band, I haven't found it yet! The riffing and bass work on this one is quick and nimble, yet it sets up a continuous shaking that's entirely appropriate to the subject. The lyrics on "Anti-Tank" are also excellent, standouts on an album already bursting with great lines. Karl even sounds like he's pushing his vocals to the limit on this song... quality stuff!
"Last Stand Of Humanity" grinds away until it reaches the swaggering middle section. The riff here is heavy enough to carry the song all on its own, but this song also boasts the best solos on the album, with some guitar craziness that harks back to early Bolt Thrower.
"Salvo" is another slow song, and a fine example of Bolt Thrower's more atmospheric side. They take a handful of mid-paced riffs, some oppressive bass and vocals, and a simple main theme, and turn the whole thing into a stirring meditation on the hopelessness of war. Repetition is used to perfection here, as the chorus shifts slightly each time, never offering so much as a shred of hope. The interplay between the lead and rhythm guitars after "white-hot shrapnel fills the sky" is shiver-inducing!
"When Cannons Fade" starts out fast, referencing the album itself with its opening lines. The vocal work here is exceptional, just packed with feeling and energy. The whole song is equally dynamic, with speed and riff changes galore. The last few minutes bring things down to a reverent pace, letting the drums and backing guitar set the tone as the album comes to a close.
"Symbol of Eight" is the bonus track on the digipak version. There's a Warhammer 40000 reference here -- nice to see this band haven't forgotten their roots! I especially like the rhythm on this one. The vocals during the section that ends with "new strength to grow" are equally cool. Between this and the fancy packaging, the digipak version is definitely worth tracking down.
"Entrenched" ends with a Bolt Thrower aphorism: "In a world of compromise, some don't!" Nothing describes this album better. It is 100% Bolt Thrower, and so they style is just as you'd expect, but the songs are worlds better than anything they've done in ages. I haven't been able to stop listening to this one since I got it, and it hasn't lost a bit of lustre. I'd say this album is Bolt Thrower's fourth best ever, after "Realm of Chaos", "Warmaster", and "The IVth Crusade". It's one of the top albums of the year, if not number one, and is a must-hear for both old Bolt Thrower fans and those new to the band. Highest recommendations.
Standout tracks: "Those Once Loyal", "Salvo", "When Cannons Fade"
Review by Vorfeed: http://www.vorfeed.net
The powerful warmachine is back to smash us again! They don’t do anything different from the past, it’s… a Bolt Thrower album! But this is the best from the times of “ The IV Crusade”… Violent, devastating songs with a fresh songwriting near to the masterpieces “Realm of Chaos” and “Warmaster”, but with a greater killing production: the sound is perfect and heavier than ever, you can pump up the volume ‘till your ears will be blasted away and your head explode! The rhythmic section is set in granite mid-tempos with surgical perfection, and the riffing is intense, but essential, without complicated articulations: they’re far from the excessive compositions of many other “great” bands… this let the guitars first suddenly whip the listener, then catch him in wrapping spirals, coming in a result that won't disappoint the die-hard fans; the cavernous growls of Karl Willets (the one and only singer of this band) complete the sound, making it much more hammering and brutal.
The opening duo is lethal: “At first light” is probably the best Bolt Thrower opening track, epic and furious at the same time, then no time to breathe, the siren screams, jump all down in the trenches to survive at “Entrenched” ‘s furious assault! Then the old introduction of Cenotaph brings you in a trio of hard, monolithic songs who reach a great moment in the stately stride of the title track, putting you directly in the time when war was fought by men, and after another crushing trio (amazing is “Anti-Tank”), in the last track you can feel the highest point of epic (in its real meaning, not as power/fantasy bands): they let you find poetic the moment “When Cannons Fade”…
Finally the bonus track on the digi and LP is an annihilating musically incarnation of the Chaos eye!
A work that maybe could bring new fans to Bolt Thrower, because of improved sound, and, much important thing, will make happy the old fans: Continuity is the word... Don’t fear, they don’t betray “seeking to open their musical horizons”…
They'll be forever loyal!