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Although the Warhammer 40k theme was established this album's predecessor, this marks where Bolt Thrower really found their signature sound. Realm Of Chaos lessened the chaos present in In Battle There Is No Law! and this album repeats that history. This shows Bolt Thrower treading into more accessible territories without sacrificing grit. This is where songwriting becomes more important and the riffs more melodic. While this is an important album in their discography and one worth listening to, it is not nearly as memorable as the two it sits between.
Stylistically this is just about perfect. It has everything going for it on this front. It has that old school feel, coming off as deeply authentic. The production achieves just the right balance, dirty enough to still feel like a force to be reckoned with but clear enough to allow the melody and songwriting to shine through. The grind influence has been just about phased out and the crust is still there only in small, barely recognizable quantities. The often doomy feel established on Realms Of Chaos is retained. The album largely feels like mid-paced old school death metal with melodic riffing and a prominent focus on songwriting. This brings us to this releases first shortcoming. The songwriting is good - but it's not great. It's consistent throughout, with few real standout moments.
On this release one of Bolt Thrower's most recognized traits is brought to the forefront - locking on to a riff, establishing a good groove and fucking going at it. Then locking onto a new riff and repeating the process. This album is basically riff after riff after goddamn riff, they just keep coming. The riffs are similar to the songwriting in that they are consistently good, but rarely ascend to the peaks that Bolt Thrower have shown themselves capable of reaching. The doomy intro riff to "Profane Creation" is instantly memorable, as is the brooding riff in "Destructive Infinity" (which foreshadows The IVth Crusade), but for the most part the riffing rarely ascends to heights greater than the rest of the pack.
The lead guitar does show some trace amounts of evolution. Frenzied mini-solos are a frequent occurrence. However, there are many hints at what's to come. Slower, more emotional leads also work their way into the framework. The drumming is much more restrained and better produced. The drums are less about frequent blasting and now feature many mid-paced patterns with heavy emphasis on the hi-hats and snare drum. The bass never really extends itself to the foreground; it does its thing in the distance, keeping the sound thick and meaty. Karl's vocals are also now more restrained, although this is not necessarily a bad thing as it fits the new sound.
This is solid, relatively accessible death metal with a good old school sound. While the style is impeccable, the substance is hardly Bolt Thrower's finest. However, this is coming from an incredible band, and the riffs and songwriting are still pretty damn good. They just don't fully live up to what Bolt Thrower have shown themselves to be capable of. Establishing the sound Bolt Thrower are best known for, this is a very relevant album to Bolt Thrower's evolution. While a thoroughly solid listen, it feels a bit weak between the titan sized albums it's sandwiched between.
I've mentioned before how 1991 was a particular year of letdowns, or albums that I've never interpreted as having the level of brilliance that many acclaim. Bolt Thrower's War Master is another example of why this curious curse applied strongly to the death metal realm. Often lauded as one of their best releases, I understand this is an album which holds a high place in many hearts for a number of reasons. It came at a time when Bolt Thrower was finally achieving some popularity overseas, and for a good many of the band's long term fans it was actually the first ever exposure. In fact, death metal as a whole was really beginning to take off, and thus it seems a predictable coincidence that several albums of this time are hailed among the utmost classics of the field: Sepultura's Arise, Morbid Angel's Blessed Are the Sick, Death's Human, all efforts that I found inferior to their predecessors in terms of songwriting quality, but nonetheless have achieved an inarguable immortality. Now, that's not to say I hated any of them, and War Master itself isn't such a bad record, but after the unforeseen crushing I received at the hands of the Bolt Thrower sophomore effort, I felt like the band abandon a lot of that grim, grinding, oppressive atmosphere to create a work more accessible to a broader array of extreme metal aficionados...
Which wouldn't be a bad thing, necessarily, if the composition had the same caliber of hooks, or if the band showed a marked progression in how they structured their music. War Master doesn't quite accomplish either of these things, and for the most part it feels like a Realm of Chaos Part II, only waxed and polished to a shining surface. In my case, completely unneeded. The songs are still rooted in similar grooves to its direct predecessor, and Bolt Thrower hadn't exactly reverted to the faster, more disjointed songwriting of their debut, but I found that at least half the cuts here just didn't stick like a "Drowned in Torment", "Lost Souls Domain" or "World Eater". Aesthetically, I suppose that, at the time, I might also have felt displeased band was starting to lyrically edge away from their Warhammer 40k theme, though some of the lyrics are a direct continuation of the same, pessimistic overtones. But considering that their debut was a more general examination of warfare and nuclear eradication, and the cover art was intended to capture a Warhammer Fantasy feel, the inner nerd-child in me couldn't really cite this as a reason to throw it out to the proverbial Space Wolves. No, my lukewarm reaction to War Master ultimately rests on the fault of several of its songs to penetrate my memory for more than a small stretch of time, and the fact that it's sandwiched by two far better albums, which in unison are responsible for most of my favorite Bolt Thrower tunes.
There are exceptions, of course, like "What Dwells Within" with its hypnotic tremolo picking, "Cenotaph" and "Profane Creation" for those monolithic, melodic grooves, but in general I can pass on most of the tunes here without feeling as if I've missed out on anything. In terms of production, it's quite spiffy. The guitars have a crisper bottom end that still manages to give an impressive of depth and forceful heaviness, but there was this flesh wound fiber to the tone on the last album that isn't matched here. Drums seem to have been tightened up in terms of timekeeping, yet the cymbals, snare and hi hats often feel a tinge too tinny. I know I've read that Jo Bench didn't enjoy the bass tuning on Realm of Chaos, so it makes sense that she's a little more audible on this followup; but at the same time, even if the bass lines are louder, they're not doing much of interest here aside from following along with the rhythm guitar. Willetts' inflection had hardly changed at all, but I still felt like his performance on the sophomore was more bloody, brutal and atmospheric. I do like the leads here, they're vivacious, bright, and cautiously ripping in contrast to the meatier rhythms, but many of the riffs in the verses feel a fraction banal. Natural for the Bolt Thrower canon, but rarely interesting enough that I want to force myself through them repeatedly.
For 1991, the band still provided a pretty fresh alternative to not only their British peers, but also the Dutch, US and Swedish scene. Unfortunately, that tangibly eminent, otherworldly, depressing grandeur of Realm of Chaos had been dialed back, and War Master feels somewhat more dry as a result. It's got some decent riffs, and the handful of songs that I'd qualify for a 'best of 'list, but for myself it stands alongside Honour Valor Pride and Mercenary as one of the Brits' albums I'm least likely to seek out for my fix. The campy, bloody artwork is admittedly iconic, and it made sense that they'd capitalize on the rougher productions of the first two records with something seemingly larger in budget, but in the end the sophomore has aged so much better in its ominous totality, and The IVth Crusade was far juicier and instantly appealing. For me, at least, War Master remains 'the album between'. A placeholder. I get more bang out of this than various other 'bigger named' death bombs that year (including those listed above), but it rarely reduced me to the same pile of slag as its neighbors in their discography.
Bolt Thrower absolutely needed to deliver nothing short of a masterpiece with their third full-length "War Master." After releasing two awesome albums, there's definitely a lot of pressure to make something memorable, but there's even more pressure when the album is being released in 1991, which is quite possibly the greatest year for death metal releases ever. Classic albums like "Mental Funeral," "Like An Ever Flowing Stream," "Into the Grave," "Clandestine," "The Ten Commandments" and several others were all released in the same year. Luckily for Bolt Thrower, they released not only their best album, but a flawless death metal record to be cherished until the end of time.
Everything about this album is amazing. Karl Willetts' vocals are just as destructive, if not more, than on the first two records. When he bellows "CENOTAPH!" at the beginning of the song with the same name, it sends chills down your spine. The bass is also extremely heavy and plays a vital part in the overall sound, which by the way, is heavier than a cinder block smashing your skull. One of the more surprising improvements on this album was the solos. Bolt Thrower went from the very Slayer-esque solo style to coherent and rather memorable solos that fit perfectly with the songs here. But the real show-stealer here is Andrew Whale's performance behind the kit. Every time the double bass pedal hits, it's almost as if a shot is being fired by a cannon off in the warzone.
Of course I'd be a fool to not mention all of the riffs. On the band's previous effort "Realm of Chaos," we saw Bolt Thrower downtune their axes and we felt each doom-laden riff and every bone-vibrating chug. On "War Master," though, the band must have started listening to the American death metal bands because they tuned their guitars back up and found a much sharper tone similar to Death or Morbid Angel, only Bolt Thrower's sound was a lot heavier. Despite the less doomy tone, the songs here are even more doomy than before. That may sound idiotic, but once you listen to the intro of "Profane Creation" or the first verse of "Cenotaph" you will understand. One of the best parts about the band's decision to doom it the fuck up, is that it makes the faster moments seem even faster, especially when the thunderous double bass pedals are following suit.
This is easily Bolt Thrower's best work. "War Master" retains the doomy essence of "Realm of Chaos" but also has the aggression and relentlessness of "In Battle There Is No Law!" There isn't a single weak track here either. Every song could make a death metal "Greatest Hits" collection and everyone could be the soundtrack to a medieval battle. In other words, this album is perfect.
Originally written for Nightmare Reality Webzine.
For some reason I avoided Bolt Thrower's earliest material simply because it was old. Very foolish thing to do, but I have this obsession with music that came out after I first got into music a number of years ago. It's an odd obsession and I have no idea why or how it came about. So, I decided to conquer my fears and listen to some of the earliest Bolt Thrower full-lengths. To no great surprise, they were fairly awesome. I have come to expect nothing less of Bolt Thrower, Britain's death metal Gods.
Heaviness has always been the key to conquering the masses and swaying their opinions in favour of their music. Once again, it's worked. Death metal was a genre that began with fury and unparalleled ferocity. Over the years, some say it has lost it's way a bit, but with the re-emergence of bands like Bolt Thrower and Suffocation leading the way, it's steadily working it's way back in to the hearts and minds the death metal population. It's not difficult to see why. Bolt Thrower's pounding percussion is unrivalled, Bolt Thrower's heavy guitar riffs are unmatched and their style of war inspired death metal is simply not going to die out. No matter how long they have been around for, their style of play and sheer heavy approach when it comes to creating some of the greatest death metal solo's is never going to get old or tiresome.
Riff after riff is all Bolt Thrower know how to do. Don't think that it's one gigantic mess with riffs that simply don't fit together placed side by side because it isn't. Bolt Thrower have always been able to remain highly creative, yet stay slightly repetitive. This gives the listener the chance to attempt to stand up to their mammoth riffs before being knocked back down to the ground. Bass is an imperative addition to Bolt Thrower, it's what adds that punch to the sound. That's one element however that is different. The production. It's faded and gives an impression of hazy smoke, like you'd have in battle. This isn't a negative aspect, it suits Bolt Thrower's war themes very well.
I still got this old shirt which says ‘War Master Tour’. Funny thing is, when this gig took place and I bought it, the album hadn’t been released yet. I never found out why, but who cares since it eventually it did, somewhere in 1991. I can't even recall if and what 'new' songs they played that night.
There are some major differences (once again) in their sound and songs. Most of all the midpaced and doomy parts were more present here than before. The guitars were slighty tuned up compared to ‘Realm...’ and because of this and the addition of more midpaced and slow material, the really fast parts became more noticible and therefor ‘seemed’ faster. The dynamics of opening track ‘Unleashed’ are mindblowing as the song goes through every pace imaginable in the Bolt Thrower style without losing power.
‘Afterlife’ and ‘What Dwells Within’ are two crushers with some extremely fast moments you’d expect after the ‘Realm Of Chaos’ album albeit tighter and –as said- tuned up. ‘Cenotaph’ is even a hitsingle in its own way, packed with dynamics, changing pace a lot and great riffing. Simply a majestic song, continuing the ‘World Eater’ saga, starting and ending with the same riff. I also still bang to the immensly powerful chorus of ‘Profane Creation’ and the rolling schredders ‘Destructive Infinity’ and ‘Shreds Of Sanity’ still make my blood boil.
The transparency of the sound and diversity of the material together with some classic songs make ‘War Master’ one of the best albums in their entire discography.
Three Hollywood co-producers huddle around a large mound of vinyls and cd's in collective thought on a pristine Autumn day. They have given life to a cinema feature of epic proportion, where they are casting He-Man, Conan the Destroyer, and The Terminator into one epic warfare laden super-film. Today they are charged with finding the theme song for the album and giving it life. Their resources, compiled mostly of their own personal music collections, are nearly spent when the youngest of the three notices an album from his college days.
He picks the album up and dusts it off..."Bolt Thrower" the album reads. The cover looks promising enough, being nearly identical to the movie's promotional poster. He optimistically loads it in and prays that this isn't Manowar all over again. "YES!" he exclaims, as he begins passage into the second track. This is what they've been searching for. Finally, an album that is not only littered with heaviness and barbarity, but is also dark and chaotic, giving it an unspoiled classic anthem feel. This isn't going to be the theme song for the movie, this is going to be the whole fucking soundtrack. This is Bolt Thrower's "Warmaster"...
From the beginning of "Intro... Unleashed (Upon Mankind)", you are immersed in a world of unending cruelty and savage barbarism. You would like to flee, yet the two advancing armies on the battlefield of your mind are Meekness and Insanity. Needless to say Insanity annihilates it's foes and you press on, ever weary. The guitar, in proper old school death metal manner, is nearly always low-scaled, expelling thrashing chords, piercing melodies, droning scale variations, and killer leads. Such is the case of my favorite track "Cenotaph" where this song displays how Bolt Thrower uses some nice thrash elements to bring you to a headbanging frenzy.
This album would be drastically different and notably less powerful were it not for the brilliant vocal onslaught given by Karl Willetts. The harsh, raspy growls of Willetts really remind me a lot of the way Paul Speckmann would put his heart and soul into his work. There wouldn't be a better suited vocalist for this classic album. This is especially apparent in unison with the blazingly fast and aggressive drum work by Andy Whale on tracks like "Profane Creation" and "Final Revelation". As the album hits it's final note, not a neck remains unsnapped.
Excellent musicianship, and a real knack for the old-school stylings of Death Metal is what makes this album a classic. Now, I heard from a few members of select bands that toured the U.S. with Bolt Thrower, in the early 90's, that they were huge pricks, spending every waking moment talking about how much this country sucks and how much the tour sucks and U.S. Metal sucks. Well boys (and girl), albums like this help me look past any unpleasantries in your characters.
Before Bolt Thrower sank into the rut that has characterized their sound for years now, there was this ugly little masterpiece. Ugly in the best possible sense of the word, mind you. Colin Richardson got his act together on the production front and there was clarity, and it was good. The additional level of clarity is also in part due to BT tuning UP to C# as opposed to A, making for more easily digested (but not by much, mind you) riffs.
A new sense of structure and dynamics reigns on this album, with more carefully-arranged songs as opposed to riffs simply careening along out of control. That worked well on the last album, the monstrous and intimidating opus "Realm of Chaos", but you really get the sense that BT progressed and learned how to play their instruments better from both relentless touring and simply striving to improve. The best songs here are:
"Unleashed (Upon Mankind)" fades in with a slow doom section that sets the tone of unrelenting despair and pessimism characterizing this album, and actually features honest to goodness soloing near the end as opposed to chaotic Slayer-like whammy bar wanking. Its chorus revs up to a more uptempo (but not by much) tank like feel and the bridge in the middle even goes into a thrash mode for a little bit before dropping into one of the catchiest riffs on the album. Karl Willetts' vocals are just as evil and compelling as before, too.
"What Dwells Within" is my favorite song on here, building again from a slow beginning with another attention-getting riff to a faster verse and even an intense blast beat segment that comes out of nowhere to tear your head off. Those are in rare supply on this album and they feel much more effective when they actually pop up and mow you down when you least expect it. The soloing here is more the wild and atonal Slayer feel typical to this genre.
"Cenotaph" is the continuation of "World Eater", fading in with the same riff that ended that song, only sounding different with the new tuning. It starts out fast then drops into slow doom mode with pounding war drums for powerful effect. It ends with the same riff, and BT have continued this song over several albums now.
Altogether, though, this was both a step in the right direction and the beginning of the end for BT, as all their albums began sounding alike after this. The AC/DC of death metal? Perhaps. I wish with Karl back in the band now that they would break this rut and get back to something fresh and new as well as more aggressive and angry instead of simply rumbling along without much variety. This was the last album of theirs I really loved and got behind.
To be honest, I completely disregarded this album upon first listen. However, after gaining more appreciation for Death Metal in general, I am happy to say that subsequent listens revealed that this album is a gem. I have heard comparisons to Napalm Death, Brutal Truth, and other grindcore outfits when Bolt Thrower's name is brought up. That wouldn't do this amazing band any justice. The art of pure Death Metal is partially mastered on this release, and the subject matter manages to avoid shit, ridiculous amounts of gore, and all the other nonsense that DM bands are commonly associated with these days. Battles in the Warhammer 40,000 Universe are the subject of focus, and although not many are familiar with such topics, they provide for a nice change.
As for the band itself, the vocals are great, the riffs are crushing, and the drums maintain a steady pace that really allows for deep examination of the components at work here. There isn't an over-abundance of double bass just for the sake of having it, which is always a welcome aspect. The only major flaw seems to be the relative straightforward approach that limits a possibility for a great variation in sound. Other than that, I can't recommend this album to fans of old-school DM enough.
Most of the critical reaction I've heard about this album has been along the lines of "good death metal but nothing overly exciting". Maybe it's because the sounds of old school death metal are still fresh to me or maybe there's just some blatant imperfections in this album I'm just not seeing, but I absolutely love this album! If the dank, murky, almost swampy with it's thick, dark quality intro isn't enough to excite then the crunching, piercing riff that starts at the one minute mark, giving way to the amazing "Unleashed (Upon Mankind)", just fulfills that yearning for that old school sound with its own distinct flavour. Crushing drums entering, stabalising its hold on the imagination and we're off with the medium-deep and intense but pronounced growls of Karl Willets (just how I like it). Simply put if you love old school death and haven't picked up this band yet you're in for a treat.
The 10 songs are all written in similar style to an effective template that alters each time but keeps the same basic elements, time changes are kept to the same mid to fast pace and back again formula. This is one of those albums where you think "I'm sure I've heard that riff before about 3 songs back" or "it's about 10 riffs reused through the whole album", while these are slight exaggerations and no the riffs aren't exactly reused over and over, there are many which are very, very similar in either construction and/or sound, but that's never been something that bothers me. The lead guitar work is exciting but short and concise much of the time, however it adds something to the songs that makes it seem like they're not there simply because they're an "attribute of the genre" or they're "supposed to be there", if you understand the feeling. The album is at its best in the first half with the aformentioned "Unleashed (Upon Mankind)" along with "What Dwells Within" (with it's superb "groove" line "Summon the powers that dominate!..."), "The Shreds Of Sanity" and "Profane Creation", though it continues strongly for the majority of its runtime. The only misstep of the songwriting is that it kind of tails off towards the end, by the time we hit "Rebirth Of Humanity" the mixing, matching and playing about with the same structure starts to tire. I'm not as totally into it and interested as when I was during the album's first half, though the more lengthy soloing at the end of "Afterlife" that fades into a reprise of the intro improves a potentially unexciting conclusion. Lyrically we're all war, occultic and "Warhammer"ish on this one (though a revamped Warhammer craze many years back failed to drag me in, so I can only mildly grasp the references), which along with the amazing artwork, both on the cover and inside the booklet pretty much go hand in hand with the music.
This isn't an album I play all the time, more one that gets a spin once every few months or so, not a note to say there's anything average about it, but just how I see it, as an album that is there to last with me for a long time, not one to be played every day for a month and then forgotten as the excitement wears off. I highly recommended it to all fans of death metal.