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The War Never Ends - 97%

HeavenDuff, January 22nd, 2018
Written based on this version: 1989, CD, Earache Records

After going through yet another marathon of Bolt Thrower’s entire catalog, I have decided to go and review all of their full-lengths, writing the reviews in the same order as the albums were released. Starting with In Battle There Is No Law! was an interesting exercise, as it was not the first album that I discovered of the band, nor was it my favorite. The one album that really got me falling in love with Bolt Thrower was this one, Realm of Chaos: Slaves to Darkness. However, to really appreciate what is going on in the second album of Bolt Thrower, one might want to give In Battle There Is No Law! a few spins.

If on In Battle There Is No Law! the very core of Bolt Thrower’s music was still grindcore, the English band was, with Realm of Chaos, slowly starting to move towards a riff-lead brand of death metal. If later in their career the band completely departed from the grindcore genre, at the time of Realm of Chaos and until they released The IVth Crusade, their death metal still had a ton of grindcore influences that could be felt through the songwriting but also in the production and performance.

By the time Bolt Thrower released their second full length, they had switched label, leaving Vinyl Solution, whom didn’t really satisfy the band has it was a more hardcore punk label that didn’t seem to take much interest in the blend of grindcore and death metal that Bolt Thrower were going for. Realm of Chaos marks the beginning of the band’s journey with the label Earache, for whom they eventually became one of the most successful band. If this deal with Earache eventually came back to bite the band in the ass, at first it was very profitable for both parties. With their second record, Bolt Thrower were really able to go all out on the death metal elements, and the end result is absolutely astonishing. Realm of Chaos is not just one of Bolt Thrower’s bests, it is an old-school death metal classic, and still one of the best of the entire genre to this day.

Realm of Chaos: Slaves to Darkness starts with an intro that sets the tone for what is to come. What sounds like industrial noises or war machines preparing to go to the battlefield slowly fades in, and the vocalist Karl Willets speaks these words: “On countless worlds, the earth shakes as the forces of chaos strive to gain control. Whilst they unleash their devastating weaponry upon their foes, there is no time for peace, only eternal war...” and as the background noises slowly fade out, the listener gets thrown into one of the most iconic and badass tracks of the entirety of Bolt Thrower’s discography, Eternal War. The track starts with a well felt growl by Willets over the intro riff. As the riff continues, the vocalist growls these few lines: “Through man's existence, from the start of time, the fight for survival is our only crime. Those in power, rotten to the core. The ongoing battle of the eternal war.” The second riff kicks in, and you know you’re in for an amazing record. Realm of Chaos is only a mere six minutes lengthier then In Battle There Is No Law! However good their first record was, Bolt Thrower’s sophomore record is an even stronger effort then it’s predecessor. Realm of Chaos shows a serious step up in every aspect of the music. Every instrument is one notch above in term of both song-writing and performance. The way the drums have evolved between the two records is very noticeable, but it’s in terms of riffing, yet again, that Bolt Thrower really shows their uniqueness. Realm of Chaos also does a better job in establishing a theme for the whole album. This effort to craft an ambiance of everlasting war goes beyond the music. At the time Bolt Thrower released their second album and very first under Earache Records, they had a partnership going on with Games Workshop, the company behind the creation of the tabletop miniature war game Warhammer 40k that still exists today and produces new miniatures, updates and new versions of their game for fans of the universe of the game. If Games Workshop provided the artwork for Realm of Chaos (and also Warmaster, the third Both Thrower record), the connection between the universes of Warhammer 40k and Bolt Thrower has deeper ties as the English death metal band includes themes from the science-fiction war thorn futuristic universe of Warhammer 40k in their lyrics. For a lot of Bolt Thrower fans, Realm of Chaos and Warmaster’s music really has become a soundtrack to the universe of Warhammer 40k.

Realm of Chaos’ production really complements the music well. As with their first record, the production is still very raw and old-school. This kind of muddy, crispy and dirty kind of production serves the blastbeats, the still very deathgrind riffing and vocals very well. The only instrument that doesn’t really benefit all that much from the production is the bass, which is drowned in the mix a little too much for my personal tastes, even if the music itself doesn’t really suffer from it.

Bolt Thrower’s very fast-paced, aggressive deathgrind riffs eventually disappeared from the band’s sound in what I consider to be their mid-era. But on Realm of Chaos the mid-tempo death metal riffs that really became the trademark of Bolt Thrower’s sound are mixed with these kinds of riffs, and the band jumps from one to the other with finesse, really managing to make these two approaches fit together. Plague Bearer and Drowned in Torment are great examples of this, as both start with mid-tempo death metal riffs to eventually progress towards a fast-paced grindcore style with crazy high-pitched leads and guitar solos.

Realm of Chaos: Slaves to Darkness is the central piece of the deathgrind era Bolt Thrower which consists of the first three records of the band. Realm of Chaos is also, in my opinion, the strongest or maybe tied for strongest with Warmaster which is another phenomenal record. Realm of Chaos is one hell of an album, considered by many to be the best of the band, and regardless of if it is or not, when it came out in 1989 it showed the great potential and skills of a still very young band who seemed to have a bright future ahead of them.