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A Perpetual State Of War - 100%

televiper11, November 21st, 2014
Written based on this version: 1989, CD, Earache Records

A quarter-century of war scythes a generation's worth of lives. Perpetual conflict and perpetual suffering are the legacy of human activity, sowing bloodshed upon the earth until all life has been thoroughly trampled and extinguished. Music has struggled to come to grips with this reality since our early ancestors first pulled animal skins across a drum head. Across all genres and eras though, only a handful of musicians have ever fully expressed the contrarian (always horrific, often dismal, occasionally heroic) state of warlike human affairs better than Bolt Thrower and no Bolt Thrower album more vividly and vigorously encapsulates the grim onslaught of battle better than Realm Of Chaos (Slaves To Darkness).

Released twenty-five years ago last month, Realm Of Chaos is impressive for how little it has aged. It is a recording that is every bit as extreme now as it was upon release. Nothing sounded like this then and little sounds like it now. Inspired by both real-life war accounts and the sci-fi Warhammer RPG, Bolt Thrower distilled the essence of fantasy and reality, conflating the two into a brutal extrapolation of just how dark human imagination can become. Essentially a concept album, Bolt Thrower's first full foray into death metal and away from crust and grindcore finds the band straddling many musical lines. The music is down-tuned, grimy, and lumbering. The rotten guitar tone swamps and overwhelms you, the bass plods beneath, barely heard but propulsive. The drumming is the engine, running in fits and starts, a bumpy ride over a mountain of skulls. Everything is bloody, sooty, soaked in gore and covered in grime. Cleanliness is death to metal and that is most evidenced by guttural, militaristic cadence of the vocals -- the emphasis on being understood less important than the force of the delivery. This is a record that overwhelms, accentuating your fear while denying your hope. It is heavy in the true sense of being difficult to take in.

Yet despite this unrelenting atmosphere of horror, this complete sensory overload, Bolt Thrower know that you can only drill troops if they believe in the message and Bolt Thrower makes listeners believe. They temper their songs with deep, flesh-ripping hooks, surprisingly catchy riffs and choruses that arise out of the murky bog of their sound. This is a true accomplishment and why so many of us still fly the flag for Bolt Thrower. There are so many hits on this record that it almost isn't worth counting. Every track flays and each brings a new wrinkle, a new nuance to a style that seems simple at first but resonates on a deeper level with each listen. There are hints of grind, crust, and doom bubbling in the mix. There's crazy blasting and slow grooves. There's wild atonal soloing, sometimes just melodic enough to give you a sense of a soldier's valor (just before being shot down). There is death metal like there has never really been death metal before or since, in that what Bolt Thrower created here was simply unique, forged from their own independent vision, with little-to-no thrash influence (one of the few 80's death metal recordings with no through-line back to Slayer). It is at once utterly compelling, utterly magnificent, a masterpiece of the kind that only comes around once every generation -- should that generation survive long enough to create it.