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Mid-tempo death metal masterwork - 96%

JamesIII, March 22nd, 2010

Truth be told, Bolt Thrower's early career did not impress me that much. Perhaps it was my still novice status as a fan of death metal, or perhaps I had no idea what to expect and what was delivered with the likes of "Realms of Chaos" just didn't set well with me. Since that time, I've latched onto Bolt Thrower and they remain one of my favorite death metal bands ever. Taking a single look at their 1992 opus, "IVth Crusade" is going to exemplify their greatness.

For me, "IVth Crusade" embodies some of the most enjoyable traits death metal has ever taken on. Not many bands within the genre (at least around this time period) were into a mostly consistent mid-tempo approach to playing the style, and in 1992 most bands were becoming more and more technical. Death was branching away from their horror inspired works of their earlier career and moving into the technical masterworks of "Individual Thought Patterns" and "Symbolic." Malevolent Creation released "Retribution" this same year, laying their own cards on the table as far as upgraded songwriting and musicianship went. Bolt Thrower didn't necessarily take this route, which is not to imply that their album is any less amazing, since everything going on here is pure excellence.

The production here is perfect for this time period, especially in the realm of death metal as the style was heard back then. The guitars possess a distinctive punch to them without becoming overbearing, which one could say about all of the instruments here. The drums are kept back and not allowed to overshadow everything else while the vocals are at the forefront of the action but perfectly counterbalanced by the instrumentation. Unfortunately, and as with just about Bolt Thrower release, the bass is there but doesn't stand out very well. They managed to correct this persistent problem on "Those Once Loyal," but here the bass work is hard to pick out of everything else going on here.

As far as songs go, there are a number of war-inspired powerhouses to be found. The opening title track is one of the best in the band's catalog, perfectly bringing out all of the positive elements about this band. With such a powerful opener to kick things off, its only natural that the album would have a hard time following it up. Later songs, however, such as the crunchy "Ritual," or the epics in "Spearhead" and "Celestial Sanctuary" give the title track a good run for its money. The closer in "Through the Ages" is a spoken word track laid over a slow, heavy background that could easily be recognized as doom metal. The closer isn't exactly my favorite track here, but it fits its role to end the album in a suitable manner, especially since the lyrical subject pertains to war - exactly what most Bolt Thrower songs are about.

As good as Bolt Thrower are and have always been, they have yet to outdo this release. "Those Once Loyal" and even "Mercenary" have come close in varying degrees to matching what makes this album so special, but even they can't completely hold a candle to the quality material offered. As someone who is rather hard to win over in the genre of death metal, Bolt Thrower managed to hit every nail perfectly to gain my attention. The fact that there isn't a dull track or even a dull moment to be heard on this entire release only reinforces that statement. From the epic music that bombards the ears to the epic artwork by Delacroix that drives the album's primary lyrical content home, "IVth Crusade" is a release that every death metal fan must hear at some point in their life.