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There Was Simply Nowhere Else to Conquer… - 100%

bayern, April 13th, 2019

The band’s first two instalments passed me by somehow; they couldn’t quite impress me as my tastes for music were lying elsewhere. Then I came across the “Cenotaph” (from “Warmaster”) video a few years later which blew me away big time, prompting me to take all the guys’ (and a girl) three albums at the time from a friend, and give them a profound perusal. It was the “Warmaster” that hooked me the most as I thoroughly savoured this battle-like, tankist’s approach to song-writing, the officiant steam-rolling march often intercepted by fast aggressive surges. Yes, the band had overcome their primal grind/hardcore-prone beginnings and were assuredly going towards forging their unique staple sound.

I had no idea that the album reviewed here had come out on a cold rainy October afternoon when I visited the house of that same friend from whom I got Bolt Thrower’s first three efforts. He proudly played it for me, but it was merely a minute into it when I was completely sold to the band’s cause. This is one of the very few albums that left me totally smitten, literally, from the very first listen, and made me question how tangibly real they were, especially this unearthly opening riff of the title-track which still makes my hair stand on end every time I hear it… it touches this special part of my brain that helps me connect with the Source of all things effortlessly, and makes me instantly manifest whatever thought enters my mind at that moment…

kidding here (not exactly) but the naked truth is that if I ever have to pick five albums which I would be allowed to take on a desert planet in a galaxy far far away, going there on an indefinite exile, this would be one of my very first choices. Before this opus death metal for me was just Death’s “Spiritual Healing” and “Leprosy”, and Pestilence’s “Consuming Impulse” and “Testimony of the Ancients”; I had Obituary’s first two as well, but had only given them a couple of very perfunctory listens. However, this “crusade” here opened wide a valve in my mind which made me appreciate this genre in all its brutal glory, and become its most faithful advocate.

As much as I liked “Warmaster”, I couldn’t help but also appreciate the dark cavernous vibe that the preceding opus “Realm of Chaos” emitted in spades; if there had to be a perfect death metal album it had to provide a combination of said vibe and the more dynamic character of “Warmaster” minus the latter’s insistent blast-beating passages… and boom, such an opus materializes before our eyes/ears in all its intimidating, earth-shattering grandeur. This is a tank no more no less, an ultra-heavy tank ready for battle against several armies at once, equipped from all sides, armed for victory to the brim with the most indispensable ammunition, atmosphere and melody leading the pack, the most perfect “marriage” ever between the two witnessed here. Bolt Thrower gave death metal a thick atmospheric clout here, one that the genre has been wearing proud on its shoulders ever since, and one that may as well outlive all strives for hyper-technicality and debatable diversification campaigns that have been stirring in its backyard since time immemorial.

Haunting melodic magic spells await you at every corner, from the mentioned gorgeous introduction to the great main motif on “Where Next to Conquer” which will stick in your memory more easily than the one from Judas Priest’s “Breaking the Law” even; to the hyper-active rhythms on “This Time It's War”; to the speedy urgent melo-spirals of “Celestial Sanctuary”… it’s all one incomparable mosaic that pricks your consciousness every few seconds with new, not necessarily encountered in the same form nuances, also reminding you that it’s still death metal land where you’re residing with the more aggressive configurations on “Icon” and “Embers”, the latter the unofficial sequel to “Cenotaph”, both cuts rushing to keep the headbangers lined-up from here to the next battle.

The atmosphere largely gets instilled with the slower doom-laden layouts which give the album a fairly unique individualistic flair, the one that stomps its way in a more authoritative, more officiant manner either in the form of needful respites (“As The World Burns”) from the mid/up-tempo freighter, or as sorrowful second half closures (“This Time It's War”) this last one throwing half the doom metal fraternity into eternal oblivion with its elegiac, impossibly sombre presentation; not to mention the definitive doom metal hymn that is the closing recital “Through the Ages”, a funeral march-like epitaph sinking the last ship standing opposite it in a sea full of debris and battered human bodies, Karl Willet’s morose declamatory baritone soaring woefully over the bloodied fields…

majestic, truly majestic stuff, arguably the finest example of the music on display matching the lyrical content on the metal circuit; a military-prone lyrical stance the band have chosen from the very beginning and never betrayed it till the end, the opus here the absolute climax of their endeavours both music and lyric-wise, a consummate work that stands as one of the milestones of death metal art, the atmospheric antidote to the infernal intricacy and complexity with which the field started filling in the early/mid-90’s. It’s interesting to note that such heavy interpretations never became very common phenomena on the scene; in fact, if we exclude the Bolt Thrower repertoire there’s hardly a handful of acts who chose the same steam-rolling, war-like approach to the genre; the Dutch school (Asphyx, Beyond Belief) gave it a try, but were not consistently treading the same dark pessimistic path, and it wasn’t until the emergence of another Dutch cohort, Hail of Bullets, and the Swedes Facebreaker in the new millennium that the Bolt Thrower influence was more fully epitomized although these outfits’ presence is still not enough to turn the contemporary scene into one perennial battlefield…

what it takes is one more tank, one more steelclad “beast” made of British steel to be added to the modern carnival; one produced by Karl Willets and Co. with the same vision and unflinching military determination that were the base for their magnum opus, the ultimate “crusader”. On the other hand, if you think of it, has there been anything else left to conquer after it; here, there and elsewhere? I don’t think so…