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War Returns - 98%

dystopia4, December 11th, 2013

My issue with this albums predecessor, War Master, harkens back to the old style versus substance debate. With its old school authenticity and overall badassery, its style was not one to be fucked with. While still a worthwhile album (although not mandatory Bolt Thrower listening), its substance couldn't compete with its style - although consistently adequate and even regularly good, the songwriting and riffs were rarely great. Where War Master stumbled, The IVth Crusade conquered with ease. If filtered through the weak-ass production of Honour - Valour - Pride, War Master would be hard pressed to get even a dedicated fan coming back for more. However, if this record was played through that lens, while it would still lose much of its bite, the undeniable quality of the songwriting and riffs would still easily warrant multiple listens. For their fourth coming, Bolt Thrower go whole hog and create an essential death metal album - one with kick-ass riffs, stellar songwriting, a strong brooding atmosphere and potent lead guitar work.

While building off the template created with War Master, probably the biggest departures from that album is the addition of atmosphere and an increasingly slow tempo. No, although this album is heavy on atmosphere, Bolt Thrower have certainly not thrown in a gamut of keyboards and pensive clean guitar parts into the mix - these songs still don't let up in their devastating portrayal of war (which spans both the realms of fantasy and reality). While the downward shift in tempo definitely helps cement the atmosphere, what really gets the job done is the slow-burning, brooding leads. Lingering and evocative, these no doubt do wonders to bolster this album's emotional intensity. This record has a distinct place in the Bolt Thrower discography, introducing an unmistakable doomy tinge to their sound. While much of the band's material tends to be mid-paced, this album frequently features sections much slower than their norm. Despite much of Bolt Thrower's work conjuring up mid-battle mayhem, this offering brings to mind a battle's end. One image frequently running through my mind when listening is an ancient city, set ablaze against the backdrop of the blackness of the night sky.

Although much more than the sum of its individual pieces, central to this album's success is the mastery of all facets of its sound. The riffs, while the band's most simple yet, kick immeasurable amounts of ass. Following the trend set in War Master, there is no shortage of chug-laced grooves. The creeping leads are not at all where the lead guitar work ends; although diminished in quantity, the frenzied solos of previous recordings have not been completely eradicated. The drumming, now relieved of furious blasting (although swift double bass is still plentiful), is more simple than ever. Like the riffs proved, this is not a bad thing for this album. This simpler style wholly fits the sound and the drum's timbre is excellent. Although not at his most vicious, Karl's guttural barks certainly deliver while completely fitting the nature of the songs. The songwriting, much more accessible than what one might expect from death metal, is to the point and wastes no time fucking around.

This is no doubt accessible, which has come to be somewhat of a dirty word in extreme metal. When I was much younger, first getting into underground metal and still hadn't breached the inaccessible walls that most death metal lies behind, I could still easily digest the title track (I still had yet to hear the album in its entirety) and it has never fallen off heavy rotation since. One could easily get into death metal through this album, starting the journey of working up to the more unapproachable material. However, this album is the furthest thing from entry level fluff. Calling any Bolt Thrower album merely gateway material for teens would be all but absurd. This album has heart, there is no denying that. Everything is carefully crafted - from the riffs to the songwriting, from the lyrics to the production. Moreover, accessibility does not automatically equate with a sugary or fluffy sound. While this may be easily digestible, lightweight it is not.

From the trademark leads on the title track to the slow, creeping menace and well thought out narration (detailing notable wars throughout human history) of closing track "Through The Ages", The IVth Crusade is an unmitigated success. Taking no prisoners and emitting a grand total of zeros fucks, Bolt Thrower are at the top of their game. The doomy atmosphere on this album makes it one of the most distinguished in the band's discography. A master of all intricacies of their sound, Bolt Thrower deliver a fully realized and thoroughly awesome slab of war-laden death metal. If not one for getting into bands by chronological release date, this would absolutely be a great place to start with Bolt Thrower's discography.