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I can't think of a Warhammer pun, forgive me - 93%

BastardHead, March 1st, 2013

Okay, two things really quick, you following me?

1) Bolt Thrower is awesome

2) Bolt Thrower is overrated

Still with me? Good. Now, I don't mean "overrated" in quite the same sense as when I use the term in reference to Overkill, because most Bolt Thrower fans will readily admit that Mercenary and Honour Valour Pride are nowhere near the level of quality that the band is capable of and would regularly produce between the years of their inception and 1994. And I don't mean to imply that their good albums aren't as good as people say they are either, absolutely not. I jerk off The IVth Crusade and Realm of Chaos just as much as the next fanboy. When Bolt Thrower is on point, they are on point.

No, what I mean is that I believe the band has two structural flaws, and while they're big enough for me to notice and wish weren't there, aren't enough to really deter my enjoyment of their classic works. Oddly enough, they're the result of two of the more iconic members of the band, Karl Willets and Jo Bench. I mean come on, let's be real here, Willets was never a particularly gifted vocalist. He sounds like somebody's dad making fun of that devil worshipping music you kids listen to. When it comes to music as heavy and crushing as this, I feel it could really benefit from having a vocalist who sounds more like a raging behemoth or an undead bringer of vengeance, and less like the villain from a particularly bad anime dub. Bench's bass also tends to get a ton of kudos, on this album in particular, and I just can't bring myself to agree. Bolt Thrower has always been really bass heavy and I won't deny that it's one of their defining features and also one of the reasons they're so damn good in the first place, but it has more to do with the guitars and how everything coagulates into one sound than it does her bass in particular. Any time it gets a break where we get to hear it solo, I can't help but think that it sounds like an underwater fart. "It sounds like a rumbling tank", yeah that's cool when used metaphorically, not when it literally sounds like a rumbling combustion engine. It's just way too distorted and has very little tone of its own when not complimented by the guitars.

Now, those are both legit complaints that I feel keep this album from being perfect, but those are my only two complaints. Those Once Loyal is the album that killed the band's studio career because they feel like they personally can't top it. I can't help but agree with them. Every single song has at least one instantly classic riff, be it one of their super fast ones like "Entrenched" or "Symbol of Eight" (the second best bonus track of all time), or one of their groovier numbers like "The Killchain" or "Salvo". It's hard to really describe it, but every ounce of praise they earn for their riff writing is 100% deserved. For a death metal band to have not used a blast beat since 1991 is pretty goddamn daring, and indicates that for them to still be monumentally popular and relatively successful (as successful as you can be in that nebulous realm of death metal that sits in between the mainstream like Cannibal Corpse and the underground like Fetus Stench) they need to be pretty damn good at some other aspect of their sound. Fortunately, they really are. Pretty much everything they do here ends up being instantly memorable, from that opening melody to "At First Light" to literally every single time a riff is being driven along by double bass. I'm not even kidding when I say that the verse riff for "At First Light" (the one at 1:27) is my favorite non-trad metal riff of all time. I've been spinning this album for years, and yet I was able to recall almost every track's main riff after the first two runs through. This shit is hooky, and I love that about it. It's the same impossible-to-describe quality that makes None So Vile such a classic. It's brutal and relentless, but betwixt all the dark violence, it's also loaded with melody and hooks and bouncy riffs.

I know it's the most cliche thing in the universe to compare a Bolt Thrower album to something war related, but seriously, they really embodied the whole WWI theme of the album by making it so fucking groovy. What do you think of when you hear WWI? Mustard gas and trenches. How would you musically personify deadly poisonous gas and deadly hidey holes? Suffocatingly heave grooves, that's how. There's very little "flair" here and almost zero technicality. It's the exact opposite of "all style, no substance", and yet while it's very stripped down and basic, it's so incredibly well written and focused that it becomes its own style. They've been reveling in this exclusive style for roughly fifteen years at the time this album came out, and still to this date I've heard almost no bands that sound anything like them.

It's difficult to really go on at length in regards to Those Once Loyal. It's the culmination of everything the band had been working towards up to this point in their career. They've kept this lineup stable, and they've admit to themselves and to their fans that this is their best work and they won't disappoint anybody with a half-assed album, so this will continue to be their last album until they're fully convinced that they've written something better. Frankly, I don't see it happening, this is the best their songwriting ever got. Despite it's basic approach, it's extremely varied in execution. The churning title track contrasts with the blisteringly fast "Last Stand of Humanity", and there are even whiplash inducing tempo changes within the tracks themselves (see: "Entrenched") that work marvelously. The extraordinarily bass heavy mix and signature sound of the band do every possible favor for the songwriting, and it all ends up as this cohesive, well oiled machine. I get tired of hearing Bolt Thrower get jerked off at every possible opportunity, but whenever I listen to them I can't help but find myself parroting the praise. Believe the hype, kids. If you only hear one Bolt Thrower album in your lifetime, make it this one.


Originally written for http://lairofthebastard.blogspot.com/