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Crank_It_Up_To_666, February 6th, 2008

A band who inarguably remain Britain’s true premier death metal act, Bolt Thrower remain unsung heroes, with praise for their valiant efforts in the name of deathly warfare tragically lacking amongst modern quarters. A shame, really, but not for Bolt Thrower – rather, for those who will contest that modern death is all about such mediocrity as Beneath The Massacre or such insipid scum as Waking The Cadaver. It’s these fools own laughable losses that they fail to appreciate this – a modern death metal album that plays by unorthodox rules and still manages to hit harder than anything you’ve heard mangled through good ol’ Pro Tools of late.

Bolt Thrower are certainly similar to the brave veterans they display their admiration for – the band have been through one hell of a long haul to get where they are and are fully knowledgeable on the tactics needed to achieve the best result against the inferior foe. That very end result, in case you’re wondering, is one that sees Bolt Thrower’s superiority over the lesser force beyond question.

Opener ‘At First Light’ does not dwell on the bleak, ominous atmosphere established by the intro but instead breaks that grey dawn with a pummelling assault that more than assures the observer of Bolt Thrower’s place of importance in modern metal. A crashing shrapnel hail of double kick drums joins with ferocious riffery, backed up with a pounding bass and all driven forth with a vocal mauling that joyfully lacks in overproduced gloss and revels in it’s raw grit and power, as though razor blades had been mixed in with the rations. The Victoria Cross then, to be awarded to all the valiant troops of the Bolt Thrower division… and this is only the first track.

As with any co-ordinated military strategy, the band is fantastically aware of the dynamics of an (aural) assault, and exploits them superbly. This is an album that does not throw itself headlong into chaotic disorder for the sake of it – rather, Bolt Thrower’s approach is carefully considered, and instead of plunging headlong forwards the band measure their attack against what will achieve the most powerful effect.

The likes of ‘The Killchain’ and title track ‘Those Once Loyal’ are not hyperspeed bursts of guitar noise or overreaching blast beats but slow-burning, groove-based monstrosities that will have heads banging just as they will have toes tapping. Of course, this general lack of relentlessly fast hellfire will undoubtedly put off many who are concerned only with sensory overload, but ultimately you have hear an album that satisfies because the band are highly adept at exploiting the power of the deathly groove, never overdoing anything for extremity’s sake. While this is certainly an album that does stand up to plenty of modern death metal acts in the brutality stakes, it remains one that will satiate deathly appetites of a less conventional yet still bloodthirsty fare.

Bolt Thrower remain a force to be reckoned with.