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A reward for loyalty - 85%

autothrall, November 9th, 2009

Bolt Thrower's 8th studio album was a breath of fresh war arriving at the perfect time, as it had been far too long since the band released anything of importance. That isn't to say Mercenary or Honour Valour Pride were necessarily bad albums, but they lacked the impact of a Realm of Chaos or IVth Crusade (still the band's best work in my opinion). For Those Once Loyal, Karl Willets returns to the vocal artillery and the magic is captured yet again, surpassing their last 'good' album, 1994's For Victory.

A subtle symphonic text preludes the furious "At First Light" before the glorious melodies and brutal groove of the verse arrive to stamp you into the fucking dust. "Entrenched" opens with an almost Slayer like nihilistic thrashing, which grows thicker into the verse and the rallying cry of the breakdown. "The Killchain" once again channels that similar, flowing thrash into a brutal, bouncing hook, and a chorus which is simultaneously evil and majestic. "Granite Wall" channels that same sort of groove which dominated Realm of Chaos, and the title track is a slower, somber wartime masterpiece which drags you back into the desolate conflicts of our sorry humanity. "Anti-Tank (Dead Armour)" catches you with Jo Bench's distorted bass blitz and then layers on the hooks. The album saves some of its best tracks for the later hours: the subtle and infectious "Salvo" and the winding battery of instrumental "When Cannons Fade". The bonus track "A Symbol of Eight" is also decent. The lyrics throughout retain their battlefield savvy:

'Stranded in no mans land
Water always tastes the same
Trapped within this shell hole
There is no shelter from the steel rain
Dead men again'

The record is a crusher in terms of its sonic breadth. It retains the band's old school, subtle ability to 'entrench' its listener into the horroscapes of hopeless warfare through its shifting morass of endless, brutal grooving. Yet the band continues along its path of delivering an edge of transcending melody and majesty above the bloodshed (a trend which began some time ago on The IVth Crusade). Truly this is a band in fine form if they can still issue a statement like Those Once Loyal. But until they do so again, at least...we have Hail of Bullets?!