Bolt Thrower

Grindcore emerging from the second wave of the British scene incorporating metal war imagery into structural, industrial grind.
flag of the United Kingdom Bolt Thrower - In Battle There is No Law (1988)
Bolt Thrower - Realm of Chaos (1989)
Bolt Thrower - The Peel Sessions 1988-1990 (1991)
Bolt Thrower - Warmaster (1991)
Bolt Thrower - The IVth Crusade (1992)
Bolt Thrower - ...For Victory (1994)
Bolt Thrower - Mercenary (1998)
Bolt Thrower - Who Dares Wins (1999)
Bolt Thrower - Honour Valour Pride (2001)
Bolt Thrower - Those Once Loyal (2005)
In Battle There is No Law
Vinyl Solution

Production: Low compression and muddy sound give this a roomy, obscure aesthetic.

Review: Metal and punk like a double helix converge every other generation and every other meeting shapes a viable hybrid, and Bolt Thrower grafts into one of these, grindcore, by making heavy metal songs using punk chord progressions, technique and blocky, guileless direct delivery. The resulting messy onslaught uncovers its heavy metal roots in the ordering of its songs, yet signals a clear punk heritage in how it renders classic heavy metal riffs in a crustcore/hardcore style of mostly chromatic intervals in rigidly symmetrical rhythms.

Starting with several tracks heavy on finger-wiggling, noodly lead guitar, In Battle There is No Law surges into existence with a sound that takes a Slayer approach to speed, invents a riffing style like G.B.H. meeting Possessed, and breaks up its songs with dramatic elements in the style of older grandiose heavy metal. Unlike most grindcore, which takes a literal-minded and individualistic view, Bolt Thrower borrows from the heavy metal appreciation of the epic and ridden with mortal conflict, requiring a vaster presence than short choppy songs complaining about modernity. This need spurs them to expand songs and shift between faster, motivational tempi and dragging slower ones for the contrast needed to maintain such a worldview.

1. In Battle There Is No Law (5:01)
2. Challenge for Power (3:34) mp3 sample
3. Forgotten Existence (3:44)
4. Denial of Destiny (2:30) mp3 sample
5. Blind to Defeat (2:20)
6. Concession of Pain (2:57)
7. Attack in the Aftermath (3:11)
8. Psychological Warfare (3:31) mp3 sample
9. Nuclear Annihilation (3:29)
Length: 30:17

Bolt Thrower - In Battle There is No Law: Grindcore 1988 Vinyl Solution
Copyright © 1988 Vinyl Solution

Beyond Slayer, a heavy Sepultura influence permeates this early album, but many past greats contribute their own suggestions, from the Pestilence-like pacing of riffs to pre-choruses that sound suspiciously like an Angel Witch or Iron Maiden gambit. Preferring a default speed of a moderate fast tempo. Many riffs, like those of Repulsion, use a chord or two with a lightspeed melodic fill of single notes, creating a resurgent cyclic rhythm like the circular motion of the legs of a galloping horse.

The hybrid works for Bolt Thrower because they escape the one-dimensionality of most grindcore at the same time they escape the rock conventions of most metal, letting them create a sound with the musical nihilism of punk but the theatrical artistry of metal, pushing both genres past their comfort zones. While the band did not flower on this early and less-practiced offering, watching them assemble a brand new type of grindcore -- and an enduring voice -- makes this album worth owning on an intellectual level. The ripping, high-intensity songs and ludicrously exuberant guitar work make it a keeper for listening.

Realm of Chaos

Production: Full, slightly murky sound.

Review: With this album, Bolt Thrower initiated a pattern which endures throughout their catalog of finding a new style and then growing into it over a two-album spread. On Realm of Chaos, the riffing gets tighter and the heavy metal influences recede to give us a stripped down type of grindcore that aspires to the architectural riffing of death metal, giving it a grandeur and musical depth that outpaced other bands in the genre and caused many to start claiming Bolt Thrower was not grindcore.

Yet, in the words of noted metal critic and DJ Aditya Sharma, "All [Bolt Thrower] ever do is grind," and this album grinds onward with abrasive riffs that set two rhythms to convergent opposite tonal directions and let them grind against each other, finally culminating the song like a NWOBHM ballad with a moment of reconciliation and then a restatement of themes before conclusion. With more instrumental practice, the band are able to shape their riffs into rigid cadenced forms that collide in precise and sparse ways, giving the music greater inertia.

1. Intro (1:17)
2. Eternal War (2:07) mp3 sample
3. Through The Eye Of Terror (4:22)
4. Dark Millenium (2:58)
5. All That Remains (4:38)
6. Lost Souls Domain (4:13) mp3 sample
7. Plague Bearer (2:54)
8. World Eater (4:54)
9. Drowned In Torment (3:04)
10. Realm Of Chaos (2:49)
11. Prophet Of Hatred (3:52) mp3 sample
12. Outro (:59)
Length: 38:07

Bolt Thrower - Realm of Chaos: Grindcore 1989 Earache
Copyright © 1989 Earache

Spanning the gamut of underground metal styles, this album includes as much Slayer-influenced riff forms as it does punk and fellow grindcore influences; for example, "Lost Souls Domain" shares a riff with Terrorizer's "Fear of Napalm." That is not to say it is in any way derivative, because the patterns created here live on in altered form throughout much of death metal and grindcore, and we start to see the Bolt Thrower song pattern of two-chord grinding riffs highlighted with longer, often single-note-picked melodic lead riffs which add an atmospheric context to the raw fomenting id thrust forth by the simpler riffing.

Where the chaotic In Battle There is No Law laid out the ingredients, the second Bolt Thrower album defines a clear fusion and creates a framework onto which the band built the rest of their career, with the remaining major evolution left to go occurring within that archetype. While the first album is appealing for its youthful energy, and later albums are refined and clear, the raw impulse of dissident music plus an epic view of history emerges in an appealing form on Realm of Chaos and explains why this album remains a favorite two decades on.

Bolt Thrower - The Peel Sessions 1988-1990: Grindcore 1991 Earache

1. Forgotten Existence (3:58)
2. Attack In The Aftermath (3:30) mp3 sample
3. Psychological Warfare (3:27)
4. In Battle There Is No Law (4:13)
5. Drowned In Torment (3:09)
6. Eternal War (2:29)
7. Realm Of Chaos (3:03)
8. Domination (2:44)
9. Destructive Infinity (4:17) mp3 sample
10. War Master (4:32)
11. Afterlife (4:35) mp3 sample
12. Lost Souls Domain (3:58)
Length: 43:55

The Peel Sessions 1988-1990 (Earache, 1991)
Early Bolt Thrower reveals more of its origins in 1980s music, namely a sound like the collision between early Nuclear Assault, Amebix and Slayer. Given that those bands represented the most outside music to continue using its brain, it was not a bad choice, and over the course of these 11 tracks Bolt Thrower hammer it into place as more than a rotation of influences, but the origins of a style that would eventually (on 1989's Warmaster) anneal into a smoothly integrated artistic voice. These tracks from the first three albums, mostly the first, show a more streamlined and less chaotic version of the sound transitioning from the first to second albums, and bestow insight like any live appearance of a band does, revealing both more efficiency and a greater rhythmic flexibility, but ultimately do not differ significantly from the album versions.


Production: Good room sound with full bass and gracefully muted highs.

Review: Developing linearly in the style of the previous album, Warmaster infuses melodic development into the relentless grind and steps back from full-on speed to give songs more breathing room, and a sense of pauses between assaults, replenishing the epic heavy metal tendencies to which Bolt Thrower have adapted their deconstructive sound, giving this album the feeling of retrospection over a long day of challenges and appreciation of their meaning.

Audibly moving into the more "epic" realm which their subject matter, and metal-ish tendency of stacking grinding riffs up against melodic lead riffs to create both atmosphere and a subconscious forward thrust, Bolt Thrower nonetheless capture what is good about all underground music: having lost the convenient harmonic centering and verse/chorus format of rock music, underground metal and grindcore songs structure themselves architectonically, meaning that all parts justify each other and complement each other, which transcends linearity and emphasizes isomorphism and phrasal dialogue.

1. Intro...Unleashed (Upon Mankind) (6:13)
2. What Dwells Within (4:18) mp3 sample
3. The Shreds of Sanity (3:26)
4. Profane Creation (5:33) mp3 sample
5. Destructive Infinity (3:56)
6. Final Revelation (4:03)
7. Cenotaph (4:17) mp3 sample
8. War Master (4:01)
9. Rebirth of Humanity (5:06)
Length: 40:53

Bolt Thrower - Warmaster: Grindcore 1991 Earache
Copyright © 1991 Earache

This creates a wonderful maze effect where just when the listener is feeling comfortable with a pair of riffs supporting each other, a third drops into the mix and creates another option, which is then invoked later by yet another and helps conclude the song. This style of writing gives depth to the music, and Bolt Thrower pursue it with an uncanny ability to shape their riffs around subconscious forms in an almost Jungian sense, evoking shadowy figures from dreams and fantasies as if they were characters in theatre.

While a melodic underpinning thrives in these songs, it is subtler than the work to come and more architected than the earlier output of this band, showing a maturation process in which the music gains intensity and is not simplified to be an artifact of its audience as happens to most bands at about this point in its career. Grinding and then releasing that confined energy into melodic fills, Bolt Thrower layer new depth onto their style -- and for the listener, open worlds to explore.

The IVth Crusade

Production: A more compressed, digital distortion and roomless sound.

Review: As a band grows, its members find new ground to explore and if they have a strong vision, do not get sidetracked into exploring technique for its own sake but instead adapt that technique to the original but now expanded mission of the band, which is what Bolt Thrower did with The IVth Crusade: they applied Iron Maiden-style melodic riffing to their grinding works, notably in the melodic lead riffing fills that follow grinding rhythm riffs set in opposition to produce a sense of movement sliding out from under abrasion.

With The IVth Crusade, Bolt Thrower move out of their first mature stage and into a second which is marked by not only the more obvious melodic song construction but a more explicit statement of epic conflict in themes and imagery, with more song structure experimentation to match. Compared to the album to follow, this work is more diverse in varied structures but per the nature of experimentation, loses some degree of intensity as complexity causes song narrative to veer away from its most recognizable themes.

1. The IVth Crusade (4:58)
2. Icon (4:10) mp3 sample
3. Embers (5:17)
4. Where Next to Conquer (3:49) mp3 sample
5. As the World Burns (5:25)
6. This Time It's War (5:50)
7. Ritual (4:29)
8. Spearhead (6:46)
9. Celestial Sanctuary (4:37) mp3 sample
10. Dying Creed (4:17)
11. Through the Ages (Outro) (3:44)
Length: 53:22

Bolt Thrower - The IVth Crusade: Grindcore 1992 Earache
Copyright © 1992 Earache

In the construction of spacious and definitive song structures, the use of resonant melody opposing chromatic rhythm riffing, and the attempt to shape the album around a concept where songs get more abstract until it concludes in the dirge "Through the Ages" in which melodic doom riffs underscore a reverberating chant of English warfare from ancient to modern times, this album reveals not only the influence of the Swedish death metal that formed death metal's cutting edge at the time, but an effort to grow into both style and artistic substance.

Although this album is not as finished as ...For Victory, it retains the rough and somewhat irregular approach that imbues Warmaster with dense layers of personality, and in its internal struggle for clarity finds a moving vision of what it is to grapple with these issues, as if in a parallel to young warriors attempting to locate the meaning that enables transition to adulthood and the sacrifice that entails. For these reasons, this album remains a perpetual favorite among those who find a harmony of meaning in the art of Bolt Thrower.

...For Victory

Production: Reasonably clear, bass intense, and reverberating as if acoustically roomed.

Review: Bolt Thrower hurled forth for their first effort a potent speed grind album, In Battle There Is No Law, and then another fast, grinding album Realm of Chaos, but in the two albums after it, Warmaster and IVth Crusade, edged toward making an album of songs which were powerful in isolation but too much alike to be heard as an album; earlier release felt this tension as well, but to lesser extremes.

...For Victory not only overcomes this problem but ups the ante and creates a unique extension of style as well as epic songs with amazing prophetic lyrics. The grind is structured, melodic even, but the ragged vigorous sawbone of Bolt Thrower riffs is flamboyant in the reductive abrasion that plays off its own dark melodic sense to remind us of context and then brutalize the listener again. Resounding explosivity of fundamental differences in tone and rhythm hangs suspended in the atmosphere as a smoothly oiled machine slides a frame of reference from underneath it, and motion begins from within to counteract.

1. War (instrumental) (1:16)
2. Remembrance (3:42)
3. When Glory Beckons ( 3:59) mp3 sample
4. ...For Victory (4:50)
5. Graven Image (3:59)
6. Lest We Forget (4:37)
7. A Silent Demise (3:54) mp3 sample
8. Forever Fallen (3:47)
9. Tank (MK I) (4:15)
10. Armageddon Bound (5:13) mp3 sample
Length: 39:32

Bolt Thrower - For Victory 1994 Earache
Copyright © 1994 Earache

This album treats war as a metaphor for modern life, and writes about modern conflict brilliantly; as an artistic document from the metal/grind camp, it has few peers to match its ambition in defining concept and sound as synchronized with the sonic demands of the genre. As is rational for the course of pure grinding ancestry, jarring expectancy riffs and percussive slams alternate in animal motion to generate the precariously balanced ecosystem required to generate melodies which transcend motion for pure shape and in that, a symbolic communication of desire with perhaps behind it emotion.

Overlays and melodic forays extend blunt phrasings and overall structure to songs is more contrapuntal than repetitive, leading from relatively sedate phrases to low-hung dirge riffs and then culminating in charging grind, forming a song from first echoing patterns in different places and then bringing those places and their formative tensions together in a unison of dischord. Lyrics are discernible from hearing the vocals, although singing is in the same hoarse battlevoice that called out over the music of earlier albums: heavy and dark, foreboding and apocalyptic. Of note are the title track and Armageddon Bound.

Bolt Thrower - Mercenary: Grindcore 1998 Metal Blade

1. Zeroed (5:46) mp3 sample
2. Laid To Waste (4:40)
3. Return From Chaos (5:04)
4. Mercenary (5:54) mp3 sample
5. To The Last (5:24)
6. Powder Burns (4:46)
7. Behind Enemy Lines (5:18) mp3 sample
8. No Guts, No Glory (4:07)
9. Sixth Chapter (5:41)
Length: 46:40

Mercenary (Metal Blade, 1998)
What do musicians do when their vital impulse to conquer has gone inward, and instead of artistic conquest, they would like to make for themselves a captive audience and take home the bucks? It's like avoiding death to have such a lack of tension between what one attempts and the result. Like owning an investment, calling over a subordinate, or having drug addicts for friends while you have an endless supply of drug, it's a sure thing just like that girl in high school whose whole family abused her. Offer a little kindness, an easy answer and an excuse for not challenging the dominant convenience, and you've got a whole captive audience of empty nodding heads who are thankful for a good reason to do nothing but what they were already doing, albeit in a new and fascinating setting. It's why bad literature, and bad metal, each have a shtick, and Bolt Thrower have found theirs in songs about 20th century warfare, carefully using winding melodic riffs to offset and complement two-chord grinding, and restating themes that worked for them in the past -- similar in approach to how Vader, Slayer and Immortal all vamp their older work but in a pre-chewed, distilled and safe form. Mercenary has less of the outrageously bouncy beats that other nu-Bolt Thrower features, but it's just as simpleminded. Those who make great music give it multiple dimensions and have it explain its own reason for existing, but this has one dimension and lets you assume correctly that its mission is to provide background noise

Bolt Thrower - Who Dares Wins: Grindcore 1999 Earache

Cenotaph EP (1992)
1. Cenotaph (4:04)
2. Destructive Infinity (4:13) mp3 sample
3. Prophet of Hatred (3:52)
4. Realm of Chaos (live) (2:45) mp3 sample
Spearhead EP (1992)
5. Spearhead (extended remix) (8:42)
6. Crown of Life (5:29) mp3 sample
7. Dying Creed (4:17)
8. Lament (5:36)
Rareache Compilation (1994)
9. World Eater '94 (6:08)
10. Overlord (4:29) mp3 sample
Length: 49:35

Who Dares Wins (Earache, 1999)
This compilation collects two EPs, made after Realm of Chaos and The IVth Crusade respectively, as well as two tracks from the Earache Records vaults later include on the Rareache compilation. Two songs on the Spearhead EP appear nowhere else, but the earlier Cenotaph EP was two songs each from Realm of Chaos and War Master. The result is about as one might expect, with four tracks sounding like messier middle period Bolt Thrower, four that sound transitional between their two melodic grindcore albums, and then two with phenominally abrasive production that sound like their earliest material if played during the more proficient later days of the band. On "Overlord," you can hear the melodic heavy metal sound Bolt Thrower adopted a few years later as their standard, which since melodic heavy metal has been around since the 1970s and grindcore since the 1980s, was probably a regression under the guise of "progression." For Bolt Thrower collectors, this compilation provides an insight into the past, but for casual listening it presents tracks out of context from times when the band were enwrapping more place and atmosphere into their songs, and so it is sorely missed.

Bolt Thrower - Honour Valour Pride: Grindcore 2001 Metal Blade

1. Contact - Wait Out (5:58)
2. Inside the Wire (4:23) mp3 sample
3. Honour (5:21)
4. Suspect Hostile (4:46)
5. 7th Offensive (6:25)
6. Valour (4:02) mp3 sample
7. K-Machine (4:35)
8. A Hollow Truce (3:19)
9. Pride (6:42)
10. Covert Ascension (4:50) mp3 sample
Length: 50:20

Honour Valour Pride (Metal Blade, 2001)
While we may have called this band Bolt Thrower in the 1990s, they should probably be renamed Bolt Adjuster because that's the spirit of this album. Don't push your luck, and make that distillate of different elements centered around easy listening that is universal to all music no matter what its origin because the lowest common denominator is not a direction, but a lack of direction and a reversion into the self and what is comfortably unchallenging and therefore convenient background noise. These songs mix up old Bolt Thrower riffs, stock-standard heavy metal riffs, cliches from atmospheric rock and lots of repetition. Gone are the interesting song structures; here now is the stadium rock Bolt Thrower. While that's marginally worse than going indie metal, it's about the same since both are panderers to the dumb solipsist in all of us, and as a result, this music is both unmemorable and evokes a queasy fear that life is passing by while this soundtrack to wasted consciousness flogs on, making someone a retirement fund but boring old fans and convincing the new this band never had any more vitality than the average CD-R bedroom black metal/disco hybrid.

Bolt Thrower - Those Once Loyal: Grindcore 2005 Metal Blade

1. At First Light (4:38)
2. Entrenched (3:41)
3. The Killchain (4:41) mp3 sample
4. Granite Wall (4:03)
5. Those Once Loyal (4:14)
6. Anti-Tank (Dead Armour) (4:15) mp3 sample
7. Last Stand Of Humanity (3:10)
8. Salvo (5:19)
9. When Cannons Fade (5:28) mp3 sample
Length: 39:28

Those Once Loyal (Metal Blade, 2005)
Bolt Thrower you can dance to is not good Bolt Thrower. While musical strides, such as more interesting harmonization and better use of the melodic minor scale, occur on this album they come at the price of more plasticine songwriting that is both simpler and hook-dependent, making a CD that sounds like AC/DC covering Bolt Thrower with advice from newer Napalm Death. It's a grindcore product, in other words. There are some tasty riffs, good use of melodic bass, and production is strong yet obscure like ancient bronze keeps inscriptions under a patina of green corrosion, but these songs are simple-minded and so lack the ability for enduring listens that earlier Bolt Thrower bore down on us. The enigma is gone; the depth is gone; what's here is technique and standard rock-style metal songs, with plenty of offbeat and melodic doubleback to really catch your ear. Good music has nuance and character that serves a personality of what it expresses, while bad music is linear and simple and has a personality designed to be like a paid friend, one who never objects to what you're doing and fits in any situation. Naturally, such panderers never make the decision you need to make to avoid disaster, and by their inherent politeness, are dishonest. This album will offend no one and equally, will gratify no discerning listener.


Bolt Thrower formed at a punk gig in a Coventry pub in 1986, following a conversation between friends, guitarist Barry (Baz) Thomson and bassist Gavin Ward. Inspired at that time by bands such as Sacrilege, Discharge, Candlemass and Slayer, the two decided to form a band that was heavy, aggressive, but more importantly, original. They were soon joined by Alan West, a friend of Baz's, who took the role of vocalist/lyricist. Andy Whale was suggested as a drummer by a mutual friend, and when he met up with the rest of the band to try out, he found he had similar musical tastes, and joined immediately.

The four-piece went on to write a number of songs and eventually recorded two demos In Battle... and Concession of Pain, the latter being sent to the much-respected British radio DJ John Peel. During this time Gavin Ward decided to switch to guitar and local bassist Alex Tweedy was the temporary replacement. When Alex left one or two gigs later, they agreed to let Jo Bench try out. She proved she was the right person for the job, and in September 1987 the new 5-piece line-up was complete. A few gigs later and the call came saying John Peel liked the demo and wanted to offer the band a radio session.

Bolt Thrower recorded 4 songs for their first BBC Radio One "Peel Session" in January 1988. After the transmission was aired on national radio, underground record label Vinyl Solution contacted the band and offered them a recording contract; the band agreed to a one-album deal. Alan West decided that the band was getting a bit too serious for him and was replaced by Karl Willetts, who was the band's backline driver and a longtime friend of Andy's. With this line-up Bolt Thrower went on to record their first album In Battle There Is No Law recorded at Loco Studios in Wales; unfortunately, it was mixed without the band's knowledge and released in the summer of 1988.

After constant gigging around the UK, Bolt Thrower grew in popularity and Earache Records, at that time the biggest independent label for extreme music, contacted the band who quickly signed with them. At the same time Games Workshop -- a fantasy wargaming company -- whose boss had heard the Peel Session when it was aired and was impressed enough to be interested in a collaboration with the band, also contacted the band. Incorporating both new label and wargaming, the second studio album Realm of Chaos was released on Earache Records in 1989, and featured cover and booklet artwork from the artists at Games Workshop.

The band were gaining a much wider audience, but as they didn't forget their roots, were proud to be given the opportunity to record two more Peel Sessions (which were later released as an album). In addition, during 1989 the band took part in the legendary GrindCrusher tour of the UK with Carcass, Napalm Death and Morbid Angel. This seminal event proved the band's reputation as being one of the most powerful live acts around. On the back of the success of the UK tour, they made their first tour of Europe in 1990 with Autopsy and Pestilence -- where they met Martin Van Drunen and their current tour manager Graham.

At the start of 1991 Bolt Thrower headed back to the studio. They recorded Warmaster at Slaughterhouse Studios, Driffield with Colin Richardson producing, and thanks to the clever scheduling skills of Earache it was released in the middle of their tour of Europe! The band also went on to make their first visit to the US this year and the Bolt Thrower name spread worldwide.

The following year, the band recorded The IVth Crusade at Sawmills Studios in Cornwall. The new album showed the band continuing their trademark style but adding musical erudition and scope rare among underground bands at the time. The band broke from their usual fantasy artwork and instead used a classical painting by Eugene Delacroix (1798-1883). The band promoted the album extensively with their World Crusade tour, which took them again around Europe (with Benediction and Asphyx) and in 1993, to Australia.

The recording of ...For Victory in 1994 (at Sawmills, again) was immediately followed by the bands second tour of the U.S. This unfortunately saw the departure of drummer Andy Whale and vocalist Karl Willetts, who decided they didn't want to continue in the band. The rest of the band decided to carry on, and the album was released later in the year, and Whale and Willetts were subsequently replaced with drummer Martin Kearns and Martin Van Drunen on vocals. With this ended the classic period of Bolt Thrower, who then saw the departure of van Drunen, a change of label from Earache to Metal Blade, and a series of albums designed more for the commercial heavy metal market than the underground grindcore one. The band continues at the time of this writing (2009).

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