Bolt Thrower: Realm of chaos
28/02/12 || Habakuk
More old school shit! And, more importantly: more Bolt Thrower! These guys used to be my favorite band for a long, long time. They probably still are somewhat, but I’ve kind of dumped the concept of having a favorite band, so no dice. Yeah, this album is absolutely nothing new. Even the band themselves have moved away from their early sound whose grind notion culminated on here. Only a re-written version of “World Eater” as well as its everpresent 6-00000000000-6-000000000 recycle riff (wow, I still know tablature!) have survived through the ages. The rest has been abandoned without hope of being revived. Well, almost. There is this one band which kind of capture the sound of “Realm of Chaos”, but as a whole, this dark, early crust- and grind-infused slab of death metal probably won’t be reached again.
How old this is also shows in the weird collaboration of one of the most cashgrabbing, fan-alienating companies the nerd world has ever experienced (Games Workshop with their Warhammer franchises), teaming up with a band known for the exact opposite of these traits. Quite frankly, things were a bit different in 1989, and both parties still could find common ground simply in both occupying themselves with “underground” pastimes. And speaking of underground, let’s dive right into the filth.
Yes, there are definitely influences of early grindcore, but Bolt Thrower never were a grind band. If you’ve read that somewhere, it was wrong. They may have had blast beats on their first three records, but the songs were a lot more varied and, dare I say, thought-out, which of course reflects in a song playing time of a more conventional two to five minutes. There are a lot of songs that have been composed climatically, with blast beats serving as a point of culmination instead of the general basis for songwriting. A great example for this is the awesome “Lost soulds domain” which builds up, releases a bit of tension and builds up again, only to reach its grand blast finale with a change of keys and an appropriately desperate vocal delivery. Tempos in general reach from a slow crawl to pounding grooves to faster than healthy passages – and the great integration of all of this into one engaging mixture is what elevates songwriting score to an 8.
This is what the band themselves say on their homepage: “Recorded at Loco Studios, Wales in April 1989. Engineered and badly mixed by Tim Lewis. Re-mixed at Slaughterhouse, UK in July ’89 by Colin Richardson.” – and yeah, it sounds like that a bit – the “wall of sound” concept suffers a little from the lead guitars and thin drumming sounding a little tacked on, and bass getting lost in the mix completely. The good balancing of the vocals and thick wool string guitar sound make up for it somewhat, but the flaws remain. 6
Crushing, deep and heavy beyond any kind of rationality, when crawling their way into a song, the two guitars have an almost sludgy quality to them at times (“Through the Eye of Terror”). Axemen Thompson and Ward manage well to transport a gritty, dirty feel throughout the album, albeit not succumbing to simply playing like shit. No, there are tightly played, great riffs wherever you look – it’s just not a riff-centered album, but more of a “greater than the sum of its parts” affair. And one of these parts are the skillfully executed guitars. Oh, but I have to mention this hideous solo on “All that remains”. I can’t describe that abomination, but rest assured it’s probably the worst thing ever done to a lead guitar track. Probably was part of the demented Chaos theme, but it’s still not too easy on the ears. Still: 9
Karl Willets could do no wrong in Bolt Thrower and as always, he fits them like a glove on “Realm of Chaos”. He isn’t as well-pronounced as on later recordings, partly owed to the blast-heavy tempo, but he always remains somewhat decipherable with his great, evil, raspy growl. Kind of sounds like a deeper, more guttural Brett Hoffmann to me. Though the bands are often dumped into a lot, one thing that sets Bolt Thrower miles away from their peers in Napalm Death or Carcass is Karl Willets, who actually knew how to sing. 10
I would have loved to see those bass strings wobble around in this tuning. At least there would’ve been something to watch, because hearing it in this mess is practically impossible, sorry. 3
Andrew Whale had always been the weakest link in the band, that is no secret. A drummer with a punk background, he only picked up playing double bass drumming when starting to play for Bolt Thrower, and it took him a few albums to get around the whole thing, it seems. Curiously enough though, his sloppiness spices up the early albums including “Realm of chaos” as it adds a lot of energy, similar (though nowhere near as good) to the crazy performance Mick Harris propelled Napalm Death with. Technicalities aside, Whale’s playing serves the band’s sound and gives a lot of unique character to the album. So I’ll still go for a 7.
You stand alone
The final parody
As you realise your mortality
For you cannot change your destiny
To die at the hands of the unknown enemy
Your death you can’t deter
As the silence returns
Bolt Thrower never lost their affinity towards the Warhammer imagery and topics (war?) after this album, but here they actually had the official license to use and abuse them at their will. Still, while there are a few notional nods (“World Eater”, “Plague Bearer”, “the Eye of Terror”), except for the intro, the lyrics are far from mere recitals. It’s clear to see though that the close lyrical connection to the dark, twisted, rotten, inhuman, fascistoid universe of neverending, senseless war envisioned by Games Workshop for their 40k series started here. And it actually survived (inofficially) a lot longer than the musical direction. 9
Of course, we’re talking about the original version with the genuine Games Workshop artwork, not the rip-off Earache re-release that supposedly doesn’t involve the band getting paid. It’s a lot campier anyway, involving a company of Crimson Fists (look at me, I remember this shit!) in 2nd edition Corvus Armor (!!!!!) ripping shit up. It hasn’t aged well, though one might say the general motif hasn’t changed much. However, the fact alone that this is taken straight of the first Warhammer 40.000 rulebooks gives this an infinite nerd bonus that our insufficient scale can only reflect by a mere 10.
Ouch! The general logo is ace, but that color choice is a crime against humanity. Also, absolutely not how I’d envision the “grim darkness of the 41st millennium”. Then again, I’m not a graphic designer. 5
A few Games Workshop artwork drawings are strewn throughout the booklet, which of course feature your standard fare of lyrics, picture and thank yous. Enjoy those artworks or not, at least this was conceptualized and executed as a complete package, and I like that. I don’t know about the re-release, but you shouldn’t buy that anyway. 8
Overall and ending rant
Looking at the big picture with this band, I’d lump this album and the debut in one corner, call War Master the transition record, and sum up all the other albums under “trademark Bolt Thrower sound”. However, while I willingly acknowledge vast differences in sound, personally, I like all of them. I understand if some people are turned off by the crusty filth on the first ones, but to me, that’s a lot of their charm to begin with. “Realm of Chaos” might not sound perfect in a sense that it’s intricately produced, glitters and has sugar glaze, but sounds aggressive, dark, hungry, young and energetic instead. And that’s nigh perfect to me.
- Released: 1989
- Label: Earache
- Website: www.boltthrower.com
- Karl Willets: vocals
- Gavin Ward: guitars
- Barry Thompson: guitars
- Jo Bench: bass
- Andrew Whale: drums
- 01. Intro
- 02. Eternal war
- 03. Through the eye of terror
- 04. Dark millennium
- 05. All that remains
- 06. Lost souls domain
- 07. Plague bearer
- 08. World eater
- 09. Drowned in torment
- 10. Realm of chaos
- 11. Prophet of hatred
- 12. Outro