Exaggeration is a key element in many forms of literature, from satire to Sci-Fi fantasy stories. Sometimes, however, the storyteller finds himself unable to really get far beyond the way things really are with mere words and something extra needs to be added to the mix. One of the most obvious of these cases is the theme of war and religion, because in this area the bounds between reality and fiction are not that far apart. Telling a story of warriors reaping endless tumult and suffering in order to gain favor with evil, human-like deities is something that parallels a number of historical and modern day events, though perhaps with different names and rationales. But where a novel is bound by single dimension of the printed page, musicians have the auditory medium within which to stretch the truth into something that truly becomes inhuman.
BOLT THROWER lay such an assault upon the optimistic of heart and mind, revealing through a clever yet unsubtle parable known to those educated in the realm of old school brutality as “Realm Of Chaos”. Taking the initiative from its predecessor “In Battle There Is No Law”, this collection of unquestioning aggression ratchets up the heaviness while taking a slightly more measured approach to chaotic speed and riffing. An analogy could perhaps be made between this album and its predecessor to the two radically different SLAYER albums “Reign In Blood” and “South Of Heaven”, though BOLT THROWER lacks that haunting atmospheric aesthetic and grimly melodic character. The production has been cleaned up a bit, particularly in the percussion department, and listens a bit smoother, but is far removed from this modern notion of processed heaviness heard out of modern bands.
This is essentially a purer form of Death Metal, free from any of the blackened traits of earlier albums from the mid 80s which still retained a heavily Thrash character, while also avoiding the comical obsession with descriptive gore that CANNIBAL CORPSE was soon to bring forth. It’s evil to the core, yet the riffs pound like machine guns and artillery rather than mystify the ears with visions of metaphysical horrors threatening to steal one’s soul. There is still a strong Thrash remnant in the presentation of the guitars, complete with slower breakdown sections that wander chromatically yet still have a groove quality to them. But the character of the guitar has become so deep and sludgy that it shares more in common with NAPALM DEATH or early 90s MORBID ANGEL than SLAYER. Likewise, Karl Willet’s vocals have become much more guttural and hideous sounding, well beyond what Chuck Schuldiner or Jeff Becerra would have done back at around this time, to the point of sounding more demon than human.
Of all the various early Death Metal albums out there, this is one of a very select few which really master the concept album approach. The lyrical depictions that come about are absolutely essential to fully appreciating this, and Willet’s barks still retain the quasi-intelligible character of earlier bands. The guitar soloing has been toned down a bit to make room for riff development so that each verse can be properly prefaced, but there’s still some solid lead shredding to be found on a few select songs like the title track and “Dark Millennium”. But most important of all, there is a general sense of unity in theme present in the music, though perhaps muddled by its atonal nature, and each song flows into the next. It’s just simply one of those albums that has to be listened to all the way through, permitting no track skipping or favoritism that would lead one to chop it up and put a few selected gems on a play list.
In many ways, this was predicting the future of Death Metal, yet refusing to fully conform to it. Its character is definitely closer to the brutal sound of the 90s that all but completely shed itself of its Thrash Metal roots, but it refused to present itself in a disorganized fashion in order to but brutality on a pedestal above musicality. It doesn’t come to the point of sounding catchy, but the level of familiarity that grows out of it from the first listen is something sticks with you past the end of the album, which is something that can not really be said for the generation that took the lead afterward. It is probably the best place to start for this band if one comes from an 80s Thrash Metal persuasion and wants to bridge his/her way into swampier territory. For an album of undeniable horror and violence, it’s in a class by itself.
(Online September 6, 2009)