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Bolt Thrower: In battle there is no law

09/07/10  ||  Habakuk

Introduction

Rumor has it that there are actually people who believe Bolt Thrower
started to put out quality only with “The IVth Crusade”, their album
number four. Actually, one of the most fervent supporters of this
opinion runs this very site. Sure, the band’s sound did change
considerably after their third album, but still, dismissing “Warmaster”
and “Realm of Chaos” is pure madness. I can see why one might not
exactly adore the ultra-raw “In battle there is no law” – but I don’t
care. Judging from the band’s behavior towards their material (which is
to apparently omit it from memory and never to play it) they, too,
consider the album at hand a youthful folly more than an actual classic –
but I don’t care. What do they know, anyway? I, for one, enjoy
this starting point to their career of awesomeness just as much as
almost everything else they put out, and I’ll give you the rundown of
why exactly as follows:

Songwriting

The band’s early works often receive the label “grindcore” – thing
is, while the songs might be “fast” compared to later-day Throwers’
generally mid-paced approach, the song structures are nothing out of the
ordinary, so grindcore in the definition of “a collection of twenty
30-second blast fests” this album is not. There is indeed something
resembling blast beats (more like really fast 4/4 drumming), as on every
pre-“IVth Crusade” Bolt Thrower album, but does that make an album
grind? Last time I checked, it didn’t. “In battle there is no law” does
have some overlappings with Carcass’ early proto-grind stuff, granted,
but I still don’t see how the grind label would fit early Bolt Thrower.
Songs roughly clock in between 2 and 3:30 minutes and incorporate
everything from slowly advancing doomish chugging to galopping triplet
runs and no-holds-barred uptempo parts, as well as riffs chock full of
(downtuned) E-string playing. Vaguely crust-rooted death metal: yes,
grindcore: no.

Production

3. Flapflapflapflapflapflap – no, this is not only your average
metalhead’s reaction to seeing a female bass player, this is the album’s
snare drum sound during the “blast” sections. That translates to the
drums sounding a bit muffled and “soft”, which works well with isolated
sounds like for example the thumping floor tom during some
accentuations, or some (rarely happening) single “oomph” bass drum hits,
but not so much with flapflapflafast snare patterns.

The guitars on the other hand are somewhat crunchy and definitely
influenced in tone by early contemporary semi-metal and crust punk
outfits (Hellbastard, Doom), if maybe a bit heavier. Still, they
definitely lack edge and are lightyears away from the sonic onslaught of, say, “…For Victory”.

While everything is more or less balanced, the overall sound is
very, very thin and quiet by today’s standards, so frankly this really
isn’t a good production. The only redeeming factor is that it adds to
the album’s raw feel, and if you have nothing against the old school and
its implications, don’t let this turn you down. Let it make you turn
the volume knob up instead.

Guitars

7. Chaotic and frantic but definitely structured, and certainly more
detailed than your average crust band at the time, these guys’ riffing
indeed did create something pretty much unheard of before – we’re
talking 1988, after all. And while the whole thing sounds a bit messy,
that’s not in the first degree the guitarists’ fault who play relatively
tight – at least given the speed and playing intensity and (low-budget)
recording circumstances at the time. Oh yeah, the solos are a bit
laughable, but at least nothing cringe-worthy like parts of the lead
guitar work on the successor, “Realm of Chaos”. Further comparisons for
the guitar playing escape me, so let me just say that if you pay
attention, there’s some pretty cool riffage to be found on this album.
The nature of the album’s sound doesn’t give that away too easily,
though.

Vocals

7. Karl Willetts didn’t have his well-developed death metal voice,
but was still finding his strengths, it seems. He however had a nice
rasp already, just a little incomprehensible especially during the
faster parts that transform his voice into a kind of hissing. Evil shit,
y’all. Imagine early Ross Dolan, just a bit weaker.

Bass

3. Word has it that Jo Bench hardly knew how to hold her instrument
back in the day. Doesn’t matter, as you can’t hear it for shit most of
the time. A few rogue rumbles here and there (“Challenge for power”‘s
intro comes to mind) don’t really qualify for a thorough assessment.

Drums

6. Andrew Whale definitely was a formative element of early Bolt
Thrower. A guy that came from playing punk and apparently only started
to pick up double kick drumming after his bandmates had told him to do
so, he never really became a real monster behind the kit. He sure sounds
pretty unique though, and while there is some plain sloppiness involved
in that, there’s more to it – sometimes when I’m bored, I find myself
fingertapping the drum intro to “Attack in the aftermath”, just because
it’s cool. So, hampered a little by the aforementioned “flapping”, Whale
still has some catchy stuff on display, and from a more positive
viewpoint, the production conceals his sloppy double bass a little. In a
word, if you’re a drumming technique fetishist, you won’t like him, but
there is some undeniable charm to his playing.

Lyrics

8. I can definitely see why the guys at Games Workshop approached
the band after this album and asked them to write some Warhammer 40k
inspired stuff for album number two, as the song themes on here are
basically nothing else, dark future, nuclear holocaust, eternal war and
everything.

Storm calms neon skies

Still chilling winds roam the nuclear wastes

…and so forth. Absolutely fine by me.

Cover art

8. Black and white and full of hilarious detail. A zombie knight
with “Trash to Death” (sic) on his armor plating? A giant-headed midget
zombie scraping “War” into his forehead whilst holding a drawing of “a
dart throwing ballista (never mess with a bolt thrower)”? A zombie with a
clock in his forehead? I mean, why not? It fits the album as it’s
basically a giant fucken mess, but awesome in a way.

Logo

2. You’ve got to be kidding me.

Booklet

4. Two pages of lyrics printed ultra-small, one page of thank you’s
including a shout-out to John Peel. Oh well, there are definitely worse
kinds out there.

Overall and ending rant

If this were a movie, I’d call it a “genre film”. You won’t persuade
anyone today that death metal is the dog’s bollocks by playing said
person “In battle there is no law”. It’s certainly not a prime slab of
death metal, neither does it give justice to the band Bolt Thrower after
1990 (which is like, always). However, it is an awesome glimpse into
the evolution of the death metal genre and the early British scene,
fueled by dirty punk music and with future greats like Napalm Death,
Carcass and this very band in the starting blocks. If you, like I humbly
claim for myself, are a fan of raw, unpolished old school death metal,
you might even find a very enjoyable listen in this album and should at
least check it out for the historic value.

Everyone else: don’t bother. And I’m not saying this out of some elitist “you won’t get it anyway” chuzpe, but simply because there are
definitely a lot better albums to be found out there, even if you limit
yourself to the old school. Hence, consider the following score rather
an indication of personal preference than an objective, hard facts-based
assessment true for everyone in the solar system (like all our other
scores).

7.5

  • Information
  • Released: 1988
  • Label: Vynil Solution
  • Website: www.boltthrower.com
  • Band
  • Karl Willets: vocals
  • Gavin Ward: guitars
  • Barry Thompson: guitars
  • Jo Bench: bass
  • Andy Whale: drums
  • Tracklist
  • 01. In battle there is no law
  • 02. Challenge for power
  • 03. Forgotten existence
  • 04. Denial of destiny
  • 05. Blind to defeat
  • 06. Concession of pain
  • 07. Attack in the aftermath
  • 08. Psychological warfare
  • 09. Nuclear annihilation
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This entry was posted on August 21, 2015 by in Class6(66) and tagged , .
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