Bolt Thrower – The IVth Crusade

Arguably, death metal has never been a stalwart bastion of atmosphere. From its beginnings in the noble form of ‘Seven Churches’ so many years ago, much of its atmosphere has been rather more incidental than intentional: be it Obituary’s rotting funeral procession on ‘Slowly We Rot’, indeed influenced by its four-track origins, or Suffocation’s peculiar breed of claustrophobic riffing on ‘Effigy Of The Forgotten’. However, if one could describe a traditional death metal band as ‘atmospheric’, Bolt Thrower would indeed be one of the first in my mind to be bestowed with such an adjective. Six years after their inception (when ‘The IVth Crusade’ was recorded), Bolt Thrower had marked themselves not merely as one of the heaviest and most steadfast members of the still young death metal community, but easily one of the most atmospheric, and on this album, possibly the band at the very top of the then-underrated heap in that regard.

‘The IVth Crusade’ is genuinely daring in its strict adherence to atmosphere. Not merely in regards to aesthetics, though Bolt Thrower’s is a cultivated one indeed. No, from the opening strains of the title track one can really feel placed in the midst of the mental battlefield that is Bolt Thrower. That riff, with its graceful upward climb and low tom accompaniment, sums up what Bolt Thrower is: epic, romantic, but unfailingly crushing in both these dimensions. Never a band to let excess technicality get in the way of the natural beauty of warfare, songs such as this one progress in orderly but exquisite fashion, with the unfolding quality so befitting of this sort of artist. There is a grace to the proceedings: an inherent knowledge of goal and form as well as content. Listening to a Bolt Thrower song is a complete experience, as it touches every one of its corners with a precision worthy of the very highest of artists.

Heavy is an operative word; heavy and majestic, and perhaps much of the majesty is due to the incalculable weight of strings here. Jukka Mattila of A.M. and Stumm has stated that one of the marks of great sludge metal is the sense that each instrument weighs enormously, and that every note must be heaved onto the earth at the expense of the player’s wellbeing. On that note, Bolt Thrower indeed has this same sense of weight, but instead of the writhing of sludge metal, the players of this band are giants themselves, wielding weapons (for that is what Bolt Thrower’s instruments genuinely are) of incredible weight, but with incredible strength as well. The music here is vast and awe-inspiring, easily reflective of the battlefields that Bolt Thrower so obsessively detail in their lyrics and compositions. Every chord strummed, every bass drum struck is another bullet through the atmospheric air for Bolt Thrower, and indeed it works remarkably to bring their compositions to life.

Operating at generally mid-paced tempos, Bolt Thrower manages to drive forth a sense of urgency and destruction in their music, like great swarms of locusts expending their wrath on the sinners below. Be it the warning of apocalypse or the simple description of the trenches, Bolt Thrower sees war from all angles, and indeed interprets them all as being representative of life itself, and not merely a detached representation of the human experience. The conductor’s baton-sway before dramatic plunge of the middle riffs of ‘Embers’ tell an eternal story of mingled triumph and devastation, of the eternal battle not merely between humans, but within ourselves: an existential struggle inside each and every entity. And they do it with such strength and groove and style and imperial jack-booted style that one can’t help but be swayed by the music. Each member adds their own pinch of magic to the proceedings: strings and percussion work in tandem with every note denoting some allegorical significance in the greater scheme of the album.

Brutal, not merely in execution, but in message as well. Bolt Thrower is a band that remains unchanging in a sea of entropy, but not due to stagnation: but to show us the eternal truths that tend to escape us all.

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~ by noktorn on March 6, 2007.

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