I’ve had this weird fascination with the English death metal band Bolt Thrower for some time, and it’s not for the normal reasons – it has nothing to do with their sound or look or philosophy, or because some other band I’m way into cites them as an influence. No. I’m fascinated by them because of the cover of their 1989 LP Realm of Chaos. You see, I’ve always been a geek in various ways. When I was a teen I was way into role playing games, and in recent years I’ve gotten way into sic-fi fiction, and those two interests have recently overlapped in a way that touches Realm of Chaos.
I speak, of course, of Warhammer 40K.
If you’re not familiar with Warhammer 40K, in a nutshell it’s a fictional universe that takes place in the 41st millennium as mankind tries to maintain a hold on its part of the universe, fighting against alien species and the demon infested realm of Chaos. There’s more to it than that, but you get the general gist – it’s a dystopian future that is both super technologically advanced but that also has it’s own weird mythology, sort of like a future version of the Spanish Inquisition in space (No one ever expects the Spanish Inquisition!). Space marines, both good and evil, play a central role in both the game and the fiction, and it’s the space marine battle scene on the cover of Realm of Chaos that I think is great. Unfortunately Bolt Thrower was unable to secure the rights to the image past a certain date, so subsequent printings of the album have a different, non-Warhammer 40K cover. I’ve been on the lookout for a nice copy, but have hesitated to just drop $75-100 and get one through the mail. So far.
So imagine my surprise when I spied this record over at Extreme Noise in Minneapolis the other day. That’s a chaos (i.e. evil) space marine on the cover… and it’s a Bolt Thrower record? What the hell is this? Well my friends, this is what is sometimes referred to as an “unofficial” release. I’ll leave it to others to pontificate on who put this out, did they have the rights to do so, and other such legal niceties. But what I can tell you is this record is comprised of two early Bolt Thrower EPs – 1990s Cenotaph and 1992s Spearhead. And since I haven’t been able to find a Warhammer 40K cover copy of Realm of Chaos, this seemed like a bargain for about a quarter the price.
Turns out early Bolt Thrower is pretty killer, all double bass drums, lightning fast riffs and growled vocals. Sonically the quality is very good for an unofficial vinyl release – my copy is visually clean, and while it has a couple of audible pops it’s generally noise free. Bolt Thrower’s pure raging density means I’ll probably need a few more listens in order to better separate the songs and become more in tune with how they differ, outside of the obvious fast-and-heavy versus slow-and-heavy camps. The one live track, “Realm of Chaos (Live)”, is unfortunately a bit lackluster – it’s the studio material that carries the day. What I like the most is that even with the growled vocals you can still follow Karl Willetts’ lyrics if you pay a little attention – it’s not some unintelligible primal noise barf like that which accompanies some extreme metal.
You like it heavy? Bolt Thrower brings the heavy, son. So come get some, if you think you can handle it.