Bolt Thrower – “Spearhead / Cenotaph” (2014)

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.

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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.

Runemagick – “Dark Live Magick” (2011)

This morning felt like the end of summer.  We woke up and it was cold and gray and rainy outside, the start of a rainy weekend.  My sinuses were pounding, mostly from my allergies but also possible from Jack Daniels.  The first cup of coffee started to help and hopefully the second will work it’s magic. (♠)  So what to listen to on a morning like this?  Live doom/death metal, of course.

Sweden’s Runemagick started up in 1990 and were active until the late 2000s.  Their early material generally falls into the death metal genre, though over time the band added more doom aspects to their music, and that can clearly be felt on their 2001 live album, Dark Live Magick.  The quality of the recording is surprisingly good – in my limited experience with extreme metal live albums tend to sound pretty crappy, but you could easily mistake this for a studio album if it wasn’t for hearing the crowd at times.  The band plays a tight set, heavy and driving, with Nicklas Rudolfsson’s guttural growl providing vocals straight from the pits of hell.

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I dig this album way more than I thought I would.  The sound quality is excellent, the pacing good, and the songs have a great flow to them.  Runemagick don’t wallow around in their own excesses in ways I’m used to hearing from a lot of extreme metal these days, keeping their songs tight, structured, and internally consistent in a way that gives them a lot of power.  Dark Live Magick includes 10 live tracks plus a pair of bonus studio demos to close out side B, including the particularly kick-ass “Lord of the Grave”.  This one may be tricky to track down – I couldn’t find any of the songs from this album online (including on Runemagick’s Bandcamp page), and it was only released on vinyl and limited to 300 numbered copies.  It apparently included a poster insert, though my copy didn’t come with one.  Despite the obvious scarcity you can still find a copy here or there in the $15-30 price range, and frankly I think it’s worth every penny.

(♠)  It didn’t.