Classic Album Review – Bolt Thrower “Realm of Chaos” 1989

  If you haven’t heard Bolt Thrower’s second album, you’ve missed an important moment in the history of extreme metal. It’s a mess, but oh, what a glorious one. The album opens with what might be the sound effect of a steamroller or tank approaching, and then, for 35 minutes, the band attempts to emulate this sound using their instruments. The End.

Realm of Chaos, subtitled “Slaves to Darkness”,  is well named, doing Exactly What It Says on the Tin. It’s a lot like Kill ‘em All in its youthful exuberance, sheer sloppiness and ability to turbocharge the extreme attributes of genre. Metallica grabbed the burgeoning thrash movement and turned up the speed, the hype and the fun factor. Bolt Thrower examined the roots of grindcore and turned nothing up; they turned it down. Way down. The guitar tuning on this album renders the strings audibly rickety and spaghetti-like, turning even the fastest of riffs into a wallowing morass of sound. Perhaps BT felt that if Tony Iommi could play without fingertips, then they could bring new meaning to “slap bass” and just bash the instruments with their fists. Andy Whale’s “blast beats” plot a cringe-worthy rollercoaster course reminiscent of a tipsy driver barely managing to stay between the lines. The anguished, frenzied guitar solos are played as if  Gavin and Baz have jumped onstage with Slayer to join in the last 20 seconds of “Reign in Blood” and expect to be tackled by security at any moment. 

Sporting sheer sludginess that would make the Melvins blush, Realm of Chaos inhabits a universe of elephantine bruiting, monstrous roars and sudden cannon fire. There is no single identifiable human sound on this record. It stalks the desolate, crater-filled Warhammer 40000 landscape protected from any hint of irony by the self-contained armour of feverish conviction. Mankind’s dark future shall have no peace, no sense of humour, and certainly no death n’ roll.

There are bones to pick underneath the tracks of this death machine, but it seems churlish to bring them to light. So what if the beginning of “Plague Bearer” is lifted directly from the bridge of “World Eater”? It’s like saying Jackson Pollock used blue paint on more than one canvas. I have spoken with people who hate this album but still remain impressed with how bonkers the whole thing is, and that anyone would agree to produce it. I’m no hater. 9 out of 10

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