Released: 2005, Metal Blade
Reviewer: Lord of the Wasteland
It seems like an eternity since England’s Bolt Thrower last released an album but 2001’s HONOUR VALOUR PRIDE is left in the dust by the band’s latest insurgency into their death/war metal canon entitled THOSE ONCE LOYAL. Much like Cryptopsy’s Lord Worm, Karl Willetts is back in his rightful place behind the frontlines on the mike as the “true” singer for this band. His departure after 1998’s MERCENARY left many fans unwilling to accept Benediction’s Dave Ingram on HONOUR VALOUR PRIDE (I like to call it “The Blaze Bayley Factor”) so that unruly bunch can finally put away their warhammers and feel all warm and fuzzy inside again knowing that not only is Willetts back, but he is sounding better than ever. The very title of the CD could be interpreted as an invitation to Willetts’ die-hards to come home as THOSE ONCE LOYAL continues in a long line of exceptional releases (Earache Records must still be kicking themselves on a daily basis for allowing Bolt Thrower to slip away) from a band who refuses to bow to trends and whose core fanbase is fiercely unwavering. The groovy death metal still sounds as fresh as it did way back on IVTH CRUSADE despite the lack of any noticeable change in formula or resolve. Quite simply, you know what you’re going to get on a Bolt Thrower CD and THOSE ONCE LOYAL is no exception. It is even brilliantly stated as such in the CD booklet: “In a world of compromise…some don’t.” The band has been at it since 1988 and their latest release still finds them at the top of their game.
2005 has been quite a year for comebacks (Judas Priest, Cryptopsy, Candlemass) and Bolt Thrower can certainly be added to that list with the return of Karl Willetts. His booming roar enraptures each and every track on THOSE ONCE LOYAL and he steps back into his role as if he never left. Likewise, Jo Bench is simply on fire on this release. Her rolling bass lines and chunky bottom end have never been meatier and more robust. Playing the intro to “Anti-Tank (Dead Armour)” on a quality car audio system would send the hip-hoppers running for cover but her noble presence on every track continues one of my favorite aspects of a Bolt Thrower album. Right from the get-go, Bench’s thunderous attack of her four-string on “At First Light” rumbles alongside the infectious riffing of Barry Thomson and Gavin Ward. The snarling solo on this track is among the best ever laid down by the band and it doesn’t stop there. An air raid siren kicks off “Entrenched” which sizzles with punishing riffs that are unforgettable. The slow, storming lead-in of “The Killchain” paves the way for some classic mid-paced BT groove driven by rapturous riffing and Willetts’ commanding growl. If Bolt Thrower had a greatest hits album, this track would be on it. For fans of the rollicking, speedier numbers of Bolt Thrower, “Last Stand of Humanity” will get them salivating. Along with “At First Light,” the snappy pace will have the moshpits going rabid and this track’s smoking solo is absolutely godly. Likewise, album closer “When Cannons Fade” is a mildly reserved (well, as reserved as Bolt Thrower can be anyway) jaunt through some of the band’s most powerful lyrics to date. The eternal war theme is present, of course, but there is just something about this track that hits a little harder and digs a little deeper than the rest.
With superb hooks in all the right places and enough arse-kicking, neck-snapping groove to warrant a trip to the chiropractor, THOSE ONCE LOYAL surpasses most of the higher-profile releases of 2005. Like Linus’ blanket, we know that all is well and good in the world now that Karl Willetts has returned to Bolt Thrower and with his help, the band has crafted one of their best albums to date. Hopefully the delays between releases will narrow and if the Metal Gods answer my prayers, a full-blown tour of North America will follow suit because THOSE ONCE LOYAL is easily the best death metal album of 2005.
KILLER KUTS: All!!!!!!!!