Bolt Thrower- Barry Thompson and Karl Willetts

Spread the metal:

Interview by Arto Lehtinen

Transcription by Gemma Ellis (Thanks!)

Last year, the long-time British death metal warmongers Bolt Thrower released a brilliant album called THOSE ONCE LOYAL. The band kicked off a long European tour that for the first time ever saw Bolt Thrower finally visit Finland. It was a pleasant surprise to have the opportunity to talk to both Karl and Barry before they unleashed one hell of a gig at Nosturi in front of over 500 maniacs.


Yeah. Actually this is your second leg of the European tour and you started a couple of months ago with the metal phase and coming on over to Europe. How was it?

Barry : It was amazing wasn’t it?

Karl: Absolutely amazing, yeah.

Barry : Throughout Central Europe most nights were sold out, it was better than we ever could have imagined really, and it was a pleasure.

You seemed to have toured a lot this year because you have had a few years break before going out right now and so you toured in 2002 with Benediction and Fleshcrawl. Was the reason you took this break because Karl wasn’t part of the band and you had a problem with David Ingram?

B: Well, we don’t like to rush albums anyway, yeah we never rush albums, and it’s ready when it’s ready. We were due to record it the year before, but we didn’t feel that it was of good enough quality to record and that coincided with Dave Ingram becoming, well, he decided he wasn’t fit enough to do the album and had his own personal issues so it was good that we were able to get Karl back in because it’s been fantastic for the band it really has.

People and fans have been expecting to see you on the road once again.

B: Yeah the fans have been absolutely brilliant to us; every single date has been fantastic, hasn’t it?

K: Yeah, it’s every night like a special kind of occasion, it’s like the reception we’ve got you know throughout Europe’s been so, you know warm and welcoming, it’s been something special, every night’s been something special really yeah.

Whenever you have been on tour, you have focused mostly on playing in Europe. You have visited The States twice and Australia once. Do you think touring in Europe is less risky money-wise or is the audience more fanatical for the style of what Bolt Thrower represents?

B: A touch of both I suppose. We’ve been to America twice and haven’t really had a great time. The first tour wasn’t too bad, but I mean the last time we went over it was Karl was with us and Karl decided to leave you to know, after that things fell through so it hasn’t got great memories for us put it that way. Australia was good, I wouldn’t mind going back there again. But you never say never to anything, there’s not anything we’ve said we’re never going there, we’re never going to do it, it’s just Europe for us just seems to be a place we find very easy to tour as America is a lot harder.

K: So just logistically America is such a big territory to cover and the expenses involved, you know, you lose money most times touring America and the people, there’s a lot of pressure on bands

But when you are touring Europe, do you find it is easier for the bookings to be placed?

B: Exactly we book direct.

K: We’ve got an established network throughout Europe which we’ve used since we started, so we kind of maintain that so, yeah it’s easy for us to tour Europe. As I say, we haven’t really written off touring America we’re just waiting for the right options to tour in our eyes.

When you used to tour in the early ’90s and nowadays you always have a good package of bands. I was like “damn”   thinking, “they have a good package of bands and are not coming to Finland.” Now you have Kataklysm. Do you always pick up the bands personally and how do you pick up those bands for your tours as your supporting act?

B: Well, we never have any buy-on’s it’s always bands we want to play with and sure we will ask a few and we will ask who else would like to tour with us and we can see which bands we think would fit the bill best, you know it’s not just manufactured, it’s not thrown together because of money, you know so it works out really well on all our tours. With benediction we used to tour with them quite a lot because we enjoyed their company, but now we’re experimenting a bit more from different nations, and I think that every one of our bills has you know 3 or 4 different nationalities on it, so it’s good, it’s good for the scene, it’s good for us and up to now touchwood; if I find some (laughing) I can’t touch wood oh no! (Laughing) yeah touch wood it’ll be good in the future as well.

K: We also try to mix it up a little bit with the styles of bands that we have playing with us as well so it’s not just all Death Metal bands and we had like Nightrage on the last tour as well, so yeah we try and make it a bit more interesting for the people coming to the gigs as well.

I can’t help asking, what went wrong with Gorefest?

K: Logistics at the end of the day.

B: They just couldn’t, we’re not just going to change the way we want to do things because somebody else wants to do something, that’s, don’t get me wrong, that’s entirely their decision, but we couldn’t accommodate what they wanted to do with our constraints that we have. We won’t change the way we do things for another band basically, so there’s no problems its just that you know, they wanted to do things one way and we have another way so we just said, well okay it’s probably best if you do yours and we do ours.

K: They basically wanted to do like a headlining tour supporting us; you know they wanted to bring their own merchandisers, their own tour manager. There’s no need for it, it’s not their tour, so we decided the best thing was for them to do their own headline tour if that’s what they wanted to do. So there are no hard feelings we’re hanging out and I’m still friends with Jan, Chris and the band, so it’s not a, it’s just a management thing at the end of the day.

Yes, they hadn’t been popular with the previous tour as the tour with Master got cancelled.

K: It does say something if they’ve had 2 cut tours pulled in a short space of time. I think they have a problem with their management really.

This is your first time here in Finland – finally, and so you are heading out to the Oulu tomorrow.

B: Yeah we’re doing a funny drive round, yeah looking forward to it

Do you know anything about Oulu?

K: Nope. Moose?









Well elk, heh..

K: Elk (laughing)

You know Sentenced?

B: Sentenced, yeah, yeah

They are from Oulu

K: Oh right

You used to tour with them

B: Oh right yeah

They have disbanded you know

B: That’s right. They finished in the last gig I think this year wasn’t it?

In the same place where you are playing

B: Yeah, I’ve heard it’s quite a big venue isn’t it?

It’s a very big venue yes

B: Should be interesting

And I guess your bass player Jo is a very huge ice hockey fan, right she follows the game?

B: Yeah that’s right yeah

Well, it’s owned by the one Finnish ice hockey player who plays in North America.

K: Right got you yeah (laughing) oh right so it was owned by him that’s interesting. Yeah we’re looking forward to it, we often get accused of like you know not going to places so we’re firmly making a point of going to as many different places as we can on this tour so we can’t be accused of not including people and places anymore

B: Well people say we should go to these places lets go and if people turn out then we’ll go again and if they don’t well it’s no problem we’re not bothered (laughing)

I took a rapid glance at your touring schedule and I noticed that you have no festival dates booked yet.

B: Don’t like festivals

K: We’ve just done Inferno and we’ve just done Close Up festival in Stockholm and we’ve got Rock Hard in June so that’s 3 and that’s enough

B: Basically we can play a lot of festivals, we get asked all the time to play the big ones it’s just not for us. We never say we won’t do it, it’s just we don’t really like them and it has to be something special if it was to get us out. Rock had has been supporting us from since we first started and we thought well let’s do that this time see how it goes.

K: You know we can’t limit what we do with festivals because they’re almost like a conveyor belt of bands, they’re just like, merges in to one big thing but we’ll do one of 2 a year possibly.


Speaking of your new album THOSE ONCE LOYAL, this is your 8th album?

B: 8th album yeah

So I can’t help but ask why did you decide to call this album Those Once Loyal? I guess it has a practical meaning but..

K: It often gets confused doesn’t it how people think it’s like a negative thing, but we really mean it as a positive thing towards as a kind of tribute to all the people who have helped us on our 20 year career really, that kind of includes individuals like people like John Peel who helped us on the way, includes people like yourself magazines that helped and pushed us along, but most importantly it’s really aimed at the fans that have been there throughout the 20 years and are still there and have kept loyal to us, so it’s kind of like a tribute, a nod of reference to them for without them we wouldn’t be here.

In my opinion the front cover and the title fits together very well ?

B: I think the title and the cover do fit together well, everyone in the band takes different things from the titles of the songs, from the lyrics and from the music and everybody’s views on what the title is slightly differ as well. I probably along with Karl hear exactly what he said but then also reference to people who have fallen in past wars

K: I think it’s more of a First World War feel to the cover than.

B: Yeah Those Once Loyal and then the tour title is THOSE STILL LOYAL, so still coming to the shows and showing their respect

This front cover on MERCENARY has more of a World War feeling

B: It’s basically that cover is about royal signals, just about somebody who located the enemy and just locating where they are and directing sort of fire and so forth

K: It’s kind of like a who dares wins kind of thing I think

B: Sort of like a lonesome bloke on his own, what will he do for it? And it’s good I enjoy all of our covers and it’s nice, an interesting time getting it all together. It’s probably the longest part of the album, forget the songs, forget anything like that, the title and the cover takes longer than anything and that’s the truth, that’s the truth they never throw them together, well 5 people have to agree on it which is hard enough.

K: No it isn’t (laughing)

B: Yes it is (laughing)

Do these artists who create the front covers have a free hand or do you have an idea, a vision of what you want it to look like?

B: No we have an idea of what we want. We let them know an idea of what we want then we see a rough sketch, and then we come back, we send it back and then we say can you change this, yes, we want this put in and so they are free hand but we are directing that hand. And then we find things in there where the artist has put their name in, it’s like we go take that out, take that out, who’s that, that face is too modern for the picture, and then he says he’s put his girlfriend in on the cover or something like that and you go take that out.

Both Valour and Those Once Loyal have been recorded in the same studio with the same producer, engineer and programmer (Andy Faulkner) was it an easy choice for you to go to the same place and have a familiar studio where you could focus on the recording and playing?

B: Yeah well Andy’s here with us now he comes out on tour with us, he’s another 6th member of Bolt Thrower, there’s quite a few members of Bolt Thrower, people think there’s 5 but there’s probably 11 or 12 members of Bolt Thrower, without those people it doesn’t move. There’s a lot of cogs that need, you know wheels, every one of those wheels needs to be on or it doesn’t function properly and Andy has become one of those wheels now and it was an easy choice for us to go back there you know, very easy. It’s local to us all and we could have a lot of time in there because he gives us beneficial rates you know (laughing), and we gave Andy a bit more of an input into this album and it certainly showed, so there’s a lot more to come out of Bolt Thrower with the sound we’ve got on this one, it’s opened a few more doors for us with people listening to it because it’s a lot more accessible production.

How do the working methods of Richardsson and Andy differ?

B: It’s hard to say because I haven’t worked with Colin Richardsson for a long time now

K: It costs about 6 times more

B: Yeah (laughing)

B: You know I think it’s very hard to say

K: I think he’s overrated personally I think at the time he did a pretty good job with uhh Valour and stuff

B: For Victory

K: Yeah

B: For Victory, but if you left Colin Richardsson to do Bolt Thrower it won’t come out sounding like Bolt Thrower and that was the thing we noticed, was that, for Victory we wanted to say it was a collaboration all our albums have been collaborations except for the first couple really where we let the producers have more input and then we thought that we could probably do a lot better putting our own thoughts in and for VICTORY I though it was the best production that we did up until this one, and that was done with Colin Richardsson but we needed to have the input there or else it wouldn’t have come out like that and we said yeah okay Colin we’ll come back in a day and see how you’re getting on and it wasn’t happening at all.

Do you enjoy working in the studio, or do you want to get rid of the whole studio and get everything finished as soon as possible?

B: Well I do want to start and then 3 months later we’re going fucking hell when’s it going to finish

K: That’s another reason why we use Andy as well because we feel so relaxed there as well and it makes us feel at home because at the end of the three months

B: There’s no financial pressure to finish it by that date if we don’t feel up to it we just go no it isn’t happening, we’re going home

K: You don’t operate under pressure very well

B: I’m too chilled out to operate under pressure

When you were working on the new tracks and new material for the new album did you think there was pressure because people were expecting another great Bolt Thrower album? Each previous album had gotten really massive reviews everywhere and do you think it’s getting harder for you to top the previous material?

B: Yes (laughing) To put it simply yeah. Yeah but that’s a good pressure you know because if we release a really poor album the pressure would be even more because you really have to really, really do a top album to bring it back because you’ve lost a lot of fans so yeah it’s a pressure but it’s a good pressure

K: We kind of almost, well we knew really with the new album that it had to be something special otherwise it would just sink and we would go unnoticed so we had to make some impact with the new album so you know we took all the elements of the good parts of the essential Bolt Thrower sounds from the previous albums and kind of like, we knew what to do really, we knew what we had to achieve and we worked hard on it, we were quite strict in the process of recording the album we kind of made sure that everything went down like really precise and I kind of think it’s paid off.

Did you start writing this album by jamming together or how did you start?

B: Yeah pretty much, pretty much just like any other band really we just get a few ideas together and play and then you drop some the you say well I’ll use that bit with that bit, just like any other band does it I’m sure and then we start making it a bit more serious and start to put it on to the computer and start to try and put a few guitars down and leads, but it’s a long, long process and most of the songs have been written 3 or 4 times and stripped apart and bits thrown out, even going in to the studio the day, even recording the songs went back and re-recorded little bits, I didn’t like the riff, changed it, so, no, no but that’s good because if you end up satisfied you may as well pack in. I could have re-recorded it again you know, but at some point it’s got to be released so

When Karl rejoined Bolt Thrower, you re-recorded HONOUR VALOUR, PRIDE. What was the purpose of re-recording the album with Karl, cos in my opinion Ingram did an absolute killer job on that album anyway? I guess that re-recorded version hasn’t seen the light of day yet?

K: Honour, Valour, Pride really when I rejoined the band it had been such a long time since I had performed vocally so we didn’t really want to be in a position where we were in the studio recording Those Once Loyal and my throat didn’t work so we needed something to rehearse my throat to make it, you know see if it was still there still working and we knew that we were going to play three songs off Honour, Valour, Pride live so it was the perfect opportunity to test my voice so yeah as we went through and we just demoed them put one or two even on the website as downloads we have no intentions of releasing any of that material no see that would be an injustice to Dave and the work he did back then and its I mean retrospective we’re always on about looking forward as a band rather than using stuff we’ve previously used

As I said in the earlier question this is the 8th album of yours, do you think that it is important to find the right balance between the older stuff and the new material for the set list? People want to hear the old stuff and then you have to play the new stuff so choosing a setlist must be getting difficult?

B: Well theres always a battle when we come down to getting the set list together for tours because everybody likes different songs, that’s the good thing about having so many good songs which I think we have, I think we have a good selection, theres not just the ones you have to go well we have to play this, this, this, this and this because they’re our best songs we have 8 albums worth so

K: How many songs in total is that, about?

B: Well even if you chose the title track of every album, that would be 8 and plus you’d want to play songs from the new album that would be it that would be your whole set promoting an album so we’ll take time in thinking well what will sound good rather than just what to play, what is going to flow good, what is going to make the gig sound right

K: What do we enjoy playing as well?

B: Yeah exactly

K: It’s down to what we enjoy playing at the bottom line

B: If we enjoying what we’re playing it’s going to come to the people who are enjoying it

You don’t let people vote on your website for what’s the best ?

B: No we do, we do like to gage what people like because if it gets to a point where I might say I want to play no guts and he goes no I don’t want to play that I want to play inside the wire then we can take, we can look on the website and say well people prefer that one to that one so we’ll play

K: We do take notice of what people want us to play so it does have an input into our decision making definitely. You’ve got to take notice of them that’s why we’re here


The war theme is always your main inspiration, is it like an endless subject to write about?

B: Karl can answer that one but for me it’s a never ending story there’s always going to be battles

Who’s the biggest collector in the band?

K: I think Gav, Gav’s the one mainly in to war

Collecting books and finding inspiration for your lyrics?

K: Yeah. I am myself as well yeah; I spend quite a lot of time. On the last album I spent sometime going around different places trying to get a bit of a feel for the place you know to get a feeling so I could actually write with experience of the place I think it helps totally to immerse yourself into the environment that you’re writing about, not that I’ve been in the middle of a battlefield, but yeah as Baz said it’s an eternal story, it’s been with us it’s part of mankind’s legacy really and it could be with us forever it’s part of our in-built nature is war we don’t say it’s a good thing, we don’t say it’s a bad thing we don’t judge or moralise about it we just you know

B: As some people write about politics it’s a fact of life so is war I’m afraid

K: We kind of just maybe hope theres a discourse to how people will feel about it themselves and make them think about how their opinions are towards the subject matter

But have you ever thought about writing about the Finnish war?

B: No we kind of generally tend to write about what we tend to experience in our own we’ll let Finnish bands write about the Finnish war (laughing) I’m sure they have

Little Finland against Big Russia

B: It’s never specific we don’t write about specifics

K: No we’ve never said this, this. We’ve wrote it from a third party point of view rather than a you know

B: It’s kind of like an entirely kind of subjective really, our viewpoint on it is and we don’t write about specific battles

Does it bother you that other bands have brought up this war theme in their own lyrics? Bands like Marduk, Impaled Nazarene etc. Do you think it is getting harder for you to write about it because other bands are doing it?

B: No we’ve been doing it, it’s been twenty years we’ve been doing it so no I don’t it doesn’t bother us

K: I mean war; how you view war is kind of like how do you interpret war? For some people it’s life you know the general struggle of every day life could be seen as a form of war so, yeah it’s how you view the subject matter at the end of the day


Can I ask something about your former members? Are you still in contact with Dave Ingram?

B: Yeah we saw him just the other day

He opened for you in Denmark with his own band

K: Yeah they’re doing three gigs with us aren’t they?

B: Yeah that’s right they’ve played two already and have got one left

K: I mean he left for pretty much the same reason I left he couldn’t commit himself 100% to the band and you have to be able to commit yourself 100% to do Bolt Thrower and he was open with it and he left under good circumstances and he had a lot of problems, a lot of personal problems which he had to deal with and he’s come through that and he was great seeing him the other day, you know he looks well he’s happy, he’s back he’s focussed so we’re able to give him some support you know and get him to play with us its kind of a bit of again you know he’s one of those Once Loyal and he’s part of that

I used to be in contact by letters

B: Oh before email (laughs)

Before email in the early 90’s when he played with Benediction or something like that..

B: He’s a nice guy and it’s great to see that he’s back on track again and getting himself together you know that’s

How about Martin Van Drunen?

K: I haven’t seen Martin for a long time not since he left the band

B: But yeah we’re still good mates, I used to write to him as well before he was in Pestilence, exactly that was our first European tour we did with Pestilence, I’ve got good memories of Martin he’s a good guy, I’d like to see him again I wish him well

K: Well I mean you never going to hear any bad things about ex-members of Bolt Thrower from us because as far as we’re concerned they’re part of our history part of us and we don’t slag anyone off


When I wrote these questions down I always thought I’d bring into the conversation, when I saw the TV clip on the German music channel Viva, where you cruised around with a huge tank and played with paintball guns in the forest, is this a normal way to promote a new album? It was around MERCENARY right?

B: Yeah that’s right. Yeah it was good, we enjoyed that day it was great and uhh

K: Held the press hostage

B: No that was another one that was another one

K: Was it?

B: Yeah that was another one, no we took Viva to a paintball day and yeah it was good fun, got to drive around in tanks

K: And shoot journalists

B: Gav was doing that on a daily basis anyway, he loves it so he was going to those sorts of sites in his own tanks and stuff so yeah and it looked good on telly as well

I still have it somewhere….

B: You should send it and then we’ll put it on the website

You have been involved in the death metal scene for over 20 years now and are you kind of surprised the death metal scene is still so strong and doing great here and how new bands are coming through?

B: There was a point going back maybe 12 years ago where it dipped, you know death metal did take a dip and crowds were going down

K: That was the 90’s, around when I left

B: Yeah and the crowds were going down, we managed to escape that because we had a three year gap or three or four year gap between our releases and by the time we came out with Mercenary it was starting to have a resurgence again but, for us we’ve never really called ourselves death metal that’s a strange thing you know, it didn’t exist when we started out, I’m happy to be tagged along with it, it’s not a problem but, we’ve never really considered ourselves death metal at all it’s always been just well we play what we play at the end of the day

K: We were kind of like when we first started out we were classed as a grindcore band, but I don’t think we’ve ever really sat comfortably in any kind of pigeon hole or you haven’t been able to put a label on us and I think that’s why we work so well is because you can’t, you know we’re not a square peg we can’t fit into that hole easily you’ve got to cross it all really

I remember when I read in a magazine that this band from England they were immediately Grindcore…

K: Well they’re just terms that record labels for selling records at the end of the day aren’t they?

B: Everyone loves to put a pigeon hole on you, even our record label put a sticker on saying Britain’s best death metal band and when we saw that we were like fucking hell you know

What do you think about the band reunions? Like Onslaught?

B: No problems, no problems why would we? It’s good because we used to listen to Onslaught so yeah I’d say we even took influence from Onslaught

K: Yeah definitely

B: And the second album, which was THE FORCE was a good album

They’ve got a lot of gigs this summer

K: Yeah so I see

B: I think we should have played with them

K: I’d like to have played with

B: We were supposed to have played with them

The drummer and I email each other and we did an interview some time ago..

B: Well they came along from a similar scene from what we came from you know because they were on the Children Of The Revolution record, I think when the first one came out, and there was those, there was Axegrinder, Sacrilege, they would do the experimenting with punk going towards metal and this is what influenced us, all these types of bands

I assume that my time is up so I will for one thank you for this interview. Thank you guys

B: No problem

K: No problem

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