Review: Bolt Thrower “Those Once Loyal” [Metal Blade Records]

Review: Bolt Thrower “Those Once Loyal” [Metal Blade Records]

- in Reviews
Score 70%
Loyal, but not lethal
70 %
User Rating : 5 (1 votes)

Although I wasn’t listening to Bolt Thrower (or metal for that matter) by the time Those Once Loyal came out yet, I’m rather surprised by the amount of praise that this album has received. Yes, this one blows Mercenary away (one of Bolt Thrower’s less-liked albums) and I’ll just assume that this is more of a convincing record than its predecessor, too. However, I wouldn’t say it’s on par with most of the band’s early albums in terms of atmosphere, violent riff-work and compositions that leave an enormous impression behind.

You can still find the ingredients of Bolt Thrower’s early albums here; from the melodic-yet-tasteful leads that emerge around the riffing that falls between tank-like tremolo passages and groove to the recognizable gruff, although one dimensional growls of Karl Willets, there’s no way you’d mistake Those Once Loyal for the record of another band, even if this album in terms of atmosphere it doesn’t come close to the brilliance of the band’s early works. Is that too much of an issue on its own? Certainly not, just as long as you don’t come in expecting the devastating horrors of Realm of Chaos / Warmaster, the gloomy despair of The IVth Crusade or the thrilling experience of …for VictoryThose Once Loyal goes off with an absolute bang, too – the opener finds the sweet spot between the band’s personalized sense of melodic integrity as well as physically threatening riffing and you can bet it’s satisfying. Neither is there much to complain about “Entrenched”, that emerging itself like a tank firing down at its enemies on the violent battlefield. Indeed, based on the album’s first two tunes one might expect Those Once Loyal to be yet another essential war tale of this band.

But here’s the thing: whereas most of Bolt Thrower’s earlier outputs conjured the actual horror of war itself and the downright devastating effects of it its entirely, Those Once Loyal feels like a war tale that’s only partially effective. There’s a huge amount of emphasis on groove present on this album and while that is a trademark element of Bolt Thrower’s sound, Those Once Loyal could have done with a little less of that and more faster paced riffing instead. As a result of this formula you end up with tracks like “The Killchain” and “Granite Wall” that just plod along and aren’t very exciting to hear; the latter sounds slightly more captivating than the former, yet I could have done with some firing riffing appearing halfway through. The title track opens up with a foreboding guitar lines; recalling the intuition of close enemies not yet seen and yet it all leads to those melodic guitar lines circa its colossal chorus, but again, I could have done with some more action happening instead. Fortunately, things turn a lot better again once “Last Stand of Humanity” kicks off – it manages to conjure the vivid images of the war’s pinnacle; the cries of the wounded are becoming unbearable, many men have been killed at this point, yet those capable keep on fighting for their lives. Melodic, yet of unexpected danger (you just can’t beat that raging tremolo riff underneath that solo!) the track has these interesting contrasts, not unlike that of “At First Light”. At last, “When Cannons Fade” appears to the moodiest track on the album: the thrilling first half gradually results into something strangely melancholic and the final fading drum passages were hinting something; the war finally seemed to be over and those who had fought their duty could eventually return home – be it wounded, traumatized, or if somehow fortunate with no complications whatsoever.

Indeed, the final track marked the end of Bolt Thrower and perhaps it was for the best. Karl Willetts no longer sounded like the intimidating lieutenant colonel he once was up to the early 90’s and although the guitar duo still managed to deliver some threatening riffs here and there, yet their lethal days were mostly something of the past by now. While Those Once Loyal doesn’t fall into the essential category by any means, it’s nonetheless a respectful final record of this band.

Release date: November 14th, 2005

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