They said I could do a review on a classic album that is being re-released. I chose you Bolt Thrower. For those not familiar with death metal or tabletop gaming, Bolt Thrower is an English metal band who came to recognition due to their embrace of themes from the tabletop wargame Warhammer and its sci-fi sister Warhammer 40K. While fantasy and metal have never been that far separated, both death metal and Warhammer are lesser employed components. These two unique aspects combined to create one of the most endearing sci-fi/fantasy themed death metal band of its day and..well...for a very long time.
Realm of Chaos was released in 1989 and was the first album to start a two record arc which took place in the Warhammer universe. The record is now a pivotal album in the death metal scene according to death metal fans who happen to be fantasy nerds. Like most classic old school death metal albums, there exists a balance between raw power and what seems like endless imagination. Realm of Chaos, within Bolt Thrower’s narrative, was the turning point between their deathgrind debut In Battle There Is No Law in 1988 and the more refined death metal masterpiece War Master in 1991. 1989 was a magical time for Bolt Thrower where cosmic scourges were blasted from existence by the fury of unstoppable percussion and riffs. this was a record for all eternity.
I am going to be the first to raise my hand and admit that I do not have near the refined taste of many audiophiles. While I could separate large differences in bit rates, conversations about dynamic range, clipping, and compression usually make my eyes roll back. It is not that I do not think these are vital aspects of music enjoyment, rather I feel like a tourist lost in another country unable to read the road signs. I do not know and usually cannot tell the difference. I am going to trust that the full dynamic range edition of Realm of Chaos has fixed any wrong which was initially done at recording and that this edition is the one to really brings out the nuances in those death grind drums.
While I just make a snide remark, the new Earache edition is noticeable in quality, even for someone who is half deaf in terms of audio appreciation. Songs like the destructive “World Eater” profit from the clearer audio as does the title track. The guitar riffs in both, which were already menacing, become devastating which in turns contrasts the drums that no longer drowning in a mud of mid range. Earache’s edition allows people to experience, more clearly, a battlefield where the power of instruments levels one another. guitars are cannon and the drumwork from Andrew whale resembles a sturdy and reliable siege machine. Though there are only 5 people present on the record, the album feels like an endless landscape of death and destruction. through the myriad of chaos and lawlessness aspects of the remaster are still more defined. It is still a robot death riot but at least I can see what is sort of happening.
Realm of Chaos, historically, succeeds because of attitude. The standoff between foreboding terror and apathy towards danger makes the experience enjoyable. Much like its tabletop influence, death on a massive scale becomes family entertainment with instances of cheering and carousing. Few songs in the history of time can make me feel like I could rip a car apart. Songs like “Through the Eye of Terror” tells me I can. I blame Gavin Ward and Baz Thomson’s guitarwork as it lays crucial groundwork for wanton anarchy. There is no possible attempt at order.
I am not saying this edition is the definitive way to experience Realm of Chaos because there are still debates over CD versus vinyl versus having the band come play in your bedroom. For those audio plebeians and even newcomers, this Earache edition maybe a perfect way to re experience the madness which has already destroyed our very being. For those newcomers, prepare your very being for destruction by said madness.
I enjoy Bolt Thrower for many reasons. One of the more selfish reasons is because their brand of fantasy metal is so much more advanced than lets say dragon based power metal. Both aspects are obscured by noise and complicated ruled books. Bolt Thrower is not for the tame of heart and a commitment must be made for its enjoyment. Realm of Chaos is a weekend excursion that doesn't cost a lot of money but a large portion time and effort is demanded. I have already RSVP’d and am currently working on my costume. Hide your cars.
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Kaptain Carbon writes for the column Tape Wyrm, as well as for Chronicles of Chaos, and Hollywood Metal.