Monday, January 28, 2002 @ 11:02 AM
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There’s a fine line between consistency and redundancy, and English grind merchants Bolt Thrower have been toeing that line for most of their career. Since the band reached their sonic peak with 1991’s mammoth epic Warmaster, they’ve settled into a Ramones-like mode, rarely straying from the apocalyptic soundscape they perfected all those years ago.
For a while, that wasn’t too big a deal. The IVth Crusade further honed Warmaster’s raw, steamrolling fury and the Gulf War-inspired ...For Victory finally saw the band move beyond the realm of Conan The Barbarian fantasy. But by 1998’s lethargic Mercenary it was obvious Bolt Thrower had been riding the same war horse for too long. Other brothers in grind - Napalm Death, Brutal Truth, Carcass, etc. - had long since introduced new elements to their sound and, in some cases, quite radically transformed themselves. Some times it worked, some times it didn’t, but at least they gave it a shot.
With their first album in three years, following some line-up turmoil that saw singer Karl Willets leave and ex-Benediction singer Dave Ingram join, Bolt Thrower finally take some baby steps into new territory. The differences are subtle, but they do bring some needed new life to the band’s tired sound. Most noticeably, things are looser and livelier on Honor Valour Pride. With the crisper guitar tones and a more adventurous approach, Bolt Thrower’s grind doesn’t seem quite so smothering or single-minded - even though it’s still plenty heavy and brutal.
Where guitars and bass once formed one big buzzsaw, there’s now a welcome separation between riffs and rhythm that by itself makes the songs more, well, “song-like.” The huge hooks and swaggering bottom end of “K-Machine” and “A Hollow Truce” offer some of the band’s most inspired and memorable work in years. And the straight speed metal attack of “Valour” is a pleasant surprise indeed, especially when contrasted against “Honour” which is pure, old school Bolt Thrower opening with a dirge-like rumble before taking off like a runaway steamroller.
Thematically, Honor Valour Pride is pretty much business as usual - war, death and the end of the world - but at least this time Bolt Thrower make it seem bit more fun.