Bolt Thrower - War Master (1991)Release ID: 830

Bolt Thrower - War Master (1991) Cover
Ben Ben / March 26, 2019 / Comments 0 / 1

I was always going to love Bolt Thrower! Just look at that cover for starters! Any decent death metal band that utilizes great fantasy artwork and a theme of epic battles without falling into corny power metal territory is going to win my vote, and that's what Bolt Thrower have always been about. They may have moved that theme of war from ancient times and fantasy epics into modern day warfare, but the general atmosphere has always been the same. I was hugely moved by it as a teenager and it still gets me today.

And this is where Bolt Thrower really nailed their sound to go with the imagery. While Realm of Chaos was a decent album, and showcased these UK death metal veterans’ intentions, it's Warmaster where they really got things right. No-one else sounds quite like Bolt Thrower, with their extremely low tuned, heavy riffs, awesomely crushing drumming and Karl Willets unique and brutal, yet completely distinguishable vocals. They haven't really moved very far from this formula even 17 years later and who can blame them. They nailed it right here!

That's not to say this is a perfect album. It starts off incredibly well though with Unleashed Upon Mankind (love that intro!), What Dwells Within and The Shreds of Sanity getting things under way in fine form. There really aren't any bad tracks for the remainder of the album, yet probably only Cenotaph, War Master and Afterlife reach this high quality again. If I was going to nit-pick, I'd say the solos aren't all that special, but all up, this is a damn enjoyable death metal album from an extremely consistent band that would go from strength to strength over the next few years. Essential for any death metal fan!

Sonny Sonny / March 29, 2024 / Comments 0 / 0

Despite making a massive contribution to the birth of metal, the UK hasn't been overly blessed with important acts in the more extreme sub-genres. There were, of course, the twin grindcore godfathers, Napalm Death and Carcass and a few notables in the doom metal arena, but otherwise it has been the US and Europe that have led the way since the early 1980s. The sole exception and lone british banner fluttering among the death metal hordes, was Coventry's Bolt Thrower. War Master was the Midlanders' third album, following the rough and ready, crust and grind-influenced debut, In Battle There Is No Law! and it's much more professional sounding follow-up, Realm of Chaos, which had heralded a direction-change with the band moving into more conventional death metal territory. War Master saw Bolt Thrower heading further in that direction, ditching the grind element altogether in favour of a slower, mid-tempo, more cavernous sound that has more in common with Autopsy than fellow Brits like Carcass.

I must be honest at this point and admit that, for me, Realm of Chaos marks the band's highpoint, striking a perfect balance between the crusty grind of the debut and their later, conventional death metal sound, but that doesn't mean that War Master is any great drop-off in quality, in fact, quite the opposite as it is still one hell of a great record. The riffs on War Master are fantastic, possessing an inherent level of brutality, whilst still exhibiting a degree of melodicism which renders them instantly memorable. The songwriting is very good, and although most of the riffs stay within the mid-tempo range, the band don't shy away from either slowing down further to hulking, death doom pacing, or putting their foot down and letting rip. Karl Willetts has a great death metal growl, almost stripping paint as he barks out the lyrics which deal almost exclusively with the terrors of war, that puts him near the top of my list of favourite death metal vocalists. Production-wise War Master is a step up from Realm of Chaos with a chunkier, more bass-heavy sound that allows Jo Bench's four-string performance to shine and which is more conducive to this type of slower-paced, war-ridden death metal.

The solos are mostly of the brief, squealing style favoured by many death metal stalwarts since they were introduced by Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman back in the day and whilst they are perfectly functional and fit well within the song structures, they aren't on anything like the same level as the riffs. Despite seeing criticism of it elsewhere, I actually really like Andy Whale's drumming on here as it has tons of energy and some nice touches, such as the military tattoo-like beats at the end of Afterlife.

War Master saw Bolt Thrower finally getting near to a sound they were striving for and, as a result, they have often been accused of regurgitating the same material over and over again for the rest of their career, which is a bit harsh and personally I think is bullshit. When a band has hit on what they see as a signature sound, however, I am sure there is a temptation to plough the same furrow again on subsequent releases, and although BT never strayed far from the template they established on War Master, such is the quality of their material that only the most demanding or churlish of death metal fans could complain at the results. Evidently, this is a full-throated roar of challenge from a band in full command of their abilities, producing one of the best albums of their career and spearheading the British fightback against the scandinavian and american death metal hordes.

Daniel Daniel / March 09, 2024 / Comments 0 / 0

English death metal establishment Bolt Thrower quickly became a key player in my youth after I discovered their 1989 sophomore album "Realm of Chaos" through late-night underground metal radio programming during the very early 1990s. Tracks like "World Eater", "Eternal War" & "All The Remains" received regular air-time during that period & I was instantly attracted to their dark, war-worshipping tone. I'd subsequently purchase the album on cassette & it's a record that I still think of with fond memories to this day although I wouldn't say that I've ever regarded it as a classic. It would certainly impress me enough for me to not only explore Bolt Thrower's 1987 "Concession of Pain" demo tape, 1988 "Peel Sessions" recordings & debut album "In Battle There Is No Law!" (the latter two of which I enjoyed) but also to race out & purchase their 1991 third album "War Master" upon release. I'd already been given a taster a month earlier through the "Cenotaph" E.P. which was centered around arguably the best track from the album so I was well up for what was in store for me by the time the full-length CD hit my player. "War Master" would receive many listens from me that year & has commanded regular revisits ever since but, despite it being held up as a genuine death metal classic by many death metal fans, I've never seen it as the equal of the two albums that followed it which is where my Bolt Thrower sweet spot is. It's time I gave "War Master" the time to find out why that is.

"War Master" would very much represent the next step in Bolt Thrower's evolution following two full-lengths that still maintained an element of dirt & grit. It would see the band cleaning up their sound a bit & going for a more professionally presented death metal package that placed a higher value on production & precision. The grindcore component that was still quite evident on "Realm of Chaos" is considerably less prominent on "War Master" which is focused on a slightly more melodic death metal sound with blast-beats being used less regularly. You can still hear elements of the thrash metal influence that was evident in their early works in the guitar solo sections which are pretty clearly inspired by the Kerry King/Jeff Hannemann model. Despite that though, "War Master" would be the record that would define the classic Bolt Thrower sound & style, a model that they'd rarely veer away from for too long over the course of their five subsequent albums.

The glossy album cover is a pretty good representation of where Bolt Thrower were at in their musical evolution too actually. It's brighter & more colourful than the "Realm of Chaos" artwork was, even though they're built around similar "Warhammer" role-playing-game inspired themes. The performances of the five individuals seem more controlled & restrained with a stronger focus on cohesion & precision than sheer extremity. Jo Bench's immense bass tone plays a key role in allowing guitarists Gavin Ward & Barry Thompson the room to explore increasingly more melodic riff structures without losing anything in the way of bottom end. Drummer Andrew Whale does struggle a bit with the increased visibility afforded to him by the cleaner production with his clicky kick drum work coming across as a little sloppy, particularly when compared to the precision performances he would contribute in the near future. I'd also suggest that Ward & Thompson's guitar solos are pretty disposable a lot of the time as neither were exactly virtuosos or, on the evidence here, had a lot to say with their lead work from a creative viewpoint either.

The tracklisting is seriously consistent though with all ten songs achieving a very solid song-writing standard that ensures that the listener knows they're listening to one of the leading players in the scene. There's admittedly starting to be a hint of the formulaic about this collection of tunes but you can easily accept that when the formula is so fresh & appealing. The one-two punch of "Cenotaph" & the title track are the clear classics of this collection &, once you hear those two, it's a little hard to see "War Master" as the classic it's reported to be as the other material is so clearly less emphatic in achieving its goal. There needed to be a couple more tracks of that caliber included for "War Master" to reach a more elite death metal stature with me personally. "Cenotaph" is notable for being the sequel of the best track from "Realm of Chaos" too as it begins by fading in where "World Eater" faded out. "Spearhead" from the next album "The IVth Crusade" would continue that journey. 

You won't find a hint of anything less than high quality death metal amongst this collection of tunes as it's an impressively composed, produced & executed record all round, marginally pipping out "Realm of Chaos" for Bolt Thrower's best work to the time. I feel that the band needed another crack in order to fully capitalize on their new vision though with 1992's "The IVth Crusade" being the true benchmark of their career & 1994's "...For Victory" not being too far behind. There can be no denying the relevance of "War Master" at a time when the death metal scene was starting to really explode on a global basis though & it has its main competitors covered pretty comfortably with bands like Benediction, Asphyx & Hail of Bullets having to satisfy themselves with being also-rans rather than genuine competition.


Release info

Release Site Rating

Ratings: 13 | Reviews: 3


Release Clan Rating

Ratings: 10 | Reviews: 3


Cover Site Rating

Ratings: 6


Cover Clan Rating

Ratings: 4

War Master
The Horde
Death Metal

Death Metal (conventional)

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