Bolt Thrower were certainly not the first grindcore band in existence, but they still played an undeniable role in originating, solidifying, popularizing, and perfecting it. In other words, if bands like Napalm Death, Repulsion, and Extreme Noise Terror planted grindcore’s seeds, then these five British titans were the gardener that watered them. Plus, to this day, they remain one of the best and most powerful, important, and consistent groups that the genre has ever seen. And influential? You can say that again! They might not be in the same league as the above bands, but anyone who denies their influence is just oblivious or lying — they have inspired legions and legions of offspring and imitators. (I mean, for crying out loud, the title of German metalcore outfit Heaven Shall Burn’s debut was a tribute to them!)
On their second album, 1989’s magnum opus “Realm of Chaos,” Bolt Thrower combined death metal, Slayer-inspired thrash, hardcore, and occasional doom touches to create, well, you know. It is chock full of all the usual grind goodies, including dark themes, freakishly gross lyrics, hoarse, evil sounding growls, and super tight, uber brutal musicianship (i.e. heavy, downtuned guitars, chaotic soloing, steady bass lines, and foundation-shaking rhythms punctuated with terrific, hyper-kinetic blast beats).
But “Realm of Chaos” also features two qualities that a lot of fans will find refreshing. For one, it possesses a sound that is definitely influenced more by death metal than hardcore. As a result, there are no high, grating hardcore screams to be heard here, and the number of breakdowns is limited (and when there is one, it is always appropriately placed and doesn’t interfere with the momentum.) And secondly, this album proves Bolt Thrower can riff better than most of the rest. It boasts some really excellent, monstrous, memorable, and caustic riffs, many of which could be argued to be among death metal’s best of all-time (or if not, then at least of the 1980’s).
After the ominous “Intro,” the ball gets rolling quickly when “Eternal War” steamrolls through the speakers. This song is a blastfest from start to finish; guitarists Gavin Ward and Barry Thompson create a blazing wall of sound (and also toss in a careening solo) while skinsman Andrew Whale pummels away. “Through The Eye Of Terror,” which is backed by massive, churning licks, battering ram drums, and whiplash tempo change ups, is more mid-tempo, but no-less skull-crushing. “Dark Millennium” keeps the intensity in the red with great, full-on thrash riffing and brutal blasts that rain down on your ear drums like jackhammers. The album is a long smoldering onslaught until track five, “All That Remains,” begins with a minute of cool doom atmosphere. But after that first minute, be prepared to be crushed again – this time with furious, thrashy, buzzsaw leads and manic soloing. Later highlights are the scorching guitars, lightning-fast drumming, and brutal growls in “Lost Souls Domain”; the barnburning “Drowned In Torment” and title track; and the positively stellar (and should-be-legendary) riffs and nice, shredding solos of “World Eater.”
In conclusion, “Realm of Chaos” is not the most groundbreaking grindcore/death metal release in history, but it is nonetheless a classic one, and also a landmark on the genre’s timeline. Essential listening for all extreme metal enthusiasts.