The legacy of everyone’s favourite Warhammer-loving death metal legends Bolt Thrower has long been cemented in the annals of heavy metal history, and for good reason. Even the band’s less beloved albums are better than most alternatives, which makes ranking their records a tough task to say the least. Writer Kez Whelan (also known for Filth X Collins, Shrykull and Unbeknownst) has been ranking some of his favourite band’s albums during lockdown, though, and never one to shy away from a challenge, decided to take on this daunting mission. Read on for Bolt Thrower’s albums ranked from worst to best.
Honour – Valour – Pride (2002)
Easily their least inspired. It’s Bolt Thrower, so it still rules, but it doesn’t really bring anything new to the table after the albums that came before it, and it just feels a bit stodgy and rote at times. Not to mention that whilst Dave Ingram is great, it’s definitely missing Karl Willetts’ leathery bellow.
…For Victory (1994)
This one is great, but has a similarly samey feel to Honour – Valour – Pride at times. They’ve comfortably settled into the Bolt Thrower sound by this point, and this album is just that – no frills, no bells and whistles, just pure unpretentious riffery. It’s awesome when it’s on but doesn’t stick in the mind afterwards like some of their others.
I do not understand why this one gets such a bad rap at all. The groove is ramped wayyyyyy up compared to some of their others but it’s not like they’ve suddenly turned into Pantera or something. It still has that crushing, steamrollering quality to it. The songs are really catchy, the riffs are great and the leads are fantastic. When you think Bolt Thrower, you don’t really think “guitar solos”, but this album has them in abundance and they’re all killer. Bonus points for the Metal Gear Solid-esque artwork too.
In Battle There Is No Law! (1988)
Just a completely barbaric record, it’s so raw and unrefined and nasty but it’s fucking brilliant. It has a really genuinely chaotic feel that reminds more of Blasphemy or Sarcófago in its faster moments than a lot of the grind and crust stuff this was released alongside. They haven’t quite nailed that trademark groove yet but they’ve got buckets of energy and aggression on this one, and it still sounds remarkably savage and hostile even now. Hearing this in ’88 must have been off the chain!?
The IVth Crusade (1992)
Such a thick, dark album, definitely their doomiest and maybe their heaviest. Probably their most epic and elaborate songwriting too, and the focus on history rather than Warhammer makes the whole war concept feels a lot more haunting than on previous releases. I can definitely see why some consider this their best, but it doesn’t quite have the same bludgeoning impact on me as some of the others. Still an absolutely amazing album though, and I remember listening to this one a lot when I was trying to get my head around double-kick drumming – it’s all pretty mid-paced and none of the beats are that complex, which makes it a great album to air-drum along to when you’re trying to get those double-kick rolls down.
Those Once Loyal (2005)
Whereas the albums just before this feel like the band have settled into the Bolt Thrower sound, this one feels like they’ve mastered it. No flab on this one whatsoever, the riffs are insanely catchy and the songs are all just total bangers. It’s difficult to sum up what this one does differently to HVP and Mercenary as it’s pretty similar on the surface, but just goes so much harder. I don’t think it’s their all-time best but I can completely understand why they decided to stop making albums after this point. This is the late-period Bolt Thrower sound absolutely perfected and it’s difficult to see how they’d progress from here without repeating themselves or ditching what makes Bolt Thrower Bolt Thrower in the first place.
Realm Of Chaos (1989)
An absolute RAGER, it has the same barbaric quality as the first LP but is a lot more refined. There’s a more powerful groove to it and the riffs are way more defined, just absolute top-tier. There’s a ferocity here that would kind of level out on later records, but here it’s just so intense and undeniable. It has that Reign In Blood quality to it where there’s no letting up whatsoever, but the actual tone of it is so much weightier and heavier. Just a totally thrilling death metal record, if you can resist the urge to headbang when ‘World Eater’ comes on then I don’t trust you.
War Master (1991)
Again, might be sentimentality clouding my view here as this is the first Bolt Thrower album I went out and bought and heard start-to-finish, but FUCK it’s just so good. Ever so slightly less intense than Realm Of Chaos but the atmosphere is so much darker and more sinister. If Realm’ is like being caught in the middle of a war, with gunfire and explosions ringing out all around you leaving no space to catch your breath, War Master is like the gruesome aftermath when the true horror of what’s just happened starts to sink in as you survey the piles of bloodied corpses and spent shells surrounding you. It’s not quite as immediate as Realm’, perhaps, but the riffs are just as good (‘Cenotaph’ sounds enormous and ’The Shreds Of Sanity’ is so simple but so powerful, one of those riffs it’s amazing to think hadn’t been written before this) and to me, it feels like their most cohesive, well-structured album experience too.
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Words: Kez Whelan