Those Once Loyal, by Bolt Thrower
Suggested by Dan Jenkins
There’s a gaming magazine called White Dwarf. It peddles plastic crack.
It’s been around since the late Seventies, produced each month by British games manufacturer Games Workshop to promote their games and associated miniature lines. Think intricate plastic soldiers in a fantasy or sci-fi setting, and you’ll not be far off. While it’s always been a glossy catalogue or hundred-page advertisement since its inception, in the early days it contained new game rules, ideas, variants and more, making it an indispensable read for a bone-deep nerd like me.
One of the most memorable and baffling free gifts / tie ins it has ever promoted was the 1987 death / thrash metal flexidisc of Blood For The Blood God, which, up until today, I’d misremembered as being by Bolt Thrower. It was actually by Sabbat. I still own this, bought with my pocket money at the age of thirteen, at a time when I was new to metal but willing to embrace it in all its forms.
Unfortunately, Blood For The Blood God is awful. Seven minutes of high-pitched rasping Tolkien / Lovecraft Fanfic. It’s on YouTube, go check it out.
Why I stapled Bolt Thrower to this flexiturd is obvious, in hindsight. Bolt Thrower were also heavily influenced by the fantasy and sci-fi lore at the core of the Games Workshop product line, with their second album Realm of Chaos: Slaves to Darkness featuring album art, song lyrics and even the album title itself cribbed directly from Games Workshop products. The band were featured heavily in the magazine at time of release. I passed on them, and have passed on them every day since, as, well, until today I thought they were Sabbat. With Those Once Loyal, I’m looking to correct that misstep.
The first thing that surprises me is the melody in this metal. I expected something raw, harsh, bludgeoning, even unforgiving. Who knows, maybe the Eighties Bolt Thrower were more jackhammer bluff and bluster, but this stuff is actually decent. It’s sanguine metal, even mournful metal in parts, which is perfectly pitched to their World War One theme. As for individual songs, I enjoyed the driving Salvo and the almost funky chug of The Killchain, but my standout is the closing track When Cannons Fade, which captures brutality and sadness in equal part.
But of course, there’s an immovable and unassailable fly in this brandy butter, and that’s the ever-present use of the standard ass-face growl in the vocals, which is a topic on which I’ve opined far too many times to mention. As I grow, I find I can stomach the growl if it seems a natural expression of the singer’s personality, packed with emotion, or thematically appropriate to the subject. This growl is quite the opposite, with the “singer” merely pasting on a weird conversational growl, delivering with all the passion of a trip to the newsagent… “Twenty Marlborough Lights and a King Size Snickers, please.”
(Yeah, that line doesn’t work in print. It’ll kill on the podcast.)
Those Once Loyal proved both surprisingly nuanced and depressingly predictable, so I award 5/10. I’m not enthused to listen to more, but on the other hand I’m happy I’ve finally listened to some. And hey, whatever the score, at least they’re not Sabbat.