They may never have achieved the success or prominence of some of their peers, but Bolt Thrower were unquestionably one of the most important underground metal bands to ever unleash a hellish riff. The news that the band have finally decided to call it a day, seemingly in light of the tragic death of drummer Martin ‘Kiddie’ Kearns in 2015, brings to an end one of the most uncompromising sagas in the history of extreme music.
It’s hard to precisely define the unparalleled rush of excitement that hit those of us who first heard Bolt Thrower – either on the legendary John Peel’s late night Radio 1 show in the late ‘80s, via that era’s tape-trading culture or simply by catching a blast of the still devastating In Battle There Is No Law album – but at a time when death metal was still very much in its infancy, these stoic diehards stood apart from the aspiring hordes like no other. Many death and black metal bands have written songs about war and its attendant horrors, but Bolt Thrower sounded like a tank rumbling across a fire-razed, corpse-strewn landscape: the predominantly mid-paced riffs erupting like landmines, and an omnipresent sense of oppressive melancholy ensuring that no one ever mistook the band’s tales of bloody battlefields and military destruction for some kind of voyeuristic frippery. Albums like the utterly seminal Realm Of Chaos and the monumental and unforgettable The IVth Crusade have remained benchmarks of the genre ever since they first emerged, and yet despite many earnest attempts to emulate their formula, no other band has ever come close to conjuring a fraction of Bolt Thrower’s collective power.
Away from the music, Bolt Thrower always stayed 100% true to the personal, political and cultural values that had brought them together in the first place. The DIY spirit that continues to make the underground metal scene the most exciting and passionate musical subculture on the planet was writ large across everything the band did. While some of their peers embraced – or were embraced by – the mainstream, Bolt Thrower never wavered in their steady forward march, driven by honesty, humility and a laudable disregard for changing tastes and trends, always heavier than just about everything else and never, ever any less than wholly believable and trustworthy. They never made an album that didn’t exhilarate and pulverise in equal measure, and the band’s live shows – as rare as they became in later years – never fell short: Bolt Thrower made music for the extreme metal faithful, and the extreme metal faithful adored them.
All great things must come to an end and it would be easy to start wishing for a reunion further down the line, but let’s face it, Bolt Thrower are one of precious few bands that kept their intentions pure and their musical delivery unsullied by commercial concerns or the pressures of a reverence that, you suspect, they never courted or desired. Kiddie’s death may have hastened the band’s demise – and who could blame them for stopping after losing such an integral part of their musical and personal lives – but the music they made together will last forever. Go and listen to World Eater – one of the all-time death metal anthems – as loud as you can stand and be thankful. Bolt Thrower never let us down. We were blessed beyond measure to have their inspirational music in our ears.