It is with a heavy heart that I type this after the sad, but not wholly unexpected, news last week that Bolt Thrower have officially called it a day. The decision was taken following the tragic death of their long time drummer Martin ‘Kiddie’ Kearns at only 38 years old last year which left the band understandably feeling that they could no longer continue.
So despite this upsetting news, I think it’s apt to take some time to celebrate the life and times of surely one of the greatest extreme metal bands of all time, and certainly one of the greatest metal exports these fair isles have ever produced. Formed in 1986 in Coventry, part of that rich Midlands metal seam, Bolt Thrower laid waste to battlefields the world over for an impressive thirty years leaving the metal scene far richer for it.
I first came across Bolt Thrower as a spotty teen back in the 1991 thanks to my buddy lending me their third, and in my view best, album Warmaster on vinyl. From the unmistakable Games Workshop cover to some of the most bone crunchingly heavy and catchy riffs ever penned, I was hooked. The bands unique and uncompromising formulae was so refreshing; that scooped out bass heavy guitar sound, those incendiary drums, Karl Willet’s menacing but legible vocals, a fearsome female bassist in Jo Bench, and of course the omnipresent war themes. While many bands now label themselves as “Battle Metal”, absorb yourself in any Bolt Thrower material and you are literally transported to the front line in glorious Technicolor. For me, Bolt Thrower were Battle Metal full stop. As refreshing as their sound was, so was their refusal to compromise over the years, despite a reduction in prolifacy and some line-up changes since the late 1990’s. The band’s excellent final two albums Honour-Valour-Pride and the critically acclaimed Those Once Loyal proof of this.
A phenomenal force live, managing to elevate the heaviness of their recorded material to an ethereal level, anyone fortunate enough to catch a Bolt Thrower gig will long cherish the memories.
So, raise your banners high, my friends, to Those Once and Always Loyal…