Monday, February 4, 2013

Bolt Thrower - ... For Victory (1994)

...For Victory's biggest issue was that it had very little to offer beyond what Bolt Thrower had accomplished, so its focus turned towards the production values of the instruments and vocals. Admittedly, they did achieve a sleeker, more accessible sound than records like The IVth Crusade or Realm of Chaos, but I can recall having only a lukewarm reception upon its release. One that has grown slightly more positive down through the years, but if I'm ever seeking my fix of the group's seminal warmetal, this is never the album I'm going to reach for above others. Even the cover image seem a little lackluster by comparison to the prior efforts, their first to veer away from more eye popping artwork; but to be fair, the photo of British soldiers during the Falklands War of the early 80s has some internal meaning to the band, as was mentioned on the "Through the Ages" outro on The IVth Crusade.

As an introduction to the band's style, a 'my first Bolt Thrower record', ...For Victory certainly functions as a gateway to their superior, past works. The melodies here are monumental, threaded with a worldliness far brighter than the oppressive din of a record like Realm of Chaos. The considerable amount of grooving chords cut further into the higher strings, and as a result they feel friendly and fulfilling, perhaps not entirely above a few hints of influence from the eminent trends of the early through mid 90s like grunge and groove metal. It's surely a modernization of The IVth Crusade, but they'd abandoned that grim, gnarled fuzz in the rhythm guitar for something up to the standards of evolving studio production. I've had several acquaintances who consider this the best 'sounding' of the Bolt Thrower catalog, and judging by the criteria they used, I could not wholly disagree. The drums, for one, sound absolutely riveting, in no way dominated by the guitar tone; while Karl Willett's vocals are sauced in more effects than on the earlier albums, which lend them a more professional atmosphere. Jo Bench's bass playing wasn't quite a step beyond what she'd produced in the past, but her tone here pops along more noticeably, most of her lines wholesome even when following the rhythm guitar precisely. Leads, too, are dramatically more melodic and emotional here, some of their best.

In terms of songwriting, I'd say there were three absolute killers among this selection, like "Graven Image" and "Armageddon Bound" with their slightly more complex guitar grooves that very carefully balance the higher, searing melodies with the swaggering muscle of the grooves. "...For Victory" itself is hands down one of my favorite Bolt Thrower songs, with a superb if simple lead sequence and an air of majestic desperation in its sum atmosphere. Once I think past this trio, though, the remainder of the album fits all too snugly into the 'It's Been Done' category, and many of the chord progressions and melodies seem like underwhelming mirrors to those I've already mentioned. ...For Victory is paced well, and consistent enough that you'd rarely need to interrupt a direct 38 minute playthrough, but its most absorbing and unforgettable material could easily be condensed down to an EP worth. Granted, audiophiles might be more inclined to revisit this than the first four albums, because it's certainly the most balanced in instrumentation and the dichotomy of aggression and musicality, but one thing I was really missing here is atmosphere...

...For Victory is similar in lyrical tone to its predecessors, exploring the ramifications of centuries of human conflict in broad, psychological strokes, but this is more suited for the History Channel than the absolute crushing darkness of their old wargaming-inspired concepts. Nothing wrong with that, really, and bands like Hail of Bullets have certainly taken cues from Bolt Thrower's legacy and written some smashing World War themes, but I for one am more privy to the band's more oblique and repulsive material. In other words, I enjoyed the ominous Bolt Thrower considerably more than the glorious Bolt Thrower, even if both poles suit the band's modus operandi. As such, this particular album was never really my favorite, but I'd be lying to ignore its considerable aural qualities. Worth owning, far better than its two successors, and I enjoy it more than the 1991 record War Master, but other than a handful of the tracks, I rarely feel the compulsion to dust it off.

Verdict: Win [8/10] (the battle smoke remains)

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