Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Bolt Thrower - Mercenary (1998)

After the snoozefest that was 'For Victory', I was all but convinced that Bolt Thrower were on a creative decline and that the well had run dry. At first, 'Mercenary' seemed to confirm my assumption, but then...

'Mercenary', I feel, is a way better and far more interesting album than 'For Victory'. That album felt tired and yet the band were cleaning up in all the wrong places. Gone were the muddy dirges of old. Now the band were making that dreaded attempt to "clean up their act". Granted, 'Mercenary' sees the band traveling down the same path but they seem to have become a bit more comfortable in their new skin. Not every riff's a winner here, but when they're on they are fucking on!

Bolt Thrower have long been considered to be one of the pioneers of doom/death and on 'Mercenary' you can find some of their absolute best dirges as there are no shortage of crawl fests. Each slow section draws you in and releases you deep within your subconscious, the way doom riffs are supposed to. Where 'For Victory' seems almost uncomfortable with settling down and capitalizing on its own inherent heaviness, 'Mercenary' embraces it and the result is perhaps the most epic Bolt Thrower has sounded in their entire career. Before or since. No, I am not saying that it's better or heavier than their earlier works, but as opposed to the violent assaults that were 'In Battle...' and 'Realm of Chaos', 'Mercenary' is rather glorious. A triumphant return from the battlefield.

The drums here are a bit too clinical for my tastes and I find them to be rather boring. Sure, "technically" this guy might be better than the band's previous drummer, Andy Whales, but I always found his drumming to have more heart and feel, which I've always felt better suited Bolt Thrower.

There are a few rather bland grooves here that have a sort of "stalking" feel to them but they are usually routed and cast down by one of the many superb doom sections that permeate the majority of the album. Again, I know that there are many naysayers and I can only assume that they haven't bothered to really sit down and take this album in, because I can assure you, this is one of the band's better works, sitting comfortably alongside 'The IVth Crusade' and 'Those Once Loyal'.

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