One of the things reviewers use to fill space when talking about long-running bands is how the new album differs from the band's back catalog. BOLT THROWER bulldoze that path with the subtlety of a howitzer shell — they hit a stride around "Realm of Chaos", in 1989, and they haven't shown too much interest in deviating from it since then. Some call it stagnation, others tenacity, and the band themselves don't seem to care much either way. They get together every few years, lay down another nine tracks of stately, martial, it-is-what-it-is death metal, and reaffirm their unique place in the pantheon.
It's tempting to grasp onto straws and look for innovations — is bassist Jo Bench showboating a little in the chorus of "Entrenched"? Layering of two different guitar parts in "The Killchain"? A more midtempo approach all around? It's all minor talking points – the BOLT THROWER of 2005 is a little cleaner and more precise, without former drummer Andy Whale's clattering, off-time fills and sledgehammer approach. But these songs would fit, with minor adjustment, on 1990's "War Master".
BOLT THROWER's war-themed death metal anthems are anachronistic in the way new OBITUARY songs are — elder statesmen of the scene stubbornly sticking to their guns, not caring how the rest of the world does it, mightily pleasing a base of old-school fans without reaching out to too many new heads. Luckily for those of us who want to support the band, but might start wondering if we really need another song like "The Killchain" (that fade-in opening they've used for "Cenotaph", "World Eater", etc.), they seem to convene about three times a decade, tops. BOLT THROWER is one of those bands where you could probably get by with one album in your collection ("… For Victory" barely edges out "War Master"), but you just feel better about life knowing you have their entire arsenal within arm's reach.
Steamrolling war metal for 20-sided dice rollers and History Channel documentary buffs — if you've heard 'em before, you know what to expect, and you know the quality, if not the originality, is always there. As the band themselves put it, "in a world of compromise… some don't."