Into the Eye of Chaos...

Wednesday November 16, 2005

I distinctly remember where I first read the name "Bolt Thrower" - I was in my mom's minivan (the light beige one with faux wood trim that I would later total in an accident only four months after I got my license) reading some metal magazine (I'm tempted to say it was Metal Mania, but it might have been Thrash Metal). The article was a profile of the then-new British label, Earache Records. The bands on that label played something called "grindcore" and they had the best names ever: Napalm Death, Carcass, Morbid Angel. And Bolt Thrower. What a name! My 14 year old mind was agog with the awesomeness of that moniker. Bolt Thrower! What did it mean? I originally envisioned some horrible science fictiony machine that hurled hex bolts at high velocities. I always imagined it operating on the same principles as a lawnmower tossing whatever crap was hidden under the grass out the side - something fast, random, and totally violent. When I first saw Bolt Thrower (on which more later), the ticket had a little cartoon of a Zeus-like hand holding lightning. As it happens, the name was inspired by the ancient siege weapon called the ballista, which was basically a giant crossbow (and if you'll recall, crossbows shoot bolts, not arrows, for some reason). Bolt Thrower! They had just released their first album for Earache, called Realm of Chaos, and you have to see this to believe it:

Realm of Chaos

Check out that logo! Check out the giant pile of space guys, shooting lasers! Clearly this was the greatest metal band of all time, I thought. It wasn't long before I begged my mom to drive me to South Street in Philadelphia to hit Rock 'N' Roll Plus, the one store I knew carried obscure heavy metal. (Sadly, Rock 'N' Roll Plus finally closed in the last couple of months. I didn't buy a lot from them anymore, but I would always stop in if I was on South Street. It's very sad for me to see it all boarded up.) I believe my friends Vanessa Danese and Dave Comeau came along for the trip. I remember the look on everyone's face when we popped my brand new Bolt Thrower cassette in the player on the way home. It was fast, and heavy, and totally insane. It was awesome.

I damned near wore that tape out. I'd probably still have it today, if it wasn't taken from me on the bus in high school by this rotten kid named Jeff, whose (equally lame) stamp-collecting dad was shacked up for years with my friend Rich's mom. I never got it back from Jeff because he decapitated himself in a motorcycle accident. Good riddance (and not just because he took my tape - he was a real blight on humanity.)

Since that day, long ago, when I first heard Bolt Thrower, I've held them to be one of my very favorite metal bands. I was lucky enough to see them once, in 1991, at a dive in a bad part of a bad city (Pennsauken, NJ.) This particular dive was a haunt of the local skinhead gangs, who apparently made trouble at every show. They were doing their stupid fucking zeig-heil arm wave through the band's set and picking fights with surly metalheads who really just wanted to thrash and headbang and enjoy Bolt Thrower. About a half hour into the set, a circle pit opened up, but it wasn't for moshing. The skins were brutally beating and kicking a guy who was lying on the floor in the fetal position, trying to protect himself from the boots. A tall, skinny skinhead ran off to the back of the club, and when he came back, he had a baseball bat, which he used to pound this poor guy's head into mush. The PA was unplugged. The band kept playing, but the crowd erupted into a proper riot. Bolt Thrower's singer, Karl, jumped into the crowd to pound on skinheads, god bless him. My friend Evan and I hightailed it out of the venue, which was already being surrounded by the police, who were putting up cones to block off the street from other cars. I have always assumed that the guy on the floor died - I mean, his head was completely smashed up! but I don't know for sure. That was the last time I saw Bolt Thrower. I bought a ticket to see them in Pittsburgh when I was a freshman at University of Pittsburgh, but the tour was cut short for some reason that I have since forgotten, if I ever knew it.

The art for the Realm of Chaos album was taken from a game called Warhammer 40,000, a tabletop miniatures war game system made by Games Workshop. Owing to Bolt Thrower, I have spent a lot of money and time over the years collecting and painting tiny lead figures not unlike the characters pictured in Realm of Chaos Except for Evan (who didn't care for the painting), and my friend Joe, I never really met anyone else into the game, and as a result, I did a lot more painting than playing.

Suffice it to say, Bolt Thrower has had a pretty significant impact on my life, for better or worse. I've had the opportunity to interview the band twice, for their 1998 album Mercenary and for their 2001 disappointment Honour - Valour - Pride (the only album to feature a singer other than Karl). I own a not-inconsiderable number of Bolt Thrower shirts (and I used to own more - a very nice In Battle There Is No Law shirt was cut off me when I got into a car accident my senior year in high school.) I've collected every disc and single they've put out, a few bootlegs, and I even have a 7" with an unreleased recording from some German fanzine in the 80s. So it should go without saying that the release of a new Bolt Thrower album is a special event for me, and yesterday, I received my German import copy of the limited edition digipack (with bonus track) of the band's first release in four years, Those Once Loyal. I'm not going to go into details about the album itself, except to say that it's good and I like it. (For my full take on the album itself, have a look here.) I just wanted to muse for a while on the subject of a great inspiration in my life. I'll freely admit that my love of Bolt Thrower is inextricably wound in nostalgia, but for once, it's the kind of nostalgia that only makes me happy.

Posted by Matt at November 16, 2005 02:47 PM


At that Bolt Thrower show there were roughly a million unendurable local opening bands, but Matt recognized Karl and Andy among the crowd, so we sauntered over to them to chat. What friendly fellows! At one point, Karl mentioned that he had no idea where they actually were and put his head on Matt's shoulder in a very touching gesture, I thought. In retrospect, they may have been drunk or stoned, but they just seemed to be happy, friendly guys, and they were probably eager to chat with real Americans, rather than merely to perform for them nightly before moving on the the next shitty town.

I also clearly remember the look on Karl's face, when he noticed what was going on in the pit and instantly decided to fly off the stage and join the fray on the side of good. It might have been nice to stick around and see how the whole thing played out, but, as sensible teenagers whose parents were probably not too keen on our venturing into New Jersey for a heavy metal concert anyway, we decided the wiser move was immediately to am-scray and avoid any awkward explanations or calls from the police.

I should point out, also, that Matt's Warhammer fellows (and they were the Chaos troops, if memory serves), turned out really nice. I guess an obsessive attention to detail does have its benefits!

My comment is as long as your entry.

Posted by: Evan at November 16, 2005 04:15 PM

Yeah, there were a TON of openers, although two of them (Sacrifice and Believer, both of whom I later came to love but of whom at the time I knew very little) were part of the touring package. One of the local openers, Mortal Decay, are still around and still playing in shitty NJ clubs!

We didn't just find Karl and Whale - we found all five Bolt Throwers, and I have the autographs to prove it. They are among the only autographs I've ever collected (I also have one from Tom Angelripper from Sodom, and Peavy from Rage.)

And yeah, I remember well when Karl put his head on my shoulder! Good ol' Karl. He and I go way back!

Posted by: Matt Johnsen at November 16, 2005 04:20 PM

In defence, may I say that South and Central Jersey suck total ass???

Posted by: BenMech at November 18, 2005 03:07 PM

Matt, you introduced me to Bolt Thrower years ago when I, a mere metal neophyte, still thought Megadeth was pretty heavy stuff. To say I'm somewhat grateful for that is an understatement. From the very first time that Karl's dulcet tones and the song World Eater rumbled forth from my stereo system back at Pitt, I've been a changed man.

So today, I'm trolling ebay for vintage BT t-shirts as I do on occasion, and I find out about the new album. On the hunch that you might have already commented on it, I immediately booted up your page, lo and behold to find your Bolt-tastic soliloquy.

(Yes, I will now light myself on fire for using the word "Bolt-tastic".) The point is, you are to be commended for your continued loyalty; but if you ever decide to put up one of your classic BT shirts for auction, let me know. (There's a worn long-sleeve Warmaster listed on ebay for $80 even as we speak!)

Posted by: greg at November 18, 2005 05:35 PM

hehehe...great days indeed!

I remember it well...

Stumbled accross this posting..

nice 1...

Posted by: Karl Bolt at November 19, 2005 09:07 AM

Holy shit! Karl! I'm honoured by your presence. So much so that I've spelled "honoured" the way you like it! Thanks for stopping by!

Posted by: Matt Johnsen at November 21, 2005 08:57 AM



Well, this goddamned internet has finally paid off!


Posted by: Evan at November 21, 2005 01:54 PM

Even though I had to be walked through getting here, reading the Bolt Thrower post AND finding Karl's comment, I have to say that's all pretty cool! I can't wait to see his retelling of the account; that's the only time I've ever heard of a bandmember doing more than just ticking off fighters in the crowd. Bully for Bolt Thrower!
Honestly, I always thought the name had something to do with the old style of hauling red hot bolts around a construction site...but the truth makes SO much more sense...

Posted by: Damon at November 23, 2005 09:33 AM

Heres my account of the NJ Riot...It is a memorable point in the history of BoltThrower...

We where told before to expect some shit at this venue, we where greeted by a somewhat jumpy female promoter, Nazi skinheads had recently been walking into gigs and trashing the place and causing brawls, rumour had it tonight was to be no different.

We met with the guys from Immolation , top their tits on PCP, the load in was amusing...I'd had a bit of crystal meth that night which may have added to the overall weirdness of the night. Robert Muller our German freind from Century Media Records was also there, he kindly gave us the loan of his pet slugger(baseball bat), which we removed from the trunk (boot) of his car and surrepticiously hid behind the stage.

I remember throughout the support bands these nazi pricks had started to do that stupid arm streching routine a lot...I got on stage and told them to stop..(no suprise they didn't...but they'd had a warning....)

When we went on stage I was furious, I remember some small black dude, well into the band and metal who was petrified by these animals, I think I warned them a couple of times...but the only thing these idiots would react to was direct confrontation.

I launced myself off the stage aiming myself at this one gangly twat whom had annoyed me particularly, and between me and the sound engineer from the venue we had them cornered, I looked out the corner of my eye to see this huge Neaderthal coming right at me, with adolf hitler tattoed on his chest, at this point our Tour Manager intervened with the German slugger!

I saw the nazi monster collapse to the fllor with blood pissing out of his head, the backswing to the bat almost killed one of the skinhead kids whom must have been about 12.

The place descended into chaos, the security guards where related to the skinheads, it could have got bad...We loaded our gear out superquick thanks to a more together immolation! and high tailed it out of there.

As we left, Baz remembered we left the baseball bat in the venue, he went back in to retreive it just as the skinheads returned to the venue for vengeance...I have never seen a man move so quick through a melee of flailing limbs!

We drove off and we then thought that we where being followed by carloads of nazis after our blood, so we pulled over to confront them, yelling as we approached the stopped vechiles, until we realised it was some fans just making sure we got away ok....

A great yarn, to tell the grandchildren..(!?!)

Posted by: karl Bolt at November 23, 2005 10:15 AM

And now you know...the rest of the story...
That is some tale, and I'm grateful to get both sides of the fracas (well, Matt's and Karl's...not any skinhead stories, thank fuck...).

Posted by: Damon at November 29, 2005 10:10 AM

Our lasting question from that night has been, did anyone die?

Not sure if Karl will revisit this post, but I would also be interested to hear whether this was the worst violence they've experienced touring. Well, in fact, I'm sure I have a million questions for Karl, and he has already posted more than enough. Thanks, Karl!

By the way, I had a listen to the new album in Matt's car the other day and was really impressed! Musically, you guys have really got it together, but the production is also top notch. And, for what it's worth, I thought the packaging was very cool, too. The title of the album struck me as being about traitors, although, upon further review, it's about fallen soldiers. Nevertheless, we agreed that betrayal was ripe territory for Bolt Thrower! (If you are short on ideas, that is.)

Posted by: Evan at November 29, 2005 12:15 PM

I rember a few altercations and scuffles, usually with promoters or in German nightclubs..this was the only brawl that we got involved in whilst in the USA, maybe cos it is far from home it feels more exotic.

No one got killed.

New album title is entirely interpretable, we use Those Once loyal in reference to all those that have contributed to and helped us individually and as a band...this includes, ex members, crew past and present, individuals like John Peel and most importantly the fans/supporters of the band.

It can also relate to all those fuckers that tried to rip us off and fuck with us...the traitors, this can include Earache records, Black Metal and my Ex wife...the lyrics to Entrenched are written from a personal perspective and relate to this!

Nice 1...Grind On!!!!!!!!!!!!


Posted by: karl bolt at December 1, 2005 04:42 AM

I cna't believe you remember Believer and Sacrafice in such a fracus. I used to love those two bands but never got to see them (much less at a lousy skin head parade crashed by Bolt Thrower). I thought Zeus was the Bolt Thrower.

Posted by: erid at January 26, 2006 01:42 AM

Ah yeah, the south Jersey gig. I was there and got an fist in my right eye from a Nazi skin head.

As a then friend of the band, (esp. Whale, Karl and Jo) my best friend and I were positioned onstage during Bolt Thrower's performance (sandwiched between Whale and Jo). Whale was very concerned about the trouble brewing, and well, he was right.

Basically one of Believer's fans gently bumped into a Nazi a-hole during Believer's set. That's what triggered the whole thing if I remember correctly, although the skins were out looking for blood from the getgo.

I was thankful for our viewpoint when this crap erupted, but I saw Karl and Gavin and one of their roadies hungry for blood when the skins started up their stupidity big time. If Gavin could have used his guitar as a weapon he would have.

We also saw what happened afterward and hopefully we prevented dear Baz from getting beaten down by those a-holes when he went back inside the club for something. I remember calling Earache and trying to tell them about the injustice done to my one time dear friends and, to this day still my favorite band.

Posted by: Kaz at July 1, 2006 04:56 PM

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