Bolt Thrower

support Benediction + Beholder
author GR date 29/08/09 venue The Asylum, Birmingham, UK

When fellow Rockfreaks.net scribe EW first posted about this gig on Facebook and asked if anyone wanted to go, I believe my response was "HELL YES!". Bolt Thrower are undoubtedly one of the most legendary death metal bands to come out of England; and have become one of my favourites of the genre. With the band only playing select dates in recent years - mainly festivals - they were also one of the bands on my 'must-see' list (we've all got one of those), having missed out on their last UK gig in 2006. I had assumed that I would eventually see them somewhere such as Wacken, but instead I found myself making a 340 mile round trip to the home of heavy metal, Birmingham.

The venue turned out to be a few minutes walk from my hotel, in a somewhat run-down industrial part of the city and to my surprise there was only a very small queue to get in. I have since learnt that this was because the door time had been moved forward by an hour and a half - meaning that all the merchandise had sold out by the time I arrived. As Bolt Thrower only sell merch at their gigs and not online, I missed out on getting a much sought after Bolt Thrower t-shirt. Damn!

Beholder

After buying the obligatory pint in the cosy outer bar, I ventured into the main hall of The Asylum where Beholder were already in full flight. Despite being the first band on they had quite a crowd, most of who were watching with static half-interest, but with a few fans jumping around near the front. Their BLS with hints of Pantera and even Nevermore (or maybe the beer had already gone to my head!) influenced sound was enjoyable enough in a local-band type way, but didn't really grab me as anything outstanding. If memory serves me correct, I saw these guys a couple of times in 2007 when they were a covers band, but it was original material all the way this time around with the highlights being an epic song by the name of "The Heretic" and the Sophie Lancaster-dedicated "Never Take Us Down". Vocalist Simon Hall certainly has the potential to be an imposing frontman, but their overall performance was a little underwhelming from a band that have been getting high praise in the metal media.

6

Benediction

Another - but less appreciated - British death metal institution were up next in the form of Benediction. I must admit that I'm not overly familiar with their recorded output, but having seen excellent performances from them at Bloodstock 2007 and last years Damnation Festival, I was looking forward to a potentially great set - and I wasn't disappointed. Current frontman Dave Hunt (also of Anaal Nathrakh and Mistress) has a natural charm and confidence that could win over any crowd, let alone one hungry for old school death metal. That's what Benediction delivered in heaps - riff after glorious riff and tortured vocal line dragged from the beginnings of the genre itself. It was certainly not all about past glories though, as a healthy slew of songs from 2008s "Killing Music" were aired, notable highlights being the visceral "Burying The Hatchet" and "Dripping With Disgust". The band were obviously pleased to be back in Birmingham with their old touring partners, friends and family, with the occasion also marking bassist Frank Healy's '65th' (or so the Bolt Thrower website cheekily announced) birthday. An unprompted chorus of "Happy Birthday" started up after the first song, followed by plenty of good-natured shouts of "you old bastard!". Keen to remind us that "Benediction were one of the most punk death metal bands" they ripped into an old song that certainly did show off their punk influences whilst maintaining their crushing death metal sound. A bass malfunction towards the end of their set saw the band playing sans the aforementioned Mr Healy for a whole song, before he returned with a borrowed Bolt Thrower bass for the audience-demanded encore. The fact he had to play the instrument the wrong way up (being left-handed) didn't seem to hinder his performance an iota, with the band charging through a couple more heandbanging anthems to an appreciative audience. Guitarists Darren Brookes and Peter Rew - and the rest of the band for that matter - still clearly love the live environment, with their energy and enthusiasm staying high until the final thundering note.

Bolt Thrower

After heading out of the sauna-like main hall for a much needed cooling down in the bar area, it was time for the main event: Would Bolt Thrower live up to expectations? Had my six hour coach trip been worth it? Did I have enough money for another beer? Thankfully the answer to all of these questions was a resounding yes. Despite the gig being sold out, the 450-capactiy venue hadn't been over-filled, which mercifully gave everyone a bit of breathing room and meant I managed to get a decent spot, with a good view of the stage and enough room for headbanging. This is an important point, as I fail to see how anyone could watch a band such as Bolt Thrower, especially in a fairly 'intimate' setting such as this, without finding themselves engaging in a bout of wind-milling at some point (hair permitting of course!).A suitably epic classical intro tape announced the arrival of Bolt Thrower to the stage before they launched into "At First Light", the first of many great songs from their war-drenched back catalogue. From this point on there was no doubt who we had all come to see, as Bolt Thrower commanded the stage and had the enthusiastic audience eating out of their hands. The combination of a 'few' beers and not knowing the entirety of their back catalogue means I'm unable to recall the full set list, but needless to say (and without a new record to promote) plenty of classic tracks were given a airing. Highlights including "Warmaster", "World Eater", "The IVth Crusade", "Mercenary" and personal favourite "No Guts, No Glory" were played with passion and conviction, even after all these years. Frontman Karl Willetts has a great death metal voice and the rest of the band were spot on, as you would expect from veteran performers. The night apparently marked the first time Bolt Thrower had played their back yard of Birmingham in 15 years (or maybe it was the first time there in 15 years with Benediction, I'm not entirely sure) and they were obviously just as pleased to be back as Benediction had been.

Such was my enjoyment that I lost all sense of time during the set, but it was at some point near the end that I realised just how good the sound had been for each of the bands, especially Bolt Thrower, with the mix perfectly bringing to life their thick and heavy sound. The venue boasts it is "designed and built by musicians, with musicians in mind" and this certainly seems to be true, much to the benefit of gig-goers.

After leaving the stage for a few moments, to much chanting of their name, another military-esque intro tape kicked in for the encore and we were treated to a storming rendition of "...For Victory", it's doomy nature lending it to the live environment perfectly like so many of the songs heard throughout the night. After another song came the final encore of "Inside The Wire", a track I was not familiar with but sounded great all the same. I don't think the band had planned to play this song (it being requested by someone at the front and Karl checking with the others that they could remember it!), but with a cheering and shouting mass of fans before them, they could hardly leave the stage without a final bout of brilliant death metal. With a concluding "see you in another 15 years!", Bolt Thrower left the stage having proved they really are one of the best British bands still around; and leaving me eager to see them again. We'll just have to hope they feel like playing these fair shores once more sometime soon.

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