Mercenaries; Battling For Victory
CoC chats with Gavin Ward of Bolt Thrower
by: Paul Schwarz
Bolt Thrower can be compared to a tank both musically and in the way they approach their longterm career. The band roll straight over anything which might try to stand in their way or change them, be it labels, trends or line-up difficulties. They also launch high explosive shells at the ears of listeners worldwide in the form of their always bludgeoning albums. I have to be honest, their latest strike, and first in four years, in the form of _Mercenary_ (on Metal Blade) did not blow me away the way _Realm of Chaos_ or _... For Victory_ did, but it is still unmistakably Bolt Thrower and should certainly silence those who considered the band a confirmed kill. I dredged up the past, discussed the present and contemplated the future with guitarist Gavin Ward. Enter the realm of chaos, survey the conversational carnage that transpired.

CoC: Do you see _Mercenary_ as the pinnacle of your career or as one more step on the ladder?

Gavin Ward: One more step on the ladder. Pinnacle? Who knows? You could say _Warmaster_ was. Probably a lot of people have <laughs>. I obviously do like it, but it is a new album and the material is newer to us, whereas some of the old songs we may have played six or seven hundred times. I don't really see it album to album, I see it in songs.

CoC: I'd say there isn't a huge progression of Bolt Thrower...

GW: Thank you. We take that as a complement.

CoC: We (the fans) think of a new Bolt Thrower album coming out, nobody's gonna think the album will be the innovation of the year, but it could be a really great album. You've certainly changed your style to some degree since _Realm of Chaos_, though. The way you tune your strings and the manner in which you play. I'd say the approach on _Warmaster_ and _Mercenary_ particularly is slightly less fast, it's got a lot less blast beats, especially on this new album.

GW: Yup yup.

CoC: A lot more double bass drums. I am wondering whether that was intentional or just chance?

GW: Just chance. There's no set format, and looking for it is stupid. We just go along with what sounds good to us. But we are also a live band. So it's the culmination of all the songs from the different albums. Some _Mercenary_ will be played with _... For Victory_, _The Fourth Crusade_ and everything else.

CoC: An example though, if you take "Eternal War" from _Realms of Chaos_, you've got a lot more blastbeats and a lot more of the grindcore rhythm. _Warmaster_ onwards has far more normal song structures. Not that they're necessarily less extreme, but I think _RoC_ has a much more "grindcore" feel to it. I wonder whether you tried to move away from the "grindcore" tag?

GW: We've had a lot of tags. "War metal", "death metal", "grindcore", "hardcore". From the start, it's been about heavy music. The label really didn't matter. Some label's going to push you down some track; Earache, for instance, as death metal 'cause that's the way they think we're coming in, with Morbid Angel and everything else. It's just a sort of product placement.

CoC: You also used to have your "working relationship" with the Games Workshop (makers of tabletop battle games)?

GW: We did, 'cause we used the artwork on the _RoC_ cover.

CoC: There was this sort of massive association, though. 'Cause back in 1990/91, I was into miniature gaming, I wasn't even into metal, but your name (Bolt Thrower) kept coming up.

GW: I think Games Workshop did a survey on who bought their products and it worked out as metal kids, 14 to 17 year olds. Originally they approached us to record and do everything. GW were going to start their own label, they wanted ours as the first album, they were going to do the artwork and everything. Then Earache approached them. So we got the combination and we thought we'd use all the imagery and graphics from GW, but obviously Earache as a record label. I'm sure Games Workshop, going in for the first time, would have gone under doing that.

CoC: Would you go into a cooperative deal like that again?

GW: No, people like that want a lot more control. If you look at them against Earache, Earache were a small label, GW were a multi-million dollar company. There was too much restriction on the artwork. You're paying every time for a license -- it cost us fuckin' shitloads, the _RoC_ cover, about seven grand in the end. I was happy to pay it 'cause I liked it, but it's still fuckin' seven grand.

CoC: Your artwork's altered a bit. The first three covers are cartoonistic, battlehardened war pictures. Whereas on _The Fourth Crusade_ you used....

GW: A Delacroix painting.

CoC: The entry of the Turks into Constantinople [fall of the Holy Roman empire, end of the Roman army]. Then _...FV_, has a photograph and now _Mercenary_ has a picture, though of a different sort. Why did you chose this cover for _Mercenary_ and, in general, do you have a particular idea for your artwork?

GW: We've got a particular idea but it would be too expected to do _RoC_ again. Everyone sees that as the best cover that we ever had. So it would have been easy to have your gatefold, Games Workshop style and stuff like that. So on _...FV_ we made sure there was nothing like that.

CoC: I personally like that cover, in some ways it is better to me because it is more reflective -- more clever.

GW: <Laughs> True, true enough. For us it was sort of "art war", nice sunsets, it's something you wouldn't have as a cover. A lot of people didn't like it, but that doesn't really concern us. At the end of the day, when it goes in your CD player, the cover is a piece of paper. Looking for something is the killer. We commissioned four artists for the _Mercenary_ cover. One was a _RoC_ special <we both laugh>. The next one, the artist was going down some path on his own. We gave him a load of ideas and he just changed 'em around, so we thought "fuck that". Then eventually we approached this artist who is an actual war artist. He'd done work for the military. The _Mercenary_ picture is what's called a photolithograph, it's like a painted photo. I quite liked the idea -- it's fuckin' rough, it's rough and bleak, and I like that.

CoC: The cover and title of the album reflects the lyrics, it's a "Mercenary; Behind Enemy Lines" (both songs on _Mercenary_). Have you done any sort of concept on mercenaries with _Mercenary_?

GW: Some bits are probably sort of linked together, but not all of it, they never usually are. Not full concept albums. You could say _RoC_ was meant to be, but it wasn't. We sort of gave GW lyrics that we were happy with, not that they wanted particularly. Games Workshop actually wrote some for us. We didn't use any of 'em, 'cause they were fuckin' totally ridiculous.

CoC: The Carcass of war lyrics?

GW: Exactly, exactly.

CoC: Loads of crazy long words?

GW: Exactly, that is spot on!

CoC: Well yeah, 'cause that's exactly what the Games Workshop are like, if you read their rulebooks.

GW: It was just like that, they were actually embarrassingly funny -- they rhymed.

CoC: Oh wow. All poetry has to rhyme, of course. [Sarcasm.]

GW: And in that sort of sense, I think they were going a bit past the line, they'd stepped over it a bit too much themselves.

CoC: What is the song "Powder Burns" (on _Mercenary_) about?

GW: Drug enhancement. It came from a story of the Congo, obviously the mercenaries out there were fighting against tribespeople called the Simbas. Well, they were still very tribal with witchdoctors and stuff. There was strain of Shiva they used to take, which means you can carry on killing even after you've been killed, for about two or three minutes. The story sort of came around that for "Powder Burns".

CoC: The band's line-up changed over the last couple of years, which ended up with Karl Willets [long-time BT singer] back, and now he's left again.

GW: Well, we brought Karl in to do the album, we talked about touring -- for us, what we've been looking to do for so many years, is to seal a line-up. We tried it with Martin [Van Drunen, ex-Asphyx vocalist] and it didn't work out. What we've been trying to do is stay as one line-up, but we just don't get the dedication out of the new players. They haven't done enough for Bolt Thrower and if they're a bit half arsed, you're lookin' at them like, "you cunt, I'm livin' for this and you're half arsed." It gets embarrassing when your fans are more dedicated than your band. That's an embarrassing situation to be in, so we usually have to purge. We don't really like the idea, 'cause we're not arseholes who do that kinda shit, but if someone is slackin', they're slackin'. It is important to stay pure and the people you get in probably aren't massive Bolt Thrower fans.

CoC: But Karl, of course, has been in the band quite a while.

GW: Yeah, and it wasn't forced, either. It was totally natural 'cause it just felt like old times. We had a good time in there, easy.

CoC: Is your replacement Dave Ingram from Benediction?

GW: Yes, of course.

CoC: Is Dave staying with the band?

GW: He's joined.

CoC: Do you think Karl will go to Benediction and we'll have a Napalm Death / ENT for 1998?

GW: No, I don't think so. Who knows, though?

CoC: So, why Dave?

GW: Well, we played a gig with Dave after we kicked Martin out and Dave fitted like a glove, personality-wise and on stage. He just seemed like he'd been in BT for years. It wasn't forced, that's what I liked about it, it was quite natural and he's obviously really up for it. We also rate his vocal style. We wanted to keep it, sort of extreme vocals, that's originally why we got Martin in. It would have been so simple for the band, after Karl left [originally], to put a singer in. Make no mistake, that would have been the obvious thing: put a singer in, still quite heavy music, try and go more commercial; but it is something we just didn't want.

CoC: _Mercenary_ has a different producer [Ewan Davies]; Colin Richardson produced _Warmaster_, _... For Victory_...

GW: And _The Fourth Crusade_ and _Realm of Chaos_.

CoC: So, did you move away from him 'cause you weren't happy with his previous work or was the change for variety's sake?

GW: We actually asked him, and I don't think he wanted to do it. Plus, then we heard what the price was gonna be, and he was fuckin' dreaming.

CoC: 'Cause he's done all the Fear Factory, etc. albums now.

GW: Unfortunately that's what he was looking for, he's got his own agent who was taking a percentage and his wife was managing him and he was looking for the high life. On _...FV_, though, we almost recorded without him. Basically, when we did _...FV_, at the end of the session I looked over to see his face and he was fuckin' relieved. Not happy, he was fuckin' relieved. In the past, even though he's produced, we count him as an adviser. He don't get no say, 'cause the band are sitting in there going "fuckin' no way". On _FC_ we tried him, we actually were interested in how he would produce us if we left him to do it. We left him with one song and when we came back we were fuckin' crying with laughter at how shit it was. This one, it worked out. He wanted 10,000 pounds (US$ 16,000). He ain't that good.

CoC: I have no idea of production costs...

GW: No, nor have I, but he ain't that good! <We both laugh> He might be five thousand, he might be six, but he certainly is not ten. With this studio we went in, Lincoln, Ewan works with him. So we had an idea of what he did. But really, _Mercenary_, Bolt Thrower produced with Ewan advising and engineering. It is something we wanted to get more hands on.

CoC: So in the future would you like to found your own studio and produce your albums yourself?

GW: Nah, we have thought about it in the past just like we thought about our own record label, but because we do the merchandising, the tours and the management, just trying to join more in is going to turn it into a fuckin' nightmare and I think you're not gonna concentrate on the band as much because you're gonna be more a business part of it, and I don't like that idea. You still wanna be a band and play music, but unfortunately some of the other stuff just comes with it.

CoC: What are your plans for touring?

GW: January will be Europe, then probably America. We also wanna do some countries we haven't done before.

CoC: When are you touring in the UK?

GW: We're not.

CoC: You're not?

GW: Nah.

CoC: Not again.

GW: Yup.

CoC: It's been a while...

GW: About five and a half years.

CoC: How come, is Metal Blade unhappy to put up the money?

GW: No, and England isn't either. It's just we've played England and had really good gigs and we've played and not had really good gigs. It is weird, but what we usually do is use a UK gig as a warm-up show. It's shitter not playing at all. But you go where you're wanted, pretty simply.

CoC: It's a pity for the fans, but if you can't get the numbers...

GW: Well, it is not just the fans over here, the album, the distribution is so bad over in England. You can't even see it in the shops. There's more of that _Who Dares Wins_ [Earache "rarities" compilation from which Bolt Thrower get nothing]. Nothing to do with the band, you can bet on it, 'cause we don't like shit like that. Earache are just trying to make some cash. We thought it was going to be a greatest hits. You know you're finished then, you know it is over.

CoC: You've never done a big light and pyrotechnics show live. With your war image, that surprises me. To have a band who are so into war, but live, don't have that effect. Except musically.

GW: Yeah, it's true. We've never really had that, but we have had pretty decent light shows. We just use a lot of backdrops.

CoC: Will you pretty much be staying the same from here onwards?

GW: We think so. We look for perfection. That's what we're searching for. If we ever think that we can't release an album as good as the last one, we won't. Releasing a crap or watered down album means that it's gone for us, 'cause the music is gone.

CoC: Would you say any of your albums inspired you to write a better album by being bad?

GW: It is hard to say about disappointment, 'cause for us it is the memory of the time when it was done, so though it might not sound as good to you now, you just remember that time. So it is still positive.

(article submitted 16/1/1999)


CHATS
10/31/2005 J Smit Bolt Thrower: Armageddon's Just a Matter of Time
1/14/2002 A Bromley Bolt Thrower: Metal Pride
ALBUMS
10/10/2005 J Smit 9 Bolt Thrower - Those Once Loyal
1/14/2002 D Rocher 7 Bolt Thrower - Honour, Valour, Pride
10/1/1998 A Bromley 7 Bolt Thrower - Mercenary
GIGS
3/14/1999 M Noll Bolt Thrower / Crowbar / Totenmond Zeus Himself Would've Been Proud
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