The Greatest Idiot Riff : Bolt Thrower’s “World Eater”

Master’s Paul Speckmann is known for taking an idea and squeezing everything he can from it through repetition and then utilizing the most direct route to return to that idea. Though this mentality would fail many bands because the riffs didn’t have the necessary urgency and creativity to work. Bolt Thrower on the other hand took this approach and pushed it to the logical extreme as each individual riff became the central focus while narrative development was relegated to an afterthought despite somehow still being present. What made Bolt Thrower so intriguing was that they possessed powerful riffs that were caveman like and more often than not completely idiotic yet the band managed to soar where others failed miserably.

The greatest example of this is the opening riff to “World Eater” from Realm of Chaos. Starting with a simple chug of constant eighth notes that don’t even have the syncopation necessary to carry a groove. A one bar melody consisting a minor scale melody with a dissonant minor second added in for good measure before returning towards a whole bar of chugging. The chugging is repetitive, annoying and forces the listener to wait for something to happen and all the listener gets is a clumsy melody that stumbles around to create a whole greater than the sum of its parts. The melody integrates the dissonance and the chugging affirms the root note into the listener’s mind. The melody can be thought of as being four groups of two notes divided by chugs with a final grouping of four notes. The lone chugged notes add weight to each of the groups and should be considered as active pauses meaning that they provide a neutral tonality to allow each group to be properly appreciated without influencing the overall tonality. The groups are as follows:

Root note an octave higher followed by the minor second.

Minor second to minor third

Minor third to fourth

Minor second to minor third

Minor second to minor third and then minor second to the root note.

Notice how the first note of each group corresponds to the last note of the previous group. This makes the awkward jumps with the dissonant minor second (most dissonant interval within an octave 16/15 ratio which is exceedingly high) glide fluidly within the melody. The minor second demands immediate resolution and the band do so quickly with the minor third which is a powerful tool for conveying grandeur in metal with its imperfect consonance. The melody then jumps to a fourth which is a neutral interval that keeps the momentum going for the band once again to take advantage of the minor second to minor third resolution. The band restate that transition before returning to the root note for stability. The harmonization that occurs later on is in fifths and thickens the riff as it divides the power chord onto two guitars. The band slowly build the anticipation and then utilize rapid cycles of tension and release that alternate between epic and violent that builds the theme of war in the listener’s mind

Bolt Thrower were constantly able to create great riffs by deconstructing metal to its simplest tools and then building from there in their idiosyncratic way that emphasized the expression of war. “World Eater” sets the bar low with its opening almost deliberately before crushing expectation with a real tour de force like a Space Marine slowly aiming between the eyes of an enemy Tyrannid and missing before messily hacking it with his chainsword from close. Even during their weaker later years, the band managed to utilize such methods albeit in a more digestible format but nevertheless Bolt Thrower show what War metal should have been in their grandiose depictions of the horrors of war and the glory attributed the victors.

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17 thoughts on “The Greatest Idiot Riff : Bolt Thrower’s “World Eater””

  1. Brodog says:

    Someone has too much time on their hands

    1. me says:

      good for you

    2. krom says:

      bitch we all do

  2. maelstrrom says:

    And then there’s the outro riff that they reused as an intro for ‘cenotaph’ and ’embers’

    1. The chad caveman riff reuser

  3. canadaspaceman says:

    My fave track off that album. That chorus rules!
    Was never a huge fan, but enjoyed them, until I was bored of the repetitiveness.
    You nailed it, Bolt Thrower would force riffs together to make abrupt/awkward changes in a song.
    I doubt they were the first, but my guess is it started sometime in 1989, thrash and death bands were trying anything to be different than the next band.

  4. Vienna Durchfall Kommando says:


  5. johnny_cab says:

    Do you think Asphyx took the same approach?

  6. Nuclear Whore says:

    When I listened to this in the Grindcrusher compilation I was blown away. Pure destruction. What a compilation. They don’t do like them any more.

    1. bloodypulp says:

      hell yeah thats a good one

  7. failedcopy says:

    use a fucking staff and fucking full justification

    1. fucking says:

      use your fucking staff

  8. Cultbolpa says:

    A lot of empty words just to say:
    Bolt Thrower simply fucking rules!

    So what? We all know….


    1. how are they empty words?

      1. mlotek says:

        they aren’t.
        You always give responses that make sense or you just let it all fade away.
        if there is money in writing articles for mainstream media, i would hope you do that, as you do alright over here.
        My family has encouraged me for years to do that, but i will NEVER write for mainstream mags and newspapers.
        I have no patience. and no sympathy if they edit me.
        I would rather first burn them all the ground for their yellow journalism, after I learned the truth of the OKC bombing.

        1. Real Fake News says:

          Writing to stir shit up would be a good opportunity, if writing wasn’t so gay that is.

  9. Gustanoid says:

    Finally somebody who pays attention to riff and melody construction like myself

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