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.