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interview by: Roberto Martinelli

Yet another thrill for me this issue: not only do I get to talk with my favorite black metal band, but I also get to chat with Bolt Thrower, the band that got me into extreme metal in the first place. Ever since hearing Realm of Chaos for the first time years ago, Bolt Thrower has never gotten old for me. It's curious, because you'd think it would certainly have by now.

Looking objectively at the band as individual members, Bolt Thrower have never really been anything special, aside perhaps from the excellent death vox of departed frontman Karl Willets. While the guitarists never really could solo, and the drummer basically played four beats and always did the same fill, Bolt Thrower always manages to be truly heavy and aggressive, while being catchy and surprisingly melodic at the same time. In light of this last assessment, the supreme irony is that no band has since managed to mimic the massiveness and flavor that Bolt Thrower presents again and again. See, because it's as a whole that Bolt Thrower is supreme.

Bolt Thrower is and always will be like a tank. You know what you're gonna get, and if you're enamored with tanks, you'll be disappointed with anything but. A few years ago the precious whole lost its drummer, and the band's work seemed to suffer because of it. Trouble loomed for fans as word that Karl Willets was also leaving, further weakening the Bolt Thrower tank crew. Again, it would seem, the departure of another one of the core has yielded an even less satisfying album. However, while I can't say I'm crazy about the latest disk, I can't deny it still sounds like Bolt Thrower, nor can I deny how much pure excitement I'll feel knowing that one of my all time favorite bands is still alive and playing, and how much it means to me to be able to speak with Gavin Ward (guitar).

Maelstrom: Hi, Gavin.

Gavin Ward: Hi, how's it goin'?

Maelstrom: Good. Nice to talk to you. I just wanted to tell you before I start off that Bolt Thrower is one of my favorite bands. You're basically the reason I got in to death metal. So it's really a thrill to be able to talk to you and interview you.

Gavin Ward: Well, thanks a lot. I appreciate it.

Maelstrom: Hey, you're welcome. I guess I wanted to start off by asking you to shed a little light on the numerous changes in vocalists over the past two or three years. It seemed that whenever I'd be talking with people about Bolt Thrower, someone would say that Karl Willets was back, that he left, Dave Ingram was in, Ingram was had some Dutch guy... What was going on there?

Gavin Ward: Well, we basically had to shuffle through. Always lookin'. In '95, Karl and (Andy) Whale (drums) left - musical differences - we were trying to replace 'em. We replaced Whale with Martin Kearns. (Martin) Van Drunen [the Dutch guy] came in, but we used him as a stopgap. We knew we probably wouldn't record in the studio with him. He toured with us - probably on two tours. He was eventually removed, and Dave (Ingram) left Benediction and joined Bolt Thrower probably about three years ago.

Maelstrom: So what are Karl Willets and Andy Whale doing now?

Gavin Ward: Andy Whale is laying cables, and Karl Willets is selling insurance.

Maelstrom: Wow. Do you guys miss them at all in the band?

Gavin W: ...sometimes.

Maelstrom: What do you miss about them?

Gavin Ward: Well, Karl was a speed freak loose cannon, so we miss him sometimes. (chuckle) Whale...didn't really miss 'im.

Maelstrom: (subdued shock) Why not?

Gavin Ward: Whale was totally loyal in the old days, and that's why he was retained in the band. Probably getting near ...For Victory, his drumming wasn't that good, like. But he was kept in because he was loyal, and then basically as soon as he weren't, he was removed.

Maelstrom: I want to talk a bit about the idea of Bolt Thrower progressing. Some bands say they progress, or else they stagnate and fall apart. In Bolt Thrower's case, I think the total opposite is true. Bolt Thrower fans want that sound, those same drums; anything else is a letdown. How do you think about this?

Gavin Ward: It comes down to the fans and to the band, pretty simply. Most bands, when they talk about progression, they talk about getting bigger, more commercial, more cash. Generally. You know what I mean? They go "we progressed," but really they changed their style, don't they? They either change the way they look, or the style, or the vocal style to gain more accessible music; to become bigger, and in the end turn into pretty shitty bands. So with us, we're still just playing the music we're into. It came down to that in the end, probably the time when Karl and Whale left, they were getting into a lot of different styles and wanted to change the style of what it was.

Maelstrom: What did they want to change it to?

Gavin Ward: Karl was getting more into Soundgarten, and stuff like that. So they were still lookin' for some heavy-ish music, but with more commercial vocals. It wasn't something we were at all interested in. We knew years ago, when we started, that it would never be totally accessible music, do you know what I mean? It was always going to be in some way underground, in some way more of a cult band, like.

Maelstrom: It seems like you were always making efforts to stay underground. Like almost renounced making a big success commercially, don't you think?

Gavin Ward: Yeah, yeah! For us, it must be retained to be underground in some ways. By underground, I mean: we don't do anything chicken shit. It's not like we haven't got money; but we have got control of what we do, in every aspect. Obviously, we manage the band, we print the merchandise, we book the tours. You never really get any surprises, which I'm sure if we'd been in a band with management and everything else around us, we'd eventually ended up as puppets playing some half-ass shit, you know what I mean?

Maelstrom: Does this approach in terms of not progressing compromise you as an artist, and do you care?

Gavin Ward: Nah, I don't care. I've never considered myself an artist or a musician anyway. We're just a band, playing music we're into.

Maelstrom: Ok, Gavin. Let's talk about the new album a little bit. There are two obvious things I've noticed about it. The music is really slow! Also, there are few guitar solos, and the ones you do aren't the shrill ones that we've become accustomed to. Why did you choose these two directions?

Gavin Ward: It's not really even a conscious decision of choosing direction; you just play what you play. It comes out how it comes out; without parameters. There were less solos, but there was more harmonies, if you want to call it - or melodies. So as more melodies got put in, more solos got removed.

Maelstrom: How about the slowness of the music? It's very plodding, there's maybe a couple times where the pace picks up a little bit.

Gavin Ward: In the end, it comes down to the live set. We write albums as they come, but you're still looking for a live set, and knowing you'll be playing a lot of the older, faster ones amongst it. At the end of the day, we're a live band. So everything is sort of set for a purpose, but although we don't really look on speed, I think when you go: "allright, let's write some fast songs!" I don't think that works. We write what we write. But it also means we haven't sort of thought we were going to consciously go slower, 'cause the next album might be a lot faster. Do you know what I mean?

Maelstrom: How does it work with Bolt Thrower and Metal Blade? Do you have a timetable where you have to put out another album in a certain amount of time?

Gavin Ward: No. We release what we want to release, and it's done when it's done, and it's released when we say so.

Maelstrom: What's your favorite song on the new album?

Gavin Ward: "Contact - Wait Out."

Maelstrom: What do you like about that song?

Gavin Ward: It's really simple, and it just sounds like Bolt Thrower.

Maelstrom: I think I like "K-Machine" the most.

Gavin Ward: Yeah, yeah...yeah! With the bass start. Yeah. It come out good, as far as production wise; one of the first ones we mixed.

Maelstrom: Oh, really?

Gavin Ward: It was one of them ones where you were looking for the sound of getting it all right. "K-Machine" came out with more drums than some of the other ones, probably.

Maelstrom: It seems that the cover of the new album is a return to the Games Workshop art. I like the art. Is it indeed a Games Workshop piece?

Gavin Ward: No, not at all. Nor was Warmaster. The only Games Workshop piece was Realm of Chaos. There was such tight restrictions on copyright control, you couldn't do anything. Do you know what I mean? It's hard to use the imagery afterward: if it was licensed or released in other countries, you had to pay for every issue.

Maelstrom: Games Workshop has a little empire going on there.

Gavin Ward: Well, yeah, no shit. In them days, it was probably a lot bigger. We were contracted to Earache (records), and Earache was contracted to Games Workshop. They went to four printers just for the cover, like. But they just kept refusin'. Earache would go get the cover printed and go, "nah, it's not good enough. Bring us another." In the end, on Warmaster, we just approached a freelance artist that worked for them (Games Workshop). This was a young German kid who did the chaos eye on Mercenary and the new chaos eye. Over the three years - probably between Mercenary and now, he got really good. I'd say right now he's probably better than their artists. The new Games Workshop stuff isn't very good, like. We basically have the best they had.

Maelstrom: It's interesting. The time I went to Britain and went to a Games Workshop store, I asked about Bolt Thrower, to see if anyone who worked there knew about it. And hardly anyone knew who you were. They listen to the lamest shit in there, Gavin. It's like they surround themselves with all the Bolt Thrower visuals, all the aggressive war stuff, but they listen to all this ridiculous pop stuff. It's hilarious.

Gavin Ward: Yeah, yeah, yeah. No shit. In England, they had it in the shops, but it was still the same there. They'd be playing lame shit! Do you know what I mean? Really, at the end of the day, with Games Workshop, the boss was into the band. He was into John Peel. He had heard the band do the first radio (Peel) session. He had contacted us through that. And at that point Earache weren't even involved. Games Workshop were going to finance everything, and then Earache tried to basically join into the new game.

Maelstrom: And how did all that stuff sit with you? In terms of this connection with Games Workshop, how was that like?

Gavin Ward: Games Workshop was good, because it prodded Earache more; where Earache was probably slightly interested in the band, but when they knew someone else was interested and was going to finance everything... Obviously, when Games Workshop had the first interview with Earache, they just walked all over them, do you know that I mean? They were a multi-million dollar company at that point, so they were saying anything that they wanted to. Pretty good shit for our band, 'cause things were looking well positive on our side. As far as the album went, we sort of skipped around some of the stuff that we liked of theirs that didn't go full concept they way they wanted. I think they wanted to put in all the song titles and none of the lyrics, originally, which wasn't going to happen. I think that had been done it in the past with Sabbat, where really you've got a bunch of puppets. So we weren't into that idea at all, like.

Maelstrom: Your albums have all been about war, and your music has changed little over your career. What makes you keep on going? Do you ever envision a day when you'll want to not do this anymore?

Gavin Ward: Mmmm..... Good question.... Not that I can think of.

Maelstrom: Why not?

Gavin Ward: You mean, to not do it?

Maelstrom: Yeah, what drives you to keep making these albums over and over again?

Gavin Ward: Probably fans and gigs, at the end of the day, like. They're obviously the main priorities: the fans and the band. Everything else is quite secondary to that.

Maelstrom: So that's what you love the most: to be able to play for people.

Gavin Ward: Well, yeah. Yeah. Of course. The gigs are the best. Studio can be a pleasure or it can be hard, like. Obviously Honour, Valour, Pride was a right pleasure recordin', but that was because we were producin' as well and had a lot more control of what was happenin'. We were havin' a good time, do you know what I mean?

Maelstrom: Who writes the music and the lyrics?

Gavin Ward: In the past, myself and Baz (Thompson, guitar) wrote most of the music, and myself and Karl wrote the lyrics. Since Karl left, Baz writes all the music. Myself, Baz and Jo (Bench, bass) structure it, and then myself and Dave write the lyrics.

Maelstrom: How did you all meet originally?

Gavin Ward: In a toilet.

Maelstrom: Really?

Gavin Ward: Basically, we were at a show. There were three of us: Alan West (original vocalist), Baz and myself. What I had heard was they didn't have a name yet, but had jammed a bit. I heard that they were going to have this real dickhead in on bass at the time. So I went up to Baz in the toilet and said: "Don't have that dickhead. Have me, like." And then from that point it was us three, we started writing songs. About a month after that, we got the name, and after probably another month and a half we got about five or six songs, and then we got a drummer. The drummer was the hardest at that point, to find drummers that were playing double bass.

Maelstrom: How did you find Jo Bench?

Gavin Ward: Jo had been my girlfriend for a long time. I moved on guitar and she replaced me on bass.

Maelstrom: Andy Whale had the biggest drum kit ever. His bass drum must've been at least 36 inches, or something. Are you still using his kit for live shows?

Gavin Ward: (chuckles) Not at all. Martin Kearns has his own kit. He's got really deep 22 inch, whereas Whale had very thin but wide bass drums.

Maelstrom: Yeah, like, his little tom was the size of my big tom.

Gavin Ward: Yeah. (chuckles)

Maelstrom: It was really funny, I have to tell you: How Andy Whale's fills were always the same, but that's what I sort of liked about him.

Gavin Ward: Yeah, he was no frills drummin'! (laughs) He had his moments. Probably around Warmaster, he was probably playing the best shit he'd ever played. But he was quite limited. Whale was coming out of a punk scene. When we [first] had him, he didn't even play double bass, like.

Maelstrom: Wow! That's hilarious, considering [Bolt Thrower] is all about double bass drumming.

Gavin Ward: Well, the next practice, that's what he was on! Do you know what I mean? Haha. He come in as a single, and the next practice he got another bass drum. It took him a few months to really start getting it together, and a few years to try to sort of get it. But coming from the punk scene means he could play pretty fast, and he could fill pretty fast, but it was quite limited what he was doing as well, like. The kit is quite simple. Really, at the end of the day, we didn't see Whale as an impact drummer, either. He had his moments live, but Kearns is a lot more dynamic in that he hits a lot harder - his velocity is a lot better on everything. It means he breaks more shit, but... Every time we move, he costs us.

Maelstrom: When are you coming to the US to your?

Gavin Ward: Hopefully soon. We're meant to be talking to Metal Blade about it now, like. We're looking for a support tour, really. We've had a couple of gos at headlining, and they weren't really happening.

Maelstrom: What has your experience been in coming to the US?

Gavin Ward: The first time, in '91, two months top to bottom and end to end. And then '95, just through New York and New Jersey. Probably saw the most in '91. We had a bus. We had a killer time. It was a straight adventure. Got the tour support, got the bus, bought arcade games on it, brought a brand new backline over there. We worked it out: it was the same to hire one as it was to buy a bus. Good mood. Good weather. You really couldn't ask for more. We had good gigs, and obviously some crap ones.

Maelstrom: What were good gigs? Can you give us some good Bolt Thrower road stories? You've been around so long. I'm sure you've had a great amount of adventures.

Gavin Ward: Yeah, yeah, plenty. Some are obviously classified! Nobody knows them, you know what I mean?

Maelstrom: Hahaha!

Gavin Ward: We like to keep secrets as well. Weird ones, probably Australia was a mad one: someone broke his back stage divin', another one broke his neck. Both drummers of our support bands. Five ambulances and the police pulled the show. There was a big PA, and it was high. It was a high dive, and basically over in Australia, no one catches you. So the ones that dive off the top, a gap just appears and "pfff!". Nasty.

Maelstrom: You put out that limited edition live CD with ...For Victory when it first came out. That live CD is really great. It's not the best sound quality, but it captures such great energy.

Gavin Ward: I'll tell you what's funny about it: there's no one there! There must have been about 15 people!

Maelstrom: Hahaha!

Gavin Ward: You can hear the people that shout out! It's probably the same voices! Cradle of Filth were on that gig, supporting us.

Maelstrom: Really!?

Gavin Ward: When they were 17, with their dad road managing them. It was when they were first wearing make up. Pretty funny. I don't think any of them are left in the band now. Not even the singer.

Maelstrom: Any plans on re-releasing that live CD?

Gavin Ward: Not at all. Part of it was we really liked the idea of the double CD pack. Plus the fans basically get a live album for free. Usually, if you let the label release it, it would have been full-priced. Also, it got to wipe out the live album off the contract. So it means we stopped the record label from releasing one by releasing one with the new [studio album]. It was quite a smart move.

Maelstrom: I've heard rumors about another Bolt Thrower coming out. A live one.

Gavin Ward: Uh, no...ummmm...we've talked about it. We don't want it to come out full price. Maybe if we could sort of guarantee the pricing on it we'd be interested. It's one of them things. Live albums are weird, like. People usually release them if they haven't got new material, or it's a stopgap to an album coming later. We'd like to release one, but we might not. Also, we might release one with the next album.

Maelstrom: That sounds like the best thing to me!

Gavin Ward: Well, it sounds like the best thing to us, too. It would be a nice double CD again.

Maelstrom: I wanted to get some opinions from you, since you're such a grizzled veteran, about what's going on today in the scene of the music that you play.

Gavin Ward: A lot of it went black metal. Now a lot are coming back. A lot of the black metal bands are shitty live. The album's ok; they may be able to trick shit in the studio, but live a lot of them are pretty fucking awful. For us, it's sort of: it goes up, it goes down, but our shows are always really good. There was supposed to be a decline of death metal a few years ago, but all the shows we played were sold out, so we can't really judge how it is. Also, we try not to take too much notice of it. I don't think we're dickheads, or arrogant, but we are elitist.

Maelstrom: Ok, Gavin. It's been really, really cool to talk to Bolt Thrower. How fantastic is that for me?

Gavin Ward: When did you get into us, out of curiosity?

Maelstrom: Realm of Chaos.

Gavin Ward: Why did you pick it? Did you hear it in the shop first? Did a friend have it?

Maelstrom: I heard about this band Bolt Thrower, and they were supposed to be really great. The cover was really cool (one of the best ever.) All the way through the booklet, the art is great.

Gavin Ward: Was it a CD?

Maelstrom: Yeah. I liked "World Eater." I especially liked Karl Willets voice. And as I got more into Bolt Thrower with The IVth the way, I don't understand why it seems to be a common thing that people don't like The IVth Crusade. Have you noticed that?

Gavin Ward: Uh...yeah. IVth Crusade's a weird one, production-wise. Some of the songs are really good, the space; some of the epic riffs, like. The production was down on that one. We class it as flatlined - no real dynamics. Quite samey, song to song. I think it was a good basic production generally, which can really turn people off as well. It's weird, 'cause it'd be one that would go: "oh, the fans probably really don't like that one," but the songs go down <killer>. I think some music, you're meant to hear it live with all the shit and all the bum notes.

Maelstrom: I've read criticism of The IVth Crusade that "they re-use a lot of riffs" and stuff. I'm thinking "what are you talking about?" Bolt Thrower re-uses riffs on purpose. I have a friend who doesn't like the ...For Victory album because it doesn't have that intro that you have on "Cenotaph."

Gavin Ward: It was missed on ...For Victory on purpose. Obviously it came back on Mercenary. So it's forgotten on this one, and comes back on the next one. It's basically [going to be] six (songs) that interconnect, from "In Battle there is No Law," to "World Eater," to "Cenotaph," to "Embers" to "Powder Burns."

Maelstrom: Why do you do that?

Gavin Ward: Just a nice idea. Live, we lock them. On this tour we'll lock "World Eater," "Cenotaph" and "Powder Burns" all together. No gaps. Eventually we'll lock 'em all.

Maelstrom: Just one big, fucking song? Hahaha!

Gavin Ward: I'm sure people will be asleep by the end!


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