Review Summary: Appearing ambitious with the theme of a crusade at the beginning of the 13th Century, Bolt Thrower slow down the pace of their general sound and make a much heavier albeit very formulaic style that proves to be very worthwhile.
At the beginning of the 13th Century, between 1202 and 1204, The fourth crusade commenced, leading to the eventual capture of Constantinople and the creation of the Latin Empire. It essentially signified one of the final acts in “The Great Schism” between the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church, as well as a key turning point in the decline of the Empire and Christianity in the near East. So when British Death Metal band Bolt Thrower decided in 1992 that this would be the main theme of their enigmatic fourth album, aptly titled “The IVth Crusade”, you can understand their reasoning behind doing so. Just listen to the album's simplistic yet significant closer, 'Through the ages', in which a very intense-sounding Karl Willets adopts the form of a passionate historian and runs through everything that happened in The fourth Crusade. Here he doesn't come across as the sort of person that hesitates to show their passion for historical warfare. Instead he, alongside Gavin Ward, Barry Thompson, Jo Bench and Andrew Whale, shows a genuine interest for fusing a slower, heavier and doomier approach to Death Metal with themes that constantly refer to war-related eras of the past.
To many of the band's fans however, it would appear by this point that Bolt Thrower had opted for a slower, heavier sound greatly influenced by the likes of Black Sabbath and Candlemass as opposed to the rapid-fire, formulaic Death Metal sounds of “War Master”. Whether this change in musical style was purely done to emphasize the influence of The fourth crusade on the album probably doesn't matter, since the one thing Bolt Thrower have always excelled at throughout their career is being consistent with their own sound. Even if each of the album's songs aren't that different to one another, you'll still find yourself banging your head quite vigorously to the likes of the immediately furious title track, 'This time it's war' or 'Dying creed'. However, because of this, some will be looking elsewhere for a more experimental approach to the genre of Death Metal. It's no problem though, because once 'The IVth crusade' is over it'll take at least a few more listens to get bored of the sound for once.
If you won't like this album for the fact that it appear strongly repetitive, then you'll surely admire it for the excellently executed solos courtesy of Gavin Ward and Barry Thompson. On the faster songs such as 'Icon', 'Where next to conquer' and 'Spearhead' the two guitarists do well at enhancing the razor-blade riffs and scything solos at an evidently slower pace, but it is specifically the solos themselves that stand out. On the aforementioned songs they appear to flow well with the other instruments yet also add a new level of intensity and precision to the sound itself. Again, for a genuine fan of Bolt Thrower, this won't be anything new, but it's certainly something that should be duly noted, especially when trying to find something admirable or outstanding on an otherwise simplistic sound. The vocal talent of Karl Willets on this particular album is definitely the one thing that has always made Bolt Thrower stand out from the crowd. Although his vocals are not that different to the likes of Dave Ingram, they are understandable enough to make out what Willets is saying, and consequently this makes the lyrics themselves a real bonus to the album's sound. Naturally the album's closer 'Through the ages' is different in this respect, but with every other song Willets uses those well-written lyrics to his advantage and takes charge himself, even at times, as on 'Where next to Conquer' or 'Ritual, sounding as if his throat were to explode immediately.
“The Ivth crusade” is perhaps a career-defining record for Bolt Thrower in the sense that the musical style has attempted a heavier and slower-paced sound, replacing the quick-fire, rawer nature of the band's first three records. However, it is with the specific theme of The fourth crusade and the capturing of Constantinople that each and every song on the band's fourth album is assisted to become more furious and more focused than they would had they merely been written about blood and gore.