Bolt Thrower is a Death Metal band (well, legend) from Coventry, United Kingdom, formed in 1986. The band was founded by bassist Gavin Ward and guitarist Barry Thomson in a Coventry pub toilet during a hardcore punk gig (source). Bolt Thrower has released two demos, eight full length and one live album. Their name actually comes from Warhammer, the popular tabletop war game developed by Games Workshop. The band’s lyrics and artworks are also based on the game (the artworks of Bolt Thrower’s albums even were provided by Games Workshop).
Warhammer first appeared in 1983 and comes with miniature regiments of fantasy races like humans, elves, dwarfs, undead, orcs, vampires or the daemonic forces of chaos. The current official version is the eighth edition, released on 10 July 2010 (source). Bolt Thrower also integrated a popular sign from the game: the symbol of chaos. But Warhammer isn’t the origin of this sign.
The symbol of chaos originates from Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion stories. In them, the symbol comprises eight arrows in a radial pattern. Moorcock about his symbol: “The origin of the Chaos Symbol was me doodling sitting at the kitchen table … I drew a straightforward geographical quadrant (which often has arrows, too!) – N, S, E, W – and then added another four directions and that was that – eight arrows representing all possibilities.” (source)
The symbol also appears on Aleister Crowley’s tarot set on the card 8 of Wands (Swiftness). Card description excerpt: “Today is very much a day for Aha moments, it wouldn’t be surprising if you woke up in the morning at 3am with the solutions you seek. Sparks of love fly at the kindling shedding warmth and light on the cool night that has been around you and the love you have to offer in return.” (source)
Bolt Thrower uses the symbol of chaos usually in combination with an eye in its centre – the eye of chaos. The symbol can be found on the band’s shirt designs, their album artworks (the examples above are taken from Realm of Chaos from 1988) or as a general band icon – as stand-alone, integrated in other artworks or modified for a more modern look.
Although Bolt Thrower might be the first band that comes to mind, when thinking of the symbol of chaos in Metal imagery, there are several other artists using this graphic element. For example Wormrot, a Grindcore band from Singapore. And that’s a fantastic shirt!