Grindcore/death metal from the United Kingdom, latest full-length album released in 2012.
It’s easy to take Napalm Death for granted. After all, the grindcore progenitors have been churning out music on a consistent basis since the late-1980s, touring extensively, rarely if ever putting out a mediocre product. The thing is, though, we need a band like Napalm Death more than ever before these days. Metal has always been an outlet for anger and aggression, but rarely is that dissent ever focused like it often is, for example, in punk rock. To paraphrase some guy named Bill, there’s always been lots of sound and fury, but does it signify anything at all? In the last decade there’s been a lot for people to get mad about, but so few, especially from popular metal bands, give a damn enough to actually say – or do – anything about it. It’s a far cry from the late-1980s, when bands like Nuclear Assault, Megadeth, and Queensr˙che were creating smart social commentary as well as great music. Instead it feels like complacency has set in in the metal world.
Thank goodness for Napalm Death. For more than 20 years vocalist Barney Greenway has been eloquently espousing his left-wing views through the band’s music, his lyrics more thought provoking than preaching, and the more modern society starts to collapse, the more vital Napalm Death’s music becomes. Even though their groundbreaking debut Scum 25 years old this year, Greenway, guitarist Mitch Harris, bassist Shane Embury, and drummer Danny Herrera have been one mighty impressive run over the last seven years, yielding four albums that hold up as well as anything the venerable band has ever recorded: 2005’s The Code is Red…Long Live the Code, 2007’s Smear Campaign, 2009’s Time Waits For No Slave, and their newest and 15th full-length, Utilitarian.
Musically, Utilitarian is exactly what you’d expect from Napalm Death, a record rife with thick, crusty guitar riffs (nicely recorded again by Russ Russell) and furious blastbeats, yet with a slightly progressive bent. Harris continues to inject a strong dose of straight-ahead metal into his grindcore riffing, as well as the odd atonal moment that draws more from experimental and noise rock. The song structures are as varied as ever over the course of the album’s 16 songs, at times straddling metal and punk, and then gleefully hopping back and forth between the two. As comfortably familiar as tracks like “Errors in the Signals”, “Protection Racket”, and “Collision Course” all sound, though, the album gets a whole lot more interesting the bolder the band sounds, which is often. The chanted vocals in “Blank Look, About Face” and “Leper Colony” echo the more gothic strains of Swans and Killing Joke. “The Wolf I Feed” makes excellent use of clean vocals, an idea that might be unthinkable in some people’s ears. “Everyday Pox” is the biggest revelation, as the band makes terrific use of well-timed, improvisational saxophone accents by experimental jazz great John Zorn.
All the while Greenway is a constant presence, bellowing into the mike in his massive, distorted roar, his lyrics taking on numerous subjects, from bigotry (“Everyday Pox”), to the disturbing trend of branding that has now reached political circles (“Protection Racket”), to arms dealers (“Fall on Their Swords”), to elected officials who won’t communicate properly with the electorate (“Blank Look, About Face”). For all the targets of his rage, however, Greenway is smart enough to know where the blame truly rests, at one point saying, “If you are looking for the guilty ones / We only need to look in a mirror.” Voters put those people in charge, and voters have every right to voice their dissent when things go horribly wrong. As Steve Earle once said, “No matter what anybody tells you, it is never, ever unpatriotic or un-American to question any f***in’ thing in a democracy.” Greenway and Napalm Death are well aware; here’s hoping more metal bands take note.
I'm not going to lie to you (all that much) and so must admit that up to this point I never was the premiere grindcore guy, as this style seems to revolve around the desire to summon raw, rampant sonic aggression, showing strictly limited interest in the continuous chase of the patterns that deliberately-, even shamelessly seek to appeal musically in some way or another. (Melody, rhythm, God forbid a combo of those.) You already suspect that I am a snob and you surely are right, which does not prevent one from noticing on spot that this ancient grindcore band Napalm Death - the band formed in 1981 as far as I know - needs no extra help to bring down the building around you that you've started listening their latest full length contribution in. This release, simply put, is a cold blooded sonic murder-, even MURRRRRRRDAA! committed with a sledgehammer against the silly little thing called silence, and I have the related hunch that this exactly the central idea of the record is. Read on to find out more about this ruthless silence massacre that is out to end you (too) as soon and thoroughly as possible.
Napalm Death's Utilitarian LP sometimes reminds me of Deceased's All-Eradicator Surreal Overdose record, of which I was and still am blown away. Napalm Death, to silhouette out a difference that seems pretty easy to pick up on though, is hardly if ever occupied with all that much riff definition, as the "mere energy" of the band brings with itself such vile intentions that the musical instruments can't help but produce convincing results in the hands of the members. There is no other choice, if and when being tormented by these vile intents. You don't necessarily need to be able to make out the precise patterns/notes the guitar is riffing along, because it is clear that the sonic axe is possessed by a malicious energy channeled by the band member via unbound nervous system power. If music can reveal and bring you this, than that music is for real, regardless of genre and - for the most part - production values.
What I'm trying to get at, is to point out the visceral quality of this delivery, which pretty much is the only one of it, too. This is NOT a derogatory notion at all, since establishing these attributes of raw sonic intensity/intimacy are evident central desires of the LP, and Napalm Death claims the satisfaction of this complex, steep desire with a stance and artistic efficiency that does not tolerate- does not even KNOW the concept of failure. They are simply too fucking possessed to fail with their music. This is such an authentic form of raw-intensity sonic entertainment as you have ever heard so far. There are no production wizardries on display herein at all. Everything is plugged in, everything is turned all the way to the right, and all nervous systems involved in this formation are fueled by a constant high octane mania to waste all on sight. Super-visceral, hateful rabidity for the listening pleasure of your exquisite soul content and related awareness. Napalm Death still has it, as experience and time both seem to be on the band's side. Something funny I've noticed : track 11, called Blank Look About Face. Pay attention to the rhythmic structure of the base and the vocals from 0:31. Totally Faith No More's Shit. Lives. Foreva., no?