Sunday, April 29, 2012

Album Review: Napalm Death - 'Utilitarian'

Anybody interested enough to read this shitty review probably knows the story already, having heard it from every critic and fan in cyberspace everytime these guys release something. Band invents the genre and coins the term 'Grindcore', band supposedly loses it's way four albums into their career in an exploration of influences and sound, and then band is rebirthed...Well I wouldn't call it so much a rebirth as it was more like a violent bursting forth from the womb, eviscerating it's host on the way out and never looking back. Napalm Death took the "slower", industrialized sonic density of their sound from the mid-nineties (often referred to as the "Facepalm" years by elitist naysayers) and infused it into the speed and raw brutality of the bands early career noise in a stride that began with 2000's 'Enemy Of The Music Business'. Utilitarian is the group's 7th record since the so-called 'rebirth' and 14th over-all not including cover albums, and it is the sonic equivalent of an 800 Horse Power Steamroller barelling down on you at 80 MPH in a dead-end alleyway. The album is loud, suffocating, and magnanimous. The production on Utilitarian is clean but the guitars still have enough of that reverb layer to make that trademark tone instantly recognizable as Napalm Death even before Barney starts barking all over the madness. And he sounds more pissed off than ever, and more comfortable than ever, to the point where you start to wonder if this is just how the brummie talks these days. 2009's 'Time Waits For No Slave' was a good album, but my biggest complaint is it's length. It feels like a majority of the songs on that disc could have been cut in half, and probably should have been as it clocks in at over 50 minutes. I also wonder if that's why the amazingly thrashtastic 'De-Evolution Ad Nauseum' is strategically placed as the album's closer to suck you back in. If you're one of those people who can maintain through 50 minutes of that kind of intensity without a problem then that's just the dulled down state you live in all the time and you're being robbed of the kind of release this music can give you when dosed correctly. 'Utilitarian' is a shorter album, and it's peppered with the kind of subtle experimentation that helps create checkpoints between the blasting and forces songs to stand out even on first listen. The album opens with an instrumental intro, which works because it's not something Napalm Death over-use on every album, and it does exactly what it's supposed to do: help prepare your central nervous system to adjust to the kind of sounds you are going to be hearing at a much faster pace. Then 'Error In Signals' lunges into an all-out grind assault, Greenway's rabid bark exchanging lines with Mitch Harris' wet shriek - a formula that never gets tired throughout the duration of the record. The utilization of instruments and guest vocals that would normally be alien to grindcore always helps to keep the sound fresh, as was the case on both 2005's 'The Code Is Red' and 2006's 'Smear Campaign'. On 'Everyday Pox' there is the shriek of a berzerking saxophone weaving in and out of the cacaphony of churning riffs and savage percussion. Almost sounds like a goose getting pummeled by Herrera's double bass. It only adds to the intensity. One of the few times the band let their boot off your throat happens in the grandiose middle of 'Fall On Their Swords', where Greenway seems to channel the congealed gay love child of Peter Steele and Burton C. Bell in a goth baritone verberating over tribal toms and Jesu-esque shoegaze string plucking. 'Quarintined' is arguably the catchiest track on the record, where the cadence like yell of 'Quarantined' changes it's pattern over striding guitars during the chorus before stomping itself back into d-beat grindcore, and 'Nom de Guerre' is a relentless blast-beat ridden destroyer that burns itself out in a little over a minute, in remastered classic Napalm Death style. As with the aforementioned 'De-Evolution Ad Nauseum', ND save one of the best for last in 'A Gag Reflex', a sonically bad-assed swaggering riff opens and closes the track leaving you hungry for more - and then you get it in the bonus song 'Everything In Mono' - one of those "bonus" tracks that they must have thrown in there because they knew it was too good to leave off but had to put it as a bonus after so many arm chair quarterback losers such as myself bitched about Time Waits For No Slave being too damn long - because a bonus track doesn't count, right? Anywho, the track is a sonic anvil falling on you over and over again like John Madden running a Looney Toons cartoon, especially the (Metallica) 'One' -esque middle tirade. God forgive me for that reference.
And those are just the checkpoints! The rest is a filler-free pummeling of the ears. Forget all that phase bullshit, this collosus stands as possibly one of their best albums. I guess to put it short (toooooo late), if you dug Smear Campaign, with it's speed, heaviness, and sonic clarity - this is the closest thing to it in sound, only the writing and variety within the album surpasses it. Here's to another 14 albums please.

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