Ah Napalm Death, a bloody British institution, up there with tea and cucumber sandwiches, ale from the cask on a sunny summer afternoon, punting down the river and playing cricket. Yeah right! Over three decades and stronger than ever Napalm Death are that thorn in the side telling you to wake up, not be so complacent and revolt against all that is wrong. The group are as relevant as ever and up there with the malcontents they formed around, the vitriolic fall out spewed out by Crass and the anarcho punk scene, putting grindcore on the map and owning the genre for three decades; no mean feat.
But you know all this and are not here for a history lesson are you? You want to know what the new album is like and the cynical amongst you may even be thinking, well why don’t you just go and copy and paste what you have written about any of the last six albums or so, Napalm Death are never going to change, evolve or sell out to the man are they? Well not exactly although some recent press shoots of Barney Greenway wearing a suit may have shocked some and actually they have evolved somewhat. There are some surprises on this album, ones you would probably not have expected. They are certainly going to catch you off guard but don’t worry, this is not the group’s ‘Unspoken King’ or their ‘Illud’ and rest assured it still grinds like a proverbial bastard.
The 16 track beast starts with a really apocalyptic and moody intro piece ‘Circumspect’ setting us up nicely for the carnage to come. This arrives with the tumult that is ‘Errors In The Signals,’ a massive, fast and raging slab of deathly grind with sombre parts slowing it down momentarily before it ploughs back in again. Business as usual then! There is a real underlying darkness about things as well as the ever present speed laden flurries, there is a really ‘moody vibe’ as though all is fucked! The first surprise rears its ugly but oh so surreal head on ‘Everyday Pox’ with a burst of Painkilling saxophone. “Oh they are doing a John Zorn’ was my first thought on hearing this and indeed they are but they only went and got John Zorn to do it! Next up on the ‘what the hell’ agenda is ‘The Wolf I Feed’ a punk laden beat is augmented by Danny Herara’s yapped vocals and Barney’s gruff, stomp around the stage, barks and then there is a clean laden sweeping passage. Yes you heard that right and it really reminds me of Demanufacture era Fear Factory but there is nothing telling me Burton C Bell has put in a guest appearance so it must be that Barney can actually sing! Vitriol and contempt behind the lyrics is not compromised. This is also followed up by a firm favourite already from the album. ‘Quarantined’ is a fast ravenous diatribe and one with a great melody as it furiously riffs away behind it.
There are some more (shall we say) deviations and they all work really well and show that the band have some great ideas and have not gone stale in the slightest over such a long time. Clean but incredibly austere vocal chants address the backdrop of ‘Fall On Their Swords’ which addresses the arms trade. There are plenty of volatile moments and songs are fast and furious with the album being the closest possible musical equivalent of being shelled by missiles that you could find. There are some really mental moments and the double whammy of ‘Orders Of Magnitude’ and ‘Think Tank Trials’ with it’s annihilation via alliteration is particularly impressive.
I find myself getting a bit complacent with Napalm Death. It is almost without fail that I see them on a least a once a year basis (probably somewhere in the region of 20-25 times) and I always enjoy their new albums and insist on reviewing them. The problem is I generally tend to take them for granted and it is not often that I pick them up and listen to them much after doing so. Utilitarian is going to be the exception to the rule and with songs like ‘Leper Colony’ fusing the anger and speed with that dark end of times feel via more spine chilling vocal chants it’s easy to see why. The band have not broken the mould but have certainly warped it and anyone who claims what they have done is wrong is frankly a moron.
(8.5/10 Pete Woods)