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Fear, Emptiness, Despair in 1994 was noted by fans of Napalm Death as the band's full transition into their '90s sound template, a death/groove metal style which divided the fan base and gained some derision among metal heads for ND changing their sound and style. While many love to bash this album and blame it for their less noteworthy releases later in the 1990s, truth be told, it's not all that bad to listen to.
Fear, Emptiness, Despair has some of Napalm Death's most skilled guitar work and progressive songwriting out of all of their '90s material. It organized the chaotic grinding of their earlier albums into a newer, sleeker, more punishing package. As a stand alone album, it's really pretty sweet.
The album opens on a high, fast note with the rampaging song Twist The Knife (Slowly). After a few seconds of guitar build up, Barney kicks off the album with a savage roar, leading into guitar grooves that hit you with the force of a 10-story building collapsing. Barney's roaring helps the guitar along to create an atmosphere of uncontrolled chaos from which there is no escape. The lines "Unborn suffer, unborn suffer, unborn suffer the norm" only add to this destructive Molotov cocktail of a song. All in all, it is a damn satisfying song.
Hung starts off with a sliding two-note groove that is jarring and rousing at first. This riff, though, gets old after about a minute into the song. Feeling bored, I skipped the song about halfway through, but boy did I miss something at about the 2:45 mark in the song as it finally shows a bit of progression and goes into one of the gnarliest breakdowns ever conceived ten seconds later. This breakdown was enough to save me from completely disowning this song, but it doesn't save it from being skipped halfway most times I hear it. Needless to say, I have mixed feelings about this one.
Remain Nameless has more variation and compelling riffs and grooves that improve upon Hung's mistakes while keeping a similar formula. It has breaks and changes in the song that aren't as numerous on Hung and keeps the song interesting. It also has a neat breakdown at the end of the song, but if you think this is going to be an album of pointless, simple breakdowns, you are sorely mistaken. The breakdowns on these two songs are nice, smooth, and complex as opposed to deathcore-ish chugging. Also, these songs are the only ones on the album that follow a formula similar to one another. Remain Nameless is a good song, way better than Hung.
Plague Rages is seen as the big player on this album and it's the song that got featured in a music video and even a Beavis and Butthead skit. It has its own single as well, so that signifies some significance, but let's actually talk about the song for a minute.
Plague Rages has a tasty, twisting intro groove and is driven by the riffs alternating with Barney's vocals setting the angry stage for the song and building a chorus and lines at the end. Around the end of the song, the blast beats kick in and Barney is screaming "A PLAGUE RAGES!" at the top of his lungs, leading to a crashing conclusion of blast beats, slamming guitar grooves, and Barney's angered growling. This song is more than satisfying and is a savage, great listen.
More Than Meets The Eye is simpler than all the others before it, but works due to the fact that the song has rousing riffs and grooves and a chorus line that acts as a memorable rallying point. The song starts to show welcome signs of lingering grindcore influence around the middle before going back to the original riff towards the end of the song. Simple, but rousing and enjoyable.
The next three songs, Primed Time, State of Mind, and Armageddon X 7, all contrast and are similar to the first five songs, the similarity being the style of music played and the difference being that these songs are forgettable and generic groove metal that do little to draw you in or interest you. These songs are the ones I would not recommend listening to as you will not be impressed by their simplicity and how generic they are.
Retching on the Dirt and Fasting on Deception have more tasteful riffs and start to make things interesting once again. The intro to Fasting on Deception also has the second best intro on the album (the first being the intro to Twist the Knife). The riffage on both of these songs is also more complex and rhythmic than the last three songs, meaning they actually are engaging. These two songs are better than the last three and should keep most people engaged.
Throwaway shows elements of vestigial grindcore holding on from the band's early days and serves as a perfectly gloomy outro track. The blast beats and swirling tremolos create an atmosphere of grim depression and fear. Barney's vocals only add to the sense of bleak, delicious hopelessness that this song projects. This song creates the kind of desperation and gloom that many newbie black metallers try to create, but fail to do so. Recommended listen since this song is so jarring and depressive that it's awesome.
Overall, Fear, Emptiness, Despair is a good album with a few faults. Had something been done to spruce up or make songs 6 through 8 more interesting than this, album would've scored somewhere in the mid-90% range. Even so, Plague Rages, Twist the Knife (Slowly), and Throwaway are stellar tracks accompanied by many good ones (Hung, Remain Nameless, More than Meets the Eye, Retching on the Dirt, and Fasting on Deception). This album is a good listen and overall I enjoyed it and still see it as one of Napalm Death's better albums. It was worth the money I paid for it.
Fear, Emptiness, Despair is a polarizing record. That needs to be out front because many metal heads won't even give it the time of day. They blame this album for ND falling off a cliff in the mid-to-late 90's, which is entirely unfair. This is Napalm Death at their heaviest and most straight-forward yet the material here is far from accessible. Whereas later ND albums went all simplistic and easy, this record cuts deep with a suffocating air of pervasive horror and gloom. This is Harmony Corruption taken to further extremes, a moment where Napalm Death decided to once again accentuate the death side of their death-grind equation.
Heavily informed by Meathook Seed (Mitch Harris's industrial death side-project with members of Obituary), Fear, Emptiness, Despair rolls at a medium tempo relying more on nuanced riffs and menacing grooves than hyper-grind and unremitting blasts. As such it alienated many, especially coming off the feeding frenzy that was Utopia Banished. But this step back was vital for the majority of Utopia Banished's grind vortex blurred indistinguishably whereas F.E.D. has well-defined songwriting that sacrifices none of N.D.'s power and menace. Take first single "Plague Rages," it builds slowly with an ominous riff moving at snail's pace before a slow acceleration incrementally builds towards the blast beat/double-bass inferno that dominates the conclusion. Or the opening rage-induced attack of "Twist The Knife (Slowly)," a song that recalls Obituary at their most compact and aggressive. This track made it onto some soundtracks due to some blatant cross-promotion on Earache/Columbia's part but no one I know enjoyed it. They were terrified, and rightly so. Had I not already been into death metal, I would've run too. Barney sounds like an uncaged beast shot full of methamphetamine. His voice heaving and ragged and just plain venomous.
One of the best tracks here is "Hung." The sliding riff and bass run as Barney bellows and the drums nail this tight syncopated beat is killer. This track slams you over and over with its thick grooves before becoming completely unhinged with blinding riffs and scintillating d-beats and blasts -- this is a smart approach, layering that old-school N.D. feel into a newer template of mid-tempo death. When the blasts let up, they curb stomp you with a huge darkened groove that feels like a wall caving in. An unqualified success, "Hung" is one of Napalm Death's best songs. Another is "Throwaway," the fastest and most old-school song on here. It blisters with ridiculous blasts and is a real showcase for Danny Herrera's tight drum work. Then Mitch and Jesse trade this twisted riff work over some jaunty double-bass. Shane's keeps things heavy with strong bass runs while Barney rages maniacally throughout. Ill stuff indeed and a slap in the face of anyone who calls this album weak.
Apparently Colin Richardson's production was a salvage job from Pete Coleman's initial work but I actually think that turns in the band's favor. There is a rich tension in the production. The guitars are thick and grey-toned with heavy slabs of distortion layered over them. Shane's bass is fuzzy and active beyond the riffs. His playing really stands out for a change. And Danny Herrera's drums are front and center with a rich snappy sound. All the instruments have a sinister vibe, as if slathered in a post-apocalyptic industrial grime. Barney's voice too sounds different: strained and sinister, deeper than ever. Apparently recording conditions caused his throat to close forcing him to force extra air through his diaphragm. Whatever the problem, it worked in his favor.
If you are looking for darkly atmospheric death metal with ominous industrial overtones, you could do a whole lot worse than Fear, Emptiness, Despair -- a deeply misunderstood record that has more than stood the test of time. It may linger at a slight remove from the majority of N.D.'s discography in terms of punishing speed and grind aesthetics and it may have presaged their mid-to-late 90's decline but don't hold that against one of the most powerful and singular records in the N.D. canon.
Good, solid, quality grindcore is such a breath of refreshingly caustic air for the seasoned headbanger. For one thing, it's (to this day) the only "core" suffixed genre that doesn't seem to cause a mass epidemic of pant-sharting upon it's mention. But...we aren't gonna go there. This is Napalm Death. Either you respect these blokes, or kindly disappear with all of your teeth in place.
Those that know this particular representation of Napalm Death are well aware of the somewhat unsettling lack of furious tempos and theory-disregarding death-punk seizures of noise. We either love it or shun it, the latter merely causing us to reach for their back catalog (or at least skip ahead a few albums for their recaptured rage to be fully intact).
Nineties fans of Barney and co. had a soft spot (or at least respect)for the artsier of what alternative music had to offer, realizing that the Helmet-like grooves, Sonic Youth-ey dissonance, and Smashing Pumpkins-isms within the melodic drone department are not just apparent, but intentional. Like I said; nineties FANS of the band know this. That is also my way of implying that not only is it an interesting and worthy integration, it's a damn lethal and brilliant submissiveness that worked beautifully. Ah, those nineties...
Heaviness might be a given when regarding these Birmingham blasters, yet the amount of heft represented here is felt (to these ears) much more oppressively. As Crowbar have demonstrated, one need not turn to their methamphetamines at all times while playing brutally effective music. Fear, Emptiness, Despair has the occasional blast, yet they have proven here that it is not their crutch. It's used as it should be for this kind of record; as an enhancement.
All this talk of alternative influences is not to say that this is a weak, wiffle ball bat with a Napalm Death tag on it. It's grating, angry, vocally monstrous, and satisfying. This release was the threshold to a small foray into experimentation, but it's undeniably Napalm Death...Mortal Kombat song contribution or not.
'Fear, Emptiness, Despair' is the first Napalm Death (ND from now on) album I got, thanks to Earache sampler featuring 'Hung' and 'Plague Rages'. I had heard the band before on MTV's Headbanger's Ball show, but that's not the right place for this kind of music, is it? No, it sounded like unintelligent noise on my shit telly.
Being the pioneers of grindcore, ND's fifth album has long songs (but no original members). Yes, the band wanted to slow down a bit, because getting bored on fast-as-fuck stuff. Understandable, I think. ND didn't sell out. This is sick music, much sicker than majority of older stuff from the band. I'm not a fan of 10 second songs, they usually bore me. Based on grincore, the band expanded into new territories with this album. Cold industrial feel make the album brutal experience like real life. Mitch Harris' (ex-Righteous Pigs, ex-Defecation, Meathook Seed) and Jesse Pintado's (ex-Terrorizer, Lock Up) sharp guitars bore into listener's brain without remorse, leaving shards of cutter in grey mass to cause traumas. Experimenting with different guitar tones, there's varying atmosphere fitting with words "fear", "emptiness" and "despair". Death metal bits are still in, thanks to heavy, thick guitar sound and some riffing. Coarse tones are warmer, but still fucking lethal! Dissonance is ever present. There's very fast bits in some songs, just try 'Primed Time' and 'Throwaway', but they always have slower parts. The slower movements bring in loads of groove, and better possibilities to survive moshing and headbanging this album will surely cause. Danny Herrera's drumming is not only incredibly fast at parts, but also very accurate. His style is unimitable. Time changes and original rhythms still include more straight blast beats, double kick drumming and punky beats, but usually all carry Mr. Herrera's signature. Shane Embury's (ex-Brujeria, ex-Unseen Terror, ex-Malformed Earthborn, Lock Up) bass is heavy and distortion rips. This music is closest to controlled chaos, that I've heard.
Mark "Barney" Greenway (ex-Benediction, ex-Extreme Noise Terror) barks (his trademark) his lungs out. The man shouts, growls and generally sounds as angry as possible. Sometimes he does his thing at different tempo (when he feeling ready to go for it), which is a nod to older, more chaotic times of ND. There's no hint of melody in the man's voice, he uses tempos. Mr. Harris provides some very fucking nasty inhuman shrieks. Social commentary (nuclear weapons race, racism etc.) is a big part of lyrical theme, but also feelings of a wretched human being. Suicidal thoughts, loss of friends, loss of individuality, such topics. Simplistic cover art is good all around and the lyrics are printed, although Mr. Greenway's outlet is comprehensible this time.
The album was recorded by Pete Coleman, but remastered by Colin Richardson. As mentioned, heavy guitars are very thick, possibly layered. Sharp guitars and noises can really send shooting pain through teeth. Bass adds very low frequencies. Together with heavy guitars a huge wall of sound is created. Drums are good. Tight snare might be a bit too echoing, making it a tad powerless and thin. Balanced well, vocals rage on the top, maybe feeling this way because they are only human thing (well, at least remotely, heh) here.
'Fear, Emptiness, Despair' sounds exactly what its title says. But how can it sound this good, then? A paradox. More coherent song writing and incredible performance from the band raise this album to classic rank. For me, this is the best Napalm Death.
(originally written for ArchaicMetallurgy.com in 2004)
Napalm Death are without the Grindcore kings, gods, innovators, etc. Whatever title you can give them they've earned it from being one of the handful of bands to give birth to the noisy bastard offspring of Hardcore-Punk, Thrash/Death Metal, with the depressive overtones of Industrial's bleakness. And honestly, it couldn't have come from a more depressing fucking city like Birmingham. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to know that if you live in a constant state of dismal post-WWII factory working-class structures, you're going to have a little bit of anger and frustration. Just ask Black Sabbath.
After "Utopia Banished", it's easy to see ND threading waters with their music. Sure songs like "The World Keeps Turning", "Dementia Access", "Contemptuous", and "I Abstain" were stand-outs and well-written slabs of early 90's DM with Grind influences that you can still rock the fuck out to this day, but let's be honest, the majority of that album was just a lot of ideas thrown in the mix for trying to be another attempt at trying to out-extreme music for extreme music's sake. It's like poking a dead dog with a stick. It's fun, enjoyable, but maybe every once in a while you should use a broom handle, garden hoe, or a 72 foot dildo(com'n...THAT's funny!)...point being you have to switch things up from the traditional way of doing things in order to throw a bit of spice into life. And that's what Napalm Death does with "Fear, Emptiness, Despair."
First thing one notices is the sound production. Right from the get go, this is more akin to their first 3 albums where it was good but it still had ND's crusty punk roots all-over it. It's a layer of distorted white noise soot covering the background being covered in the grime from jumping into a huge pile of charcoal. And just the right layer too. It's not too overdone and it's not too thin, but again it enhances the dirtiness of the music. Pretty music this aint. Also the music has changed a lot. The blastbeats are still there, the socio-political lyrics are there, everything trademarked by ND is still there, but they've slowed down a bit in order to focus more on riffs which was somewhat missing from the last album. If "Utopia Banished" was all about speed, this album is definately more based on groove, lots of mid-tempo, and slightly more technical riffs that flow even better and don't sound forced.
Lyrically ND has started to expand as well. The lyrics have become slightly more cryptic, meaning you get the hint at what the are saying and you can still relate to the levels of frustration and general depression this album holds, but seeing how vocalist Barney Greenway and bassist Shane Embury are fluent in the art of world salad, I'd be surprised to see how it take you to pinpoint the main topic of some of the songs. Not all of them, most of them are somewhat obvious, but again when I first read the lyrics I personally was a bit stumped, but in a good way. Meaning that they can vividly describe the negativity surrounding them without having to result to a basic 5th grader vocabulary. It's best described as a world where only black and white are mainstayers and only a few shades of grey are hints of clairty amongst the murkiness of the music.
On the flipside of all the praise I give this album (It's in my Top 10 all-time favorites), there is also a lot of doubt and back-lash surrounding this album. Mainly because Napalm Death were the attempt at trying to be the next Metallica by Earache owner Dig by signing them to Columbia records alongside Entombed, Godflesh, Cathedral, Carcass, etc. This album was supposed to be their big breakthrough into the mainstream and they got a lot of flak from not only fans and critics alike, but internally as well. Vocalist Barney Greenway has often expressed how he was dissatisifed with the recording proccess which he often refers to as one of the worst nightmares he's ever had due to the fact that is vocal chords were dried-out and swelling because he claims the studio was "hot" or too warm which you can easily hear in his performance on such songs as "Twist The Knife (Slowly)". Also he didn't like the way the songs turned out because of the newer influences the other members were soaking in at the time mainly Alternative/Grunge influences. All of this put together and you end-up with one of the more criminally underrated ND albums even though it's their best.
Best songs; "Twist The Knife (Slowly)", "Remain Nameless", "Plague Rages", "Armageddon X7", "Throwaway".
'Fear, Emptiness, Despair' is really the album that 'Diatribes' should have been; it's more exciting than that release while not sacrificing any of the experimental elements that defined mid-era Napalm Death. It's not a full-fledged success, and it's certainly one of the weaker entries in Napalm Death's catalog, but it achieves its goals of experimentation and mid-paced introspection much better than 'Diatribes' managed to. It's a pretty crucial linchpin in the Napalm Death discography, as it signals the switch of the band from death/grind to a more experimental breed of grooving death metal that most found rather tepid. I kind of like it when I'm in the mood, but I certainly see where most would dislike it.
Now granted this isn't quite as experimental as 'Diatribes'; it has a lot of genuinely death/grind riffs and blast beats, but it's certainly a big departure from 'Utopia Banished'. There's a much higher emphasis on grooves and upper midpaced riffing rather than diabolical tremolo and the mood has a great deal of uncertainty amidst the aggression; more like wandering through the fog after the bombing than undergoing the barrage itself. The rhythms are less straightforward, and though it's not a drum-dominated album, that instrument has a great deal more sway over the direction of the songs than on previous Napalm Death releases. The production is rounded but still kind of flat and lacking abrasiveness, especially in the overly clean guitar tone; a bit of a filthier sound would have done wonders for this release.
But then again, I don't know how much you could do for an album like this. It's more interesting than 'Diatribes' but most of the songs are still fundamentally unmemorable. None of the riffs or songs stick out in my mind despite the relative professionalism of their construction, and while it's pleasing when it's on, the album doesn't remain in the mind for more than ten seconds after it stops spinning. The fact is that Napalm Death was always a better death/grind band than experimental entity, so an album like this is really a matter of how little the band fails rather than how much it succeeds. I admire Napalm Death's attempt to do something new(ish) and interesting with releases such as these, but it's ultimately an unnecessary part of the catalog.
There's little to say about this music because there's just not that much content there; the riffs all seem to be variations of each other and it's the same case with the songs. It's not necessarily a BAD album, just surprisingly generic coming from a band like Napalm Death. I can't really recommend it but I suppose if you find it for a low price in a bargain bin somewhere it wouldn't hurt to grab. There's worse stuff, but I'd recommend one pick up other Napalm Death releases before this one.
Identity crisis all over. During the first half of the nineties Napalm Death had been changing their style on each album since Barney & co. joined. “Fear, Emptiness, Despair” is no exception. In the years of thrash vanishing from the scene, death metal becoming a hype and groove metal taking over, Napalm Death decided to have a go at grooving as well. In future years (the next three full length albums) the band proved they could pull it off, but not yet on “Fear, Emptiness, Despair”.
When listening to opener "Twist the Knife" one gets the feeling the band is screaming out loud "you see, we can actually play technical metal". Unfortunately this damages the intensity of the song. Furthermore the song lacks a point and direction. This tendency comes back to haunt this album a lot more.
Apart from this a lot of songs just drag on in a dull mid paced way and only incidentally provide some great new ideas like the eerie dissonant middle section of "More Than Meets the Eye". Playing mid paced isn’t a bad thing but one has to come up with good riffs, rhythms and/or vocal lines. As far as the mid paced riffs go, Napalm Death suffer from mediocity.
The album isn’t bad the whole way though. "Remain Nameless" has most in common with Harmony Corruption (especially Suffer the Children) and the song has enough energy and dynamics to stay interesting. The second half of the song is wavy and atmospheric and these parts are more interesting than a lot of the mid paced pounders. "Throwaway" is really great. The song has good riffs and focussed drums. Even though the song almost feels overlong, it is the best song on the album.
"Primed Time" is one of the few grindcore based songs on the album but focusses too much on breaks and riffs instead of a brutal in your face composition. A band like Macabre can pull this off yet Napalm Death unfortunately were not ready for this on this album yet since once again it results in a song missing direction and even getting slower and slower near the end.
The album has a weird drum production. Whereas the rest of the instruments and vocals sound 'normal', the drums sound as if it they were coming from an old wold war II radio. Talking about the drums. Danny Herrera plays fills and breaks at every possible moment. I like what the man has done on a lot of ND albums but here he is clearly overenthusiastic and exaggerating. Despite the guitars sounding reasonably normal, they are too loosely played and extremely downtuned, making it all sound rather muddy.
Playing slow isn't a bad thing but compensating dull songs with overactive drums is annoying. So are some vocal lines which seem to have been written without a song in mind and therefor just placed at random onto the music. Napalm Deaths first attempt at playing slow and/or groove is a failure. The band would prove to be much better at it on their next few albums.
I believe that this Napalm Death album started the more groove period for a group that ‘till here always did very violent albums, passing through different kinds of extreme genres. From punk/crust to grind/death ‘till groove death. The albums after this one will show, ‘till the end of 90s, a more “progressive” approach but with this one we can always find pretty good violent songs.
“Twist The Knife (Slowly)” is a different song in Napalm Death standards, as the following “Hung”. Anyway the guitar sound is always fucking heavy along with true brutal vocals and some blast beats too. A good mix of rawest parts with a more groovy approach. The atmosphere is so gloom…never before they created such obscure songs. “Rename Nameless” is total mosh for the semi up tempo and punkish attitude. One of the best here.
To notice some filtrated vocals and strange guitar lines…almost with an industrial touch but not so artificial…odd, with a stench of abandoned factories where everything is so dark and lifeless. The other good thing is the songs length: they are never long, so if one of them is more progressive and groovy, like “Plague Rages”, is not boring at all. It is good to observe some out of the blue blast beats that break a bit the suffocating atmosphere made of fucking heavy riffs, like the one on “More Than Meets The Eye”.
The tempo and the guitar work on “Primed Time” are fucking great (quite fast, with blast beats too). “State Of Mind” features doom/progressive opening riffs with a crescendo of intensity under the sign of groove death metal. I like it. Overall, it's a good album, far more different and slower than the previous ones but also more obscure and intelligent if we want. It depends on the tastes…I liked it as I loved Harmony Corruption.
Napalm Death isn't really my favourite, at least the latest recordings, which seem to me just almost aggressive, with the very negative meaning of the first 'a word'. However, those old grindcore stuff still makes me impressed and one album makes me really stunned...
"Fear, Emptiness, Despair" is much more than just an album. For the first and the last time Napalm Death really fills music with what they want to say - with that whole aggression against all stupid on this world. It may be heard in every single moment of the album.
On the musical ground the band mixed its traditional grindcore elements with experimental death metal. Actually, it's the only ND release that is so aggressive and so experimental. Strange, heavy riffs that melt into chaos, interrupted by catchy "melodies" or riffs. All distorted by great growls (Greenway's best performance) and chaotised drums... The whole makes some kind of chaos with catchy moments. Sounds nice.
Songs are very good, with few outstanding exceptions like "Hung", "More than meets the eye". "State of mind" or "Armageddon times seven". There are no bad moments here, though the ending may seem a bit less aggressive. All in all, "Fear, Emptiness, Despair" stays the best what the Englishmen have ever done and what they probably will. A pity they have never used any of its great elements anymore.