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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".