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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.