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The Definition of Grindcore - 100%

vegetable, January 5th, 2011

This is the album that set the standard for what grindcore should be. Napalm Death's debut album, Scum, was what gave birth to the genre we know as grindcore, but it mostly sounded like sped up hardcore punk. Which wasn't a bad thing at all, Scum is a fantasic album, but From Enslavement to Obliteration (FETO for short) gave the grindcore genre a solid identity. This album doesn't sound like sped up hardcore punk, and it doesn't sound like death metal. For its time, it was unique, and some would say still is, because no other album better advertises the fury expected from grindcore songs than this one.

The album packs twenty two songs into thirty minutes. Bonus versions include a few more tracks, which don't sound out of place at all and fit seamlessly into the feel and mood of the album. As expected from grindcore, few songs run for more than three minutes. The average length for them is around a minute. And the band makes full use of that time to craft memorable songs. The album is best enjoyed when listened to in a single sitting, which if you have an ear for extreme music, shouldn't be a problem considering the ridiculous amount of catchy riffs.

From the lineup that recorded side one of Scum, only Mick Harris remained, who apparently decided to keep the band going. Lee Dorrian joined as vocalist and subsequent grindcore legend Bill Steer as guitarist, with Jim Whitely on bass. While this lineup did offer up side two of Scum, it was mostly a lacklusture effort when compared with side one. However, it was a glimpse of what was to come, and come FETO, on which Shane Emburey replaced Whitely, they did deliver a masterpiece.

Words cannot do justice to Steer's guitar tone on the album. It contends with his tone on Carcass' Symphonies of Sickness as possibly the grimiest tone I've ever heard. Very harsh and cold sounding. It is a significant part of what provides the album its grittiness. Mick Harris is maniacally fast. You won't hear many cute fills or time changes here. He mostly flits between a steady beat and hyperspeed blasts that sound like he's hitting everything in his kit at once. Plenty of cymbal use as well. Basically, his performance is what drives the chaos on the album. Shane Emburey's bass is barely audible, but it's doing its job, which is to add an almighty rumble to the bottom end of the riffs. Which is perfect. The riffs sound absolutely monstrous with Steer's guitar tone and Emburey's bass following the guitar. Lee Dorrian brings his unique vocals to the album. Scum had mostly hardcore punk-like shouts for vocals. Dorrian does growls and screams instead. Which is another thing that differentiates the genre from hardcore punk. His vocals are in lock-step with the general mayhem of the songs, they match the manic blasts when they come along, and flow along with slower moving riffs.

The riffs on the album are still very punk-ish. Simple, fast, and extremely catchy. But the speed has been upped a notch. And while there are slower riffs that serve to establish a groove, speed is the norm. Apart from the first track, which has a very leisurely pace, and which is an excellent track as well; all other songs are a whirlwind of monstrous riffage and chaotic blast-beating, augmented by the very socially informed, yet completely unintelligible vocals. Also, another brilliant quality of the riffs is that when they change, they are variations on the former riff most of the time. That gives the songs continuity and coherence. Else it would be rather difficult to tell one song from the other since otherwise they mostly consist of blast beats and vocals that are delivered at the speed of those blasts.

The production is stellar, the cymbals sound divine during the blast sections. The guitar tone absolutely crushes and sounds like a juggernaut that'll mow you down, and Dorrian's voice always manages to be distinct from the rhythm yet complimenting it. There really are no outright bad songs here. Most have recognizable riffs and the vast majority of them are very catchy. Catchiness is a very valuable trait in a genre that mostly relies on creating aural chaos. And this album has catchiness in spades. Songs like Unchallenged Hate, From Enslavement to Obliteration, Social Sterility, Mentally Murdered are grindcore classics and will get stuck in your head when you listen to them.

If you are a grindcore fan, and you don't have this album, which is pretty fucking unlikely, you should have gotten it yesterday. So don't waste time. However, if you are an extreme metal fan who hasn't yet tried grind out, I'm not sure if this would be a good introduction. Maybe easing yourself in through death metal bands that have grind blasts would be a better approach. But, all said and done, this is a fantastic album and deserves its place in history. And absolutely nothing else sounds like it.