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Birmingham’s Napalm Death have been one of the most important bands in extreme music for over a quarter of a century now, having released 13 full length albums starting with 1987′s Scum, one of the first grindcore albums ever recorded.
Due to the fact they’ve been so prolific, and that some of their albums in the late 90′s/early 2000′s weren’t quite so good as their earlier material, some of their albums tend to get a little forgotten about and ignored. Which is a shame, because 2006′s Smear Campaign was one of the best grindcore albums of the 2000s.
Beginning with a slow, almost industrial piece, the album then kicks into a ripping punishing deathgrind album.
Barney’s trademark bark is at its veciferous best throughout the album, spitting vitriol and venom, especially on the mighty “freedom is the wage of sin”. Riff after riff is delivered by mitch harris, from fast and grinding to slow and crushing, to ones which groove, its simplya fantastic riff fest of an album. Drummer Danny Herrera also puts in a great performance, energetic and heavy, while the bass grinds along courtesy of Shane Embury. The album also sees a guest performance with Anneke Van Giersbergen (ex-the gathering, solo) providing spoken word vocals on “In Deference”, giving a darker atmosphere to the song.
Overall its an extremely underrated album by Napalm Death, constituting their best release of the century so far. Highlights include Freedom is the wage of sin, In Deference, and Fatalist, but in truth its fantastic throughout. Any fans of the band, or fans of death metal and grindcore in general should listen to it ASAP if managed to slip under the radar.
Originally written for swirlsofnoise.com
Napalm Death's Smear Campaign is aggressive, furious, modern and pounding death metal/grindcore. These guys have clearly stumbled upon a working formula here in the 21st century, with albums like Enemy of the Music Business, Smear Campaign, and Utilitarian all being quality works from the veteran grinders. I find Smear Campaign to slightly edge out those 2 albums, for example, not because of any difference in musical formula on this release, but because most of my Napalm modern favorites come from this release. "Sink Fast, Let Go", "Puritanical Punishment Beating", "When All Is Said and Done", "Identity Crisis", "Rabid Wolves (for Christ)", "Deaf and Dumbstruck (Intelligent Design)", "Persona Non Grata"... see, that's almost half of the album right there. (When I saw them live last December, I was bummed out that they didn't play a single song from this album! They could have made their set this whole album in order!) However, there isn't a single song on here that I would rate individually below an 8/10.
Musically, nothing on this album is virtuoso in construction or execution. No technical guitar work, no difficult vocal lines, and no complicated drumming. But all 4 guys playing on these songs know their abilities and what they are best at, and go just for that. Mitch plays some fast grind riffs, some standard death metal riffs, and some mid-paced Celtic Frost-ish chugging that's just as catchy as it is on a Frost song like "Morbid Tales". Mitch also throws his high-pitched screams into many of the songs, a nice complement and opposite to Barney's vocals. Shane's bass isn't very audible most of the time, but when it gets standout parts, the tone is highly distorted and the playing is fast and aggressive. Danny divides his drum parts between fast blasting, some double bass, and d-beats/thrash beats. No obvious under-usage or over-usage of any of these styles, and thus the drumming on the album remains "simple" but perfectly fitting and creative. There's not even a single song here that exclusively features one drumming style, so there is no chance of calling the drumming "repetitive". And Barney's vocals are brutal and intense, espousing total confidence in the material that he is singing. To speak of the lyrics, this album is a "concept album" with just about every song having religious criticism within. It's obvious that Barney and Shane (the lyric writers, who split it about 50/50) are convinced that religion is a detriment to the progression of society (a view I agree with), and the lyrics are smart, thought-provoking, and worth reading in the booklet. They almost make you wish the album was sung with clean vocals so they could always be understandable, but in the end you decide not to wish this because you realize you'd miss Barney's and Mitch's grind shouts and screams too much.
The production on Smear Campaign is appropriately modern and loud and clear, but not over-produced or annoying on any fronts. Sometimes Danny's blast sections lose a little bit of audio quality, and Barney's vocals sometimes have noticeable effects on them, but neither of these things take away any noticeable enjoyment from the album.
At 45 minutes, and with songs averaging around 3 minutes in length, there is plenty of material to ingest, and the songs receive the appropriate amount of development, enough to be more enjoyable then sub-minute grind blasts, but never to the point that they start to drag. The songs never contain too many riffs, preferring instead to work with 3-5 awesome riffs, and the songs are always better for this. Riff quantity does not supplant the quality or memorability.
Smear Campaign is a great release from Napalm, that is very memorable and that will draw you back again and again. "Sink Fast, Let Go" is a great opener that starts with Mitch's screams, "When All Is Said and Done" is an almost pro-humanist death/grind "anthem" that is clearly designed to be the catchiest song on the album, "Rabid Wolves (for Christ)" is an obvious throwback to the late 80's Napalm sound, "Deaf and Dumbstruck (Intelligent Design)" contains the greatest chorus combo of vocals, riffage, and blasting on the entire album, and all of the other songs are awesome too, even the slow, "experimental" title track/closer.
Absolutely worth purchase.
Aging tends to mellow metal bands. It's hard to sustain anger and momentum when you're trending toward middle age. But somehow Napalm Death have managed to become even more extreme in the last decade: matching (and in some instances even surpassing) the hellish levels of youthful revolt unleashed on their earliest records. Smear Campaign, coming knee-deep in ND's resurgent third-act, finds the band at their crustiest, grinding best. This record scorches the earth, incinerating all with its rabidly passionate and punishing death-grind.
The 'Weltschmerz' intro is all gothic fake-out -- a real head-scratcher and a hilarious set-up to 'Sink Fast, Let Go,' a song I'd argue is one of the most insane things ND has ever unleashed: a maelstrom of corruscating blasts, dueling vox, and a wicked Celtic Frost slowdown that flails with a reckless, almost hedonistic abandon. This track puts imitators in thrall of the originators, fulfilling the promise of everything from Enemy Of The Music Business onwards. With such a full-throttle start, you'd expect a slackening, a breather, but it never comes. Other ND records can slow down, play around with tempo and texture, get experimental. Not this one. The chip of relentless grind is on their shoulders here and the result is a non-stop barrage of crusty, brutal, cacophonous grind. And because they are such smart songwriters, the onslaught never grows wearying or dull. The few wrinkles they add (smatterings of NYHC, Big Black noise, and Anneke van Giersbergen's creepy spoken-word) are all tasteful and complimentary to the punishment served.
If there's one reservation I hold, it's with the production. The band sounds tight and fierce with all instruments perfectly captured and tracked. It's a precision sound that works perfectly, except with Barney's vocals, which sound airless, tired, and undermixed. It seems sad for his voice to start failing him just as the band is once again musically peaking. Compared to his delivery just two-or-three records ago, the decline is somewhat startling. Live he still can bring the oomph so I think a large part of the fault lies in the recording. It's a minor flaw, however, because even heard at a disadvantage, Barney has one of metal's most distinctive and capable voices. Add that Mitch Harris really steps-up his harsh shrieking and you get a two man vocal terrorizer team, a tired cliche in most grind but a welcome refresher here.
While not ND's best record, Smear Campaign is easily the most violent. And its unremitting heart beats in both anger and compassion for those whom society and religion has abused at whim. Anyone who has ever dabbled their toes in death, crust, grind, or d-beat should find something rewarding to here.
I've got to say, this is a little bit disappointing; compared to 'The Code Is Red... Long Live The Code', this might be the smallest change between albums I've ever heard from the band. 'Smear Campaign' is quite literally 'The Code Is Red... Long Live The Code' part two, with Napalm Death's style of sleek, modernized grindcore remaining essentially unchanged from that album. I wanted a bit more from this release- there's nothing bad about it, but it lacks the development between records that I've come to expect from the band.
If you've heard the previous record, you know what this one sounds like: a very solid fusion of more oldschool, crusty styles of grind and a death-tinged modern variety, with the band swapping between the two styles easily and frequently. Every track includes both d-beats and blast passages, bound together by, in what may be the largest change from the previous album, a colorful sense of dissonant tremolo riffing that seems to be lifted from the best moments of 'Diatribes'. Melodically, 'The Code Is Red... Long Live The Code' was a little bit more conventional than this, where long, held tremolo tones abruptly break down into chunky crust riffing. The instrumental performances are, as always, top notch, and Greenway has never sounded better on the mike, roaring like he hasn't been doing this for decades now.
Anti-Christian sentiment seems to be a prevailing theme on this record with tracks like 'Puritanical Punishment Beating', 'Rabid Wolves (For Christ), and 'Deaf And Dumbstruck (Intelligent Design)' being a notable set of tracks that seem to attack America's newfound appreciation for evangelical Christianity. The fury of previous records isn't absent on this one- Napalm Death sounds, as always, just pissed off to be alive and that drips from every note. The tracks are compact and snappy, with an array of great riffs and savage rhythms that are essentially standard for the band at this point in their career. While I would have appreciated more variation (though the synth-tinged intro and outro definitely add to it), I can't deny that in essence Napalm Death is as strong as ever.
With Napalm Death's modern style codified, whether you purchase this album or not simply depends on whether you like the band's new sound. If you do, there's no reason to pass this one up: while it might be a bit still at times, 'Smear Campaign' lives up to the band's history even if it doesn't reinvent the wheel. Perhaps on their next album Napalm Death changed it up a bit- I'm eager to hear if they flexed their wings.
Much has been documented about Napalm Death's return to grinding, blasting form since their 'Enemy of the Music Business' album of 2001. Having heard that album soon after its release, I could hear the band was genuine in its intention of returning to the more intense, extreme type of sound that put latter day Napalm Death -i.e. Barney Greenway era - on the musical map. Since that album, the band has released album after album of such intensity & brutality, each gaining a substantial amount of positive press & reviews, including the album reviewed here, the 'Smear Campaign' album of 2006.
Having read many reviews of the album prior to hearing it, the main focus was always on the album's intense, uncompromising delivery, & the band's brutally honest intention to absolutely shred. So then, while listening to the album, it is clear & unmistakable that it certainly lives up to that reputation. The album starts with a bleak sounding instrumental, 'Weltschmerz', which is rather musical & moving, as well as methodically mid tempo in serving as a prelude to what follows it.....because then starts the shredding. With the second track, 'Sink Fast, Let Go', begins the uncompromising assault that the band has made its trademark once again. What you get here is the trademark blistering & intense grindcore/death metal that only Napalm Death know how to deliver, with good song structure, strong captivating riffs, & good variation throughout each song, never boring the listener. This skillful & punishing delivery continues as the album rages on with songs like 'Fatalist', the ambitiously titled but convincing 'Puritanical Punishment Beating', & one of the highlights of the album, 'When All Is Said & Done', with its strong chorus line. While each song may follow a slightly different formula in terms of arrangement, there is always good variation in riffing & tempos, from blast sections, to thrashing parts, to mid-tempo heavy breakdowns.
As this assault continues song after song, there is no doubt this album is living up to the acclaim the many reviews praised it with in terms of intensity & conviction in the music. There is something else though, that becomes just as evident which is not so positive.....& that is the production. What is soon noticeable from the first song is that the album has a rather dry, dead sounding production. Its not that it lacks power, there's certainly a powerful sound here, but there isn't any of that 'live' feel that was present on albums like 'Harmony Corruption', or 'Utopia Banished'. Instead the album has a somewhat more 'industrial' sound in terms of production. Everything sounds boxed in, dried out & muted. This is most evident with the way the vocals were mixed, as they have that muted, processed sound that is characteristic of the way 'industrial' heavy music is recorded. At first listen, I thought it may have just been an effect the band & producer attempted with the first one or two songs, but disappointingly though, it continues for the entire album. The question that begs then is, if there was an idea to experiment with a somewhat more industrial sounding production, why not commit one or two songs to that? Why the whole bloody album? Most disappointing I must say, as this is not a step in the right direction if the band is to stay true its musical origins & the fans of the earlier albums.
Having said that though, the production & sound aspects are not a complete failure. The mix is quite competent in that most instruments can be clearly heard, except the bass guitar. Additionally, the sound in general is punchy, crisp & powerful enough. The guitars boast a heavy crunching sound, & the drums have a good punchy sound, although it loses some of its punch noticeably when the drums switch to faster blast sections, but not to the point of failure, & it is after all a common challenge with mixing drums when recording extreme grind or death metal.
Barney's vocals sound somewhat like a throwback to those on 'Utopia Banished', in that they are a semi-growled, semi-shouted vocal style similar to those on that album. Nonetheless, Barney has extended his vocal range to include high pitched screeching & some rare clean vocal sections, all of which are competently perfomed, adding a plus to the vocals.
I seem to find the best songs are tracks 7-10, with track seven, 'In Deference', possibly being the album's most memorable song, largely due to a most effective & memorable middle section, featuring guest vocals from Anneke from The Gathering.
Generally, although this is a good album, it's not one of Napalm Death's best, & when deciding to listen to the band's musical output during the Barney Greenway era, I'd instead be listening to 'Harmony Corruption' or 'Mass Appeal Madness'.
I am not really into grindcore, but this one is exceptional. Not like ordinary grindcore - damned lot of noise and growls without melody - this one is more melodic. Let´s take a look at an example: guitar riff from “When All is Said and Done“ in the beginning of the song and during the chorus. It´s adding to this album more melodic sound reminding me of death metal. This is what makes it different from other bands.
And now for the story how I got this album. When I was in the shop, I hesitated because they had the normal CD and the limited edition digipak (including 2 bonus tracks and a sticker; it was also more expensive.) I decided to buy the special edition even though it was my first album from Napalm Death and, as I said, I am not into grindcore. I don’t regret buying this one, though.
Everything about the music is already written in the booklet and on the limited edition paper CD case:
Barney – shouting, screaming, swans, sermons
Shane – four strings of apocalypse / NY aggro lung assault
Mitch – shredding, grinding, subliming noise / shrill cries
Danny – blast beat terrorism
So prepare for 45 minutes and 2 seconds of growling, shredding, blast beats, and, of course, four strings of apocalypse. I especially like those shrill cries in the beginning of “In difference“ and “Sink fast, Lets go“, where Mitch releases one shrill cry for few seconds in “As Always, the Will and Desire“ and the another one for “Passed Off as a Fault of the Unlearned“, but without the booklet, I thought at first that he was only shrieking. I then found out these noises are meant to be phrases with meaning.
The music is extremely violent and fast, the growls are pitched low, and riffs are simple, but well played. Some of them haunt your head for next few hours, like the one from “When All is Said and Done“. And as for the two bonus songs on the special edition, “Call That an Option?“ is as good as the other songs on this album and the final track “Atheist Runt” is a six minute long track repeating the few lines of text over and over with catchy guitar melodies. After hearing the whole album I found myself singing to my brother to make him angry – “Restrain this runt, neutralize this runt, behead this runt amid pillars of salt“ over again and again. This definitely rests in your head.
It’s a great album - fast, heavy and violent. My favorite songs: “Sing Fast, Let’s Go", “In Difference“, “When All is Said and Done“, and “Persona Non Grata“.
In their previous album The Code is Red... Long Live The Code the band took a big step towards more punkier style and they continue to do the same thing in their new album, Smear Campaign. It has that typical Napalm Deathish groove and aggression but this time with even more variety in- and between songs than their previous recording. Length of this album (little bit over 45 minutes) is in most cases too much for a grind (or deathgrind) band but it's a little bit surprising that Smear Campaign doesn't really sound boring although it has some parts that come close to the line of what is boring and what is not.
If you listen to songs like In Deference, Shattered Existence or Persona Non Grata, your legs will begin moving uncontrolled and your head will move in the rhytm of the music and these songs are amongst the catchiest songs in this album. It seems that guitarist Mitch Harris gets more and more vocal parts after every album, and Smear Campaign doesn't make an exception. Nevertheless, his high screeching that resembles something close to someone killing a cat supports Barney's growling pretty seamlessly.
It is becoming clear that Napalm Death is going back to its roots although I think that they go back to their more death metal sound sometime soon. This album is very good and hard-hitting even if it isn't better than Napalm Death's first two albums. Jesse Pintado would be proud of this album...
Where to start off? Well, being a fan of early Napalm Death, I was very happy to see with Enemy of the Music Business that they decided to revisit the genre they, along with greats such as Repulsion, Extreme Noise Terror, etc.., spawned!
The first track (an intro) makes you wonder what exactly Napalm has in store for their fans…Then "Sink Fast, Let Go", the second track, tears through the speakers with simple riffs and blast beats galore! Napalm definitely went back to the old days covering the entire album in blast beats and, much like the old days with Mick and Lee, high-pitched shrieks delivered by both Barney and Mitch! You can even hear some of Shane's voice in the back at times! (Listen to the Offenders cover they did on Leaders..Part II and you'll see what I mean!
The Code is Red..., their previous effort, was very good and was a step towards returning to the days of Dorrian and Lee. I think this album is what Harmony Corruption should've been, instead of the more death metal sound they went for. The production is excellent, very much like Code.., and much catchier too! Definitely not for fans of Greed Killing n' Words From the Exit Wound n' what not...
Favorite Tracks: Sink Fast, Let Go ; Freedom is a Wage of Sin [dig the chorus!!] ; Short Lived; Deaf and Dumbstruck (Intelligent Design)
"Smear Campaign" is album number 12 from Napalm Death and it's good to see they can still lead the grindcore/death metal scene after nearly 20 years since their first album. This new album is brutal as fuck. A complete onslaught of relentless riffs, blastbeats and a combination of high pitched wailing vocals and Barney Greenway's trademunk grunts.
This album doesn't add too much new to the Napalm Death sound, nor does it take anything away from it. This is one of the heaviest albums I have heard them perform so far, and its a lot of fun for a while, but many of the tracks seem to just blur into each other. With so many releases it may be difficult for this to be a stand out album in their long discography. "Smear Campaign" doesn't have as much range of ideas as the last album, which was one of the Napalm Death's best moments of their whole career. It's easy to see "Smear Campaign" as the same song written over and over.
There are however, stand out tracks to be found here. "Sink Fast, Let Go" is a brutal onslaught which sets the standards of this album, whilst "In Deference" experiments with female vocals from guest vocalist from The Gathering. The track "Rabid Wolves (For Christ)", is smart and punky, throwing back to their earlier grindcore sound.
"Smear Campaign" is nothing more than the next Napalm Death release really. It isn't a standout album, yet nor is it a stinker. This album is somewhere in the middle, and sounds like a heavier, better produced "Fear, Emptiness, Despair" in some respects. The last album, "The Code is Red... Long Live the Code" was an essential Napalm Death purchase, whilst "Smear Campaign" is more for fans only and not an album I would instantly recommend.
* Bonus track "Call That An Option?" is a well good addition to the album, whilst "Atheist Runt" just sounds too similar to last years closing track "Morale", which is a slower and longer track, almost with a hint of doom metal in it.
It is surely not the "identity crisis" and not "all is said and done". Napalm Death know exactly who they are and what they were created for - to spill aggression everywhere they are. Guitar is still devastating and Barney still spits the words with inhuman fury. Hatred lives in the band as it did those years ago and time doesn't bring any release. Actually, "Smear Campaign" is no doubt much more aggressive than the previous recordings. It would be an overstatement to claim this is Napalm Death's return to the grind, but that's better - I believe the band is not able to record "Scum" once again and it's fantastic to hear a band changing a bit even after more than two decades of continous activity.
"Smear Campaign" is a real chest of riffs and this always makes a metalhead childishly joyful. The sound hardly changed but the album seems different. These are the indisputable achievements of Napalm Death anno 2006 and I really wish this chase for freshness and being up-to-date would never stop. I also hope that I will admit that "this is the best Napalm Death album" every time I listen to a new record from the English masters of extreme music. Judging from the discography, the next opportunity comes next year.
Napalm death are supposedly returning to their grindcore roots with this album after a few grinding death records so when i bought this album i was a little apprehensive as to whether they know what grindcore is anymore, however as soon as the i pressed the play button and track 2 kicked in "Sink Fast, Let Go" is Napalm Death at their incendiary grindcore best. One of the things that stands out most about this release is the amount of backing vocals used. The last few albums have used the backing vocalist sparingly at most but in this they utilize the fact that they have 2 immense vocalists compared to just Barney (who by the way sounds angrier than ever on this release).
This is an album i can really enjoy and Napalm Death havent slowed down a single beat. Yeah there is a couple of melodic vocal bits in there like from Morale off the code is red but they dont over do them. Dont Worry, they dont use the melodic vocals too often, however it does add a different twist to the normal Napalm Death formula.
So in short this album shows that not only are napalm death still one of the angriest and feral bands around, but their still better than most of these young bands that are trying to plug into the grindcore sound these days.
Bring on the UK tour!!