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Very good grinding album, not so good sound. - 70%

darkfiend, July 25th, 2009

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'.