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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.