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It pains me to say this but Napalm Death are long past needing to retire. I left Time Waits For No Slave behind soon after it was released, sensing a palpable diminishment in the band, mainly in Barney's failing voice and the unwarranted need for them to start fooling around with the lame experiments that degraded their discography back in the late '90's. That feeling is so much worse with this record. Utilitarian is hands-down the worst record Napalm Death has ever released and I cannot fathom the acclaim it has received in so many quarters. In the two years since it was released, I have tried and failed repeatedly to like this album, to give my favorite band a chance to show me they still have some fire left, but I can only shake my head at this tired, wrong-headed album.
I remember when everyone shat their pants over Diatribes, a record that had many similar features to this one: clean guitar tones, clean singing, lots of mid-tempo grooves, and strange dissonant experimentation. That record cost ND half their audience (and all their street cred) in '96 and it wasn't until 2000's Enemy Of The Music Business that the band recovered their earlier straight-up death-grind sound. So when TWFNS came out, and some of those earlier stylistic mishaps started sneaking back into the ND sound, I was worried. Utilitarian confirmed my fears.
The biggest problem is Barney's vocals. Somewhere around 2006, Barney started losing his voice. The dry, airless barks on this record are a pale shade compared to his previously deep roars. I am surprised that few other reviewers have articulated how badly Barney's voice has deteriorated. It is almost impossible for me to listen to how shriveled he sounds. Put on any song from Utopia Banished and hear the diminishment of two decades. It is impossible for me to ignore -- something I wish I could do to his clean singing, its hilariously awful and always has been.
The music isn't much better. After so many decades of death-grind, coming up with fresh riffs has proven a challenge. These riffs are tired and gussying them up with some fancy window dressing ala clean open chords, dissonant noise, skronking sax solos, etc. is just a distraction. Like so many other great bands whose best days are behind them, Napalm Death are stuck in a pattern of releasing new music as an excuse to tour. The revitalizing energy of the early 00's has faded and the band has clearly run out of ideas. Utilitarian casts back over their entire discography, takes every single idea they've ever had and smashes it all together in a listless and pointless form of encapsulation: "this is all Napalm Death has ever sounded like, altogether, on one record" would be perfect promo copy, if they included a disclaimer about mediocre riffs and exhausted vocals.
For those of us decades in the trenches with Napalm Death, the band we used to love isn't coming back. All those who dig and praise this record can keep it but to really hear the heights these guys once stood on, track back to Harmony Corruption and go forward from there.
After growing tired of death metal, Napalm Death released a series of lackluster experimental/groove albums before settling on a format of fast and blasting hc/death/grind augmented by "weird chords" with 2000's Enemy of the Music Business. After so many similar (and vapid) albums this past decade, the band thought it wise (or maybe it was the share holders at Century Media) to "refresh" themselves with an album that combines their "2000's and beyond" era with an experimental edge, only nothing has changed. Beyond the surface of adornments like clean sung vocals at select parts and a blaring saxophone (John Zorn guest appears), it is a repackaging of the same old crap. Napalm Death have become their very own worst enemy. Too stupid to quit long ago, they have cheapened their hardcore/punk roots and their death metal era yet again with Utilitarian - one more crappy album to add to their collection, but that's the state of this world.
For starters, it's really hard to grasp how anyone can relate to this dishonesty just from the performances on display here. Barney Greenway's vocals keep deteriorating like they have been since the release of 2000's Enemy of the Music Business. Gone is the powerful and forceful enraged grunt/shout/growl of old, and now we have the manic barking of a tired old man that occasionally lapses into drunken sounding monotone clean vocals at times in some songs ("Fall on Their Swords" is one example of this). Even Mitch Harris' backing shrieks take a back seat for some less deranged, hoarser shouts most of the time. Drums sound either mic'd improperly (cymbals sound flimsy) or over triggered/sampled. The bass and guitar tracks have a sharp sound, but no low end (maybe concessions that were made to compensate for the deteriorated vocals?). Where are the "whirlwind hyper cans" and "sub-end vexation"?
Another point of contention must be made with the lyrics, which have taken on an egalitarian "first world/dreamworld" problems angle that's a far cry from the lyrics of Scum (or even tracks like Armageddon x7). They have run out of topics to write about in regards to human beings relationships to this planet or our survival, instead focusing on niche topics like sexism and gender identity. This uninspired Napalm Death is without power or purpose, clearly running on empty. Disappointing, and while that was to be expected, I was taken aback over how far this once monolithic force of grinding musical power has fallen into the camp of flow chart derived, corporate approved sonic weakness.
With Utilitarian, Napalm Death have reached their low point. Music is loud but listless, like a lifeless alarm of sorts: a blaring sense of vacuity. Aside from the aforementioned adornments of saxophone and clean/effected vocals, as well as some pedal effected riffs, nothing has changed. Fusing their "everything but the kitchen sink" trend style of their mid-90's releases with the incessant blasting of their "extreme" 2000's and beyond era, but now incorporating these "new" ideas (that are actually old ideas that were already explored in the early 90's by former drummer Mick Harris' various projects as well as their own Diatribes album). Grotesque imitations. None of this is forward thinking, it's just a new surface Napalm Death could utilize to seem "refreshing" to the more unwise among their old audience while appearing "fashionably different" to a possible new audience of weak minds who are none the wiser.
Blasting chaos without focus gives the impression of ranting old men and little else, as songs share a similar moment to moment display of the same tired pseudo-melodic blaring tremolo/chord phrases going into hardcore/punk phrases with 2-hit drumming to achieve their goal of "being rowdy like death metal but being cool with the punks too", but inserting annoying math rock derived noodling and Voivod inspired chords at times for the sake of being "unconventional" ("Orders of Magnitude" suffers from this throughout it's duration). They are typically arranged in a verse-chorus-extended bridge and back to verse-chorus format, but sometimes tracks blare off into an "anthemic ending" which recalls modern hardcore of the Terror variety but with "strange chords". It's obnoxious and feels like they were randomly combining ideas they couldn't use in their side projects and hastily fitting them into blast laden numbers to fulfill their contractual obligation towards making another album. The only variety that occurs can be found in tracks like "Circumspect" or "The Wolf I Feed", but only because they feel like one idea being taken to it's conclusion instead of 8 being randomly thrown around over fast drums for the sake of being "extremely unorthodox" (even then, they're not good).
Forget that old-school logo on the cover because there's nothing to gain here. Their extremity was not retained. Napalm Death have fallen in line with the interests of Century Media's focus groups, investors, and board of directors. Dressing up the past hoping we fund their master plan of rehashing the same ideas in more vapid side projects (a real Greed Killing if there ever was one). I always saw Napalm Death from the early 90's and before as some kind of infallible musical force to be reckoned with, but is it right to tolerate this focus group created process of seemingly haphazardly cobbled together travesties? No.
If anyone can offer this throwaway Napalm Death any advice, it would be to stop making music under the Napalm Death moniker since it is quite clearly a brand now with all it's integrity scooped out. This 2000's and beyond incarnation seem to have a knack for creating Swans inspired dirges such as "Morale" and "Omnipresent Knife in your Back". Barney Greenway's (and the rest of the band for that matter) performances on these songs feel inspired and not like one of a tired man bogged down by the obligation to seem "angry" over trite faux-death/grind like the vapidity which can be heard on this album. With what's on display here there's seemingly nothing to halt this tide.
When the final track "A Gag Reflex" ended with it's obnoxious tough guy 90's Chaos AD groove riff, there was no change in mental state; I was just left wondering "what the hell were they trying to achieve with this crap?". The cover art is different, there's a saxophone in there, but it might as well be a reissue of their last album (which was already terrible and suffered from the same problems). The promo pic which shows the band making a parody of Wall Street reflects how cynical and corporate minded this band has become. Avoid this rancid display of musical feces. Vapid.
Napalm Death are an institution. In three decades of existence, they have remained at the forefront of extreme music, constantly evolving and refining their sound while at the same time staying true to the band’s roots in early grindcore and punk. Despite the fact that there are no original members left in the lineup, they have never faltered in quality or watered down their singular vision in order to get ahead; their integrity and dedication has become something of a gold standard by which all other grindcore bands are judged. Utilitarian is Napalm Death’s fourteenth album, and it finds the band sounding as potent and relevant as ever.
On Utilitarian, Napalm Death continue to operate within the sturdy grindcore/death metal/hardcore framework they’ve built for themselves and have been working to perfect since 2000′s ridiculously corrosive Enemy of the Music Business. The bone-breaking assault of tracks such as “Quarantined” “Orders of Magnitude” and “Think Tank Trials” prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the UK quartet remains a well-oiled killing machine; the level of battering brutality on display is almost frightening. But for all this brutality, Utilitarian is also shockingly catchy; its deep grooves and pummeling punk-derived chord progressions burrow their way into your brain with ruthless, surgical precision. Napalm Death are easily one of the tightest bands in all of metal; just listen to the way they lock in together for a rhythmic beatdown on the bonus track “Everything in Mono.”
As musically ferocious as Napalm Death are, they’ve also never been afraid to experiment, and Utilitarian sees the band introducing some interesting new elements into the mix, as well as expanding upon previous explorations. Intro track “Circumspect” kicks the album off in doomy, groove-laden fashion, augmented by synths and electronics before dissolving into the explosive “Errors in the Signals.” John Zorn (Painkiller, Naked City, etc) lends his twisted, atonal saxophone playing to “Everyday Pox,” a track that also sees Napalm Death flirting with slower rhythms and layered vocals that recall the likes of Killing Joke and Godflesh, all within the space of two minutes and ten seconds. “Fall on their Swords” features an eerie, gothed-up middle section that sounds like an ultra-heavy Bauhaus, replete with deep, Peter Murphy-esque droning vocals. Napalm Death have proved time and again that there is room for progression in grindcore, and Utilitarian just might be their most forward-thinking album yet while losing none of the band’s trademark knack for total musical devastation.
Lyrically and aesthetically, Utilitarian finds Napalm Death as politically and socially conscious as ever. If the album’s cover, which features a quartet of corporate lackeys stomping the shit out of the “common man” while he’s down (being something of a corporate lackey myself, this image hit particularly close to home) doesn’t give away the album’s basic themes, then biting lyrics such as “The wolf I feed / Outweighed, policed and rationed / The wolves I feed / Our liberties seized and blackened” from “The Wolf I Feed” or “Take a hammer to (stifling) traditions / Don’t tread carefully / Yes, we presume with no exceptions / freedom is for free” from “Quarantined” had damn sure better. The band have been raging against the machine for years and show no signs of letting up here.
Considering the state our world is currently in, we need art to act as a voice of dissent now more than ever. With Utilitarian, Napalm Death are that voice personified for the extreme metal underground, as they have been for the past thirty-one years and will no doubt continue to be until Embury, Harris, Greenway and Herrera are in the ground. Then again, who’s to say that other musicians won’t replace them to take up the mantle, just as they did when the original band members began to drop off? Maybe Napalm Death is eternal.
Originally written for That's How Kids Die
Utilitarian is one hell of a album. From the extra heavy and doom-ish intro “Circumspect” to the insane and random noises inserted in the song “Random Pox,” they bring genuine, authentic grindcore to people who are so bent on the next breakdown it’s pathetic. “Circumspect” is something that Napalm Death has never done before and must be experienced through surround sound.
But that ends when they through you in the grind pit with “Errors In The Signals.” Insane riffs and spastic guitars are rounded off with the intense drumming that Danny Herrera brings to the table. It’s perhaps the most retro ND track on the album as it has a lot of the same influences that classic albums like Scum had. It’s refreshing to know that these guys can still make the same kind of music and not run out of new directions to bend and twist the grindcore genre to their liking.
Best song on the album goes to “Protection Racket.” Probably the most sinister sounding song on the album, it reflects grindcore with an infusion of d-punk that makes a somewhat more straight forward song structure. Of course, it’s about as straight forward as Napalm Death can get. It has that raw and gritty old school punk sound with more new school punk bass and grindcore guitars. Could this be considered G-Punk? With more of the growling vocals as opposed to the shrieking vocals, it brings forth pure mayhem that are followed by the chaotic drums later in the track.
This record is chock full of some of Napalm Death’s finest songs ever. Easily one of their best albums to date, you would be a fool to miss out on this.
Napalm Death truly need no inrtoduction to metal fans. Unless you've been living under a rock for the past 20 years, you would know that Napalm Death are one of the most revered bands, not only in grindcore, but extreme metal in general. They have been releasing consistantly superb albums on a nearly yaer-to-year basis. Their latest is no exception.
Utilitarian is a prime example of Napalm Death's trademark brand of chaotic grindcore, but what really makes this album great is the careful hints of experimentation. Be it the industrial-tinged intro ("Circumspect"), a visit from the saxiphonist from Hell, John Zorn,("Everday Pox"), the Gregorian chants on "Fall On Their Swords", or the Burton C. Bell-esque clean vocals on "The Wolf i Feed", this album packs some pleasant surprises.
Barney's vocals sounds as pissed off as ever, the guitars have a great crunch to them, the bass really holds it's own, and the drums are brilliant as always. Another great thing about this album is the atmosphere it creates. "Blank Look About Face" is the kind of song that just makes you want to start a riot for no real reason at all. All in all, Napalm Death have never disapointed me in the past and this is no different. It will certainly be in my top 5 for the year.
Favorite Tracks: "Analysis Paralysis", "Leper Colony", "Everyday Pox", "Blank look About Face", "The Wolf I Feed" and "Errors In the Signals"
Few bands always deliver. To say Napalm Death is among those few bands would be a colossal understatement. To put it bluntly, listening to Napalm Death is pretty much mandatory. The more albums a mandatory band such as this one puts out, the more interesting a task it becomes to put the newcomers up against an already-immense discography. Needless to say, after spending an entire month listening to virtually every release from Scum to the band's latest, one would hope to be able to come to some insigntful and proper conclusions as to where Utilitarian stands by comparison, and to where the band may be headed regarding future endeavours. But before all that is discussed, there are some pressing extra-curricular activities regarding Utilitarian that need to be addressed.
While Utilitarian may focus heavily on current events such as the recent Occupy movements, it's not really a new thing for Barney Greenway to speak his mind on current events. Therefore, while most of you were off rioting and protesting, I was left alone like the last kid in the sandbox -- except my sandbox was the streets of New Orleans and my play shovel was my bright and shiny new copy of the Utilitarian compact disc. And that's when madness started. First, I discovered that the CD is a pretty cool boomerang. If you throw it at a fast enough velocity, it will decapitate anyone within a hundred-mile radius before making its way back to its rightful owner. Next, I realized that holding the CD at the proper angle magnifies the reflection one thousand-fold, allowing the beholder to permanently blind anyone they hate. Finally, I started to notice that Utilitarian, when played at high levels, serves as a pretty good scrambler for radar detectors, police radios, and any other devices our uniformed babysitters may use to protect us. Think I'm kidding? You'll never know until you try it.
For those who are either hearing impaired or have yet to discover the fact that Century Media has been streaming Utilitarian on its website, Napalm Death's latest effort could be described as something of progressive grindcore. No, it's not the cacophonous saxophone segments featured in "Everyday Pox" that make the group's fourteenth full-length outstanding, even though those don't hurt the results one bit. Utilitarian is all about atmosphere, and it's strange that the cover bears a striking resemblance to the all-time classic, From Enslavement To Obliteration, which is the first instance in which Napalm Death reinvented itself for the better. "Circumspect," the album's intro, is downright chilling, almost to the extent that I thought I had accidentally ordered some unreleased material from UK counterparts Dave Hunt and Mick Kenney upon first listen. Diving further into the album will lead the listener to find much of the same songwriting structure a-la Shane Embury that has graced every album since Enemy of the Music Business. What's different this time around is the sheer density of the fucking thing. It truly sounds better than any grindcore album that has ever been produced. But does that mean it is better? Let's do some brief comparisons, shall we?
2009's Time Waits For No Slave is among the best grindcore albums of all time, if not the best. To be hit with "Strongarm" right out of the starting blocks is nothing short of cathartic. After hearing the production samples of Utilitarian, all hopeful fans expected much of the same, but in even more bombastic fashion. Unfortunately, that's not quite what Napalm Death has served up this go-around. The thing about Utilitarian is that the delivery doesn't quite outweigh the anticipation. It's not until the one-and-one-half minute mark into the fourth track, "Protection Racket," that the infamous Embury groove finally comes into play, albeit without accompaniment from those "Diktat" moments of perfect brutality.
Although the album is a bit slow to open up, by the time "Think Tank Trials" leads its way into the death march that is "Blank Look About Face," the record, along with all of its quirky new additions, will have easily won over the hearts of the fans. The frequency of Greenway's Victorian-esque clean vocals -- the best of which are demonstrated on "Fall On Their Swords" -- add another new aspect to the band's sound. Mitch's raspy growls also give Utilitarian a refreshing yet crusty vibe on the throwdown track, "Orders of Magnitude." Other smash hits include "Leper Colony" and "Analysis Paralysis," or rather the "Life And Limb" of the album. Weighing in at roughly forty-six minutes, these seventeen tracks make up what will likely be one of the best grindcore albums of the year.
In the grand scheme of things, Napalm Death has zero throwaway albums, a small handful of average ones (Fear, Emptiness, Despair, Diatribes), a very generous helping of records that easily destroy every other grindcore outfit out there, and a few timeless classics that are absolutely mandatory for everyone (From Enslavement To Obliteration, Time Waits For No Slave, Harmony Corruption). While Utilitarian doesn't quite fit into the "best of" category, one shouldn't go so far as to say it isn't mandatory, because Utilitarian pushes boundaries that even Time Waits... does not. Napalm Death has advanced its sound in every single aspect, and it has done so without even so much of a hiccup in its discography. Lord only knows what would happen if the powers of Utilitarian and its predecessor were to someday combine forces in some dark alleyway of Birmingham.
Originally written for MetalReview.com
Coherence. This is the first phrase that popped into my head when I heard the new album by Napalm Death. Integrity is another phrase that complements the first and, finally, aggressive, very aggressive, is the final word that closes this comment.
Of course, all production of Napalm Death has progressive and strange contraptions such as the introduction "circumspect", follow by brutal grindcore attacks like "Errors In The Signals", with a choppy start repeating a few times.
"Everyday Pox" sounds strange, without doubt, for that attack dissonant alto sax performed by John Zorn, but in any case, a song full of blast beats and devastating guitar at full speed. No time to breathe straight cuts appear as "Protection Racket". "The Wolf I Feed" is a focused theme certainly a trend in punk and hardcore, "Quarantined" is a song that I love because it includes some awesome blastbeats and some brutal guitar riffs centered.
The rhythm section rumbles with a devastating sound contingency on "Fall On Their Swords". From here, are some of the most savage of the album: "Collision Course", "Orders of Magnitude" or "Think Tank Trials", these in typical grindcore: distortion brutal, crushing guitar and sharp as an axe , times dizzying and (of course), devastating blast beats, as only Danny Herrera knows. "Blank Look About Face" is a subject in which the protagonist is the chorus, one of the highlights of the song, shouting "Look About Face Blank" almost all the time.
"Leper Colony" is one of those typical themes of Napalm Death, those issues that differ from the rest with some unusual parts at the beginning and again based on a core riffs.
"Nom de guerre" lasts just 1 minute, destructive rage on the increase and speed define this song. And so are the other cuts happening, for example, "Analysis Paralysis", close to progressive, "Opposites Repellent" returns to the punk creeping and "A Gag Reflex" off an excellent album. a repeated final seal of this production: powerful sound of drums and guitar riffs conjoined to the angry vocal cords Mark Greenway.
Napalm Death does not disappoint or loosen a centimeter. Highly recommended.
Napalm Death are the most consistently excellent extreme metal band in the world. As bold a statement as that may be, Napalm Death have released 14 full-length albums over the past quarter century in an extremely intense part of the metal spectrum, and they have remained every bit as relevant as any band in their sphere. I can't think of a single other pioneering group from black metal, death metal, or grind that was releasing albums of the same intensity as these guys back in the 80s and has continued to produce equally strong material into the present day without any significant gaps.
With all that said, I assume most readers will be at least passingly familiar with the group, so I shouldn't have to spend a great deal of time describing the way this sounds. For those who don't know them, the extreme end of hardcore punk fused with the angriest part of metal back in the 80s to form grindcore, and Napalm Death were the band right at the heart of that development. They are the prototype on which all other grind is based and built. The instantly recognizable Barney Greenway bellows out his social rage in front of churning guitar riffs, gritty bass lines, and wildly fast drumming.
Utilitarian continues the band's more recent trend of incorporating more death metal elements into their traditional grind sound. Personally, I actually prefer this hybrid style to the band's older material, as the fuller song lengths and the inclusion of some meaty death metal riffs adds more structure, allowing the songs to fully develop. It costs nothing in the intensity department, and I think it significantly enhances the overall sound and enjoyability of the listening experience.
Part of what has kept Napalm Death so effective for so long is their willingness to change and grow and experiment with their sound. They have kept close enough to their original formula that they have never lost their identity, and they have been judicious enough with their divergences that they have never "sold out". The group throw a few experimental touches in here, too. They open with an instrumental track, not typical for them, but it sounds good. At barely over two minutes long, it's just the right length to serve as an excellent warm-up to the album. The tempos, rather than maintaining pure balls-to-the-wall speed in every track, vary enough to maintain interest and help to distinguish the songs more clearly from one another in their tone and approach. In some tracks, like "Everyday Pox" and "Quarantined", the group also include some wild, squealing horn work that accentuates and heightens the mad frenzy of the music.
Other departures are not quite so welcome. The inclusion of clean singing on some of the tracks is the really notable example of this. In some places, like on the previously mentioned "Quarantined", the intrusion is minimal and the overall effect, while not exactly an enhancement, is at least not a significant annoyance. In "The Wolf I Feed", on the other hand, the clean vocals are weird and off putting. Largely due to those vocals, that particular track stands out to me as a jarringly bad song on an otherwise very good album.
Despite that particular knock, this is still a very strong and enjoyable album. I'm not sure that it's my favorite from their newer catalog, but the majority of the material is as good as anything else the band has produced in recent years.
(Originally published on beardsetc.blogspot.com)
This album is no recycled crap a lot of bands seem to be okay with releasing. This one really takes you back to the "good ole days". This is one of those moments where if Napalm Death were to release this with poor studio quality and just SAY they were unreleased tracks from back in the eighties; people would believe them. That is what makes Napalm so great; their consistency. The late eighties ND to a bit more specific.
The easiest way to describe this album is to compare it to an older one, and with the 80's being mentioned, it would seem to be most similar to ND's second work, "From Enslavement To Obliteration". The one thing that the earlier album had (besides the svper kvlt recording) that this one does not, is the short thirty second songs. Those would have made this album a landmark in history. To be fair though, the second to last track "Opposite Repellent" is a brief minute and five seconds long, with the actual music kicking in at the 10 second mark. It also has the classic feedback in the beginning. For anyone who is partial to saying ND doesn't have it anymore just needs to hear that track to have their faith in them restored.
The intro track in the very beginning of the CD has a very eerie vibe to it. That has been consistent compared to their other recent releases. If they were to actually perform that intro live it would be just devastating! Then the next track kicks you right in the teeth with the speed! The first thing that comes to everyone's mind when the name Napalm Death comes up is how stupid fucking fast they are! And then in the next track, they bring in the "noise" here in the chorus with a sound that is very hard to describe. Almost as if they were letting the air squeak out of a balloon! Most of all however, what really will hook you into this album is track 5, "The Wolf I Feed". It has the upbeat skanking riff that has almost a crossover sound for a second. Mitch Harris has such an incredible voice. When you have him and Barney trading vocals in a track it. But the guitar riff in the beginning of that track is what makes it!
How many lifetimes would you have to live to come up with as many riffs as these dudes do? The thought alone is just baffling. Every track on this record has a riff that will either make you want to mosh or throw your arms up in the air at the sound of sheer terror! Besides the fore mentioned track 5 there is some very choice riffage in "Nom de Guerre" (the whole song!) and in "Opposite Repellent" at around :42. Also in the preview track "Leper Colony" there is some monster riffage (http://youtu.be/I0NqN6mGO2g?t=1m34s). Those riffs alone will convince you to pic this gnarly bastard up!
These guys haven't turned their backs to the music they set out to create, and by now it is pretty obvious that these legends never will. Their previous recent releases were amazing, and this album is most definitely a step above them!
Favorite Track: The Wolf I Feed, Nom de Guerre, Opposite Repellent
Napalm Death are back to deliver the fourteenth album of their career. Utilitarian has it all, an old school cover art reminiscent of their late eighties efforts, a pissed off Barney and a crusty musical output.
If there are bands which have nothing more to prove in this time and age then Napalm Death is certainly one of them. The British band played a major role in birthing and developing what is nowadays the most common punk subgenre, grindcore. They actually started as a hardcore punk act in the early eighties but it wouldn’t take them much time to fuse metal influences with their punk derived beatings, taking queues at everything that was part of underground extreme music at the time. The result ended in two albums that remain classics until today, their debut album Scum which still sounded more punk than metal, and the FETO (From Enslavement To Obliteration) album which pretty much defined grindcore singlehandedly. Some might say that Repulsion are the founders of the genre because Horrified was initially recorded back in 1986, but so was the FETO demo tape, and considering the actual release dates of both full-length albums then Napalm Death won the race.
No one can deny the sheer impact of the 1988 recording on a scene that had few to no practitioners at the time, as the following years would see an arise in popularity and quality outputs from other, now legendary, bands like Carcass, Terrorizer, Brutal Truth or Assück. This was the dawn of a new age in extreme music and being alongside the mutual development of contemporary extremist death metal, grindcore saw itself many times connected and fused with its fellow brother in the violent arts. This resulted in many hybrid albums that ended up being dubbed “deathgrind”. And as your favourite influential band of the hour Napalm Death was there too, presenting us with their much vaunted classic Harmony Corruption. Now if you stop for a minute to think that the event I’m describing happened 22 years ago you can hardly fathom the thought of this band still be releasing quality albums nowadays, because how can they keep up the quality output for so long? Well, this is 2012 and Utilitarian definitely wants a word with you!
This album is a clear continuation of the last couple of efforts by the band, with an added sense of atmosphere and small uncharacteristic elements that increase its variety and enrich the compositional process. A parallelism can be traced between the start of Utilitarian and that of Smear Campaign, where the atmospheric intro “Weltschmerz” followed by the rabid and violent “Sink Fast, Let Go” equal “Circumspect” and “Errors In The Signals” in this 2012 album. Few adjectives can define the amount of aggression that is suddenly poured out of the speakers into my hearing canals as this song develops into another anthem of a chorus. No time to breathe as the first signs of embracing unorthodox elements arrive in the form of John Zorn’s schizophrenic saxophone leads in “Everyday Pox”. It’s just so creepy but yet so fitting in this concept of political extreme music, while the main guitar riff already brings back memories of Harmony Corruption. The pure display of punkish aggression continues to enfold in a maddening fashion as Barney seems to have swallowed some super speeds that make him bounce of the studio walls as much as he does during live shows. And yet by the time that “The Wolf I Feed” gets to be the main attraction we find what is probably the best and catchiest chorus of the album, along with the one of “Analysis Paralysis” which is also infectiously good, and sung clean in that nasal tone typical of Burton C. Bell. I’m not sure if it’s Burton or not but it sure sounds like him and it makes me think back to Fear Factory’s debut, which coincidently was very influenced by the early nineties incarnation of Napalm Death.
That only accounted for a third of the album and as it continues to roll on more heads fall in its destructive path, unrelenting and brutish in its delivery, up close and personal in its attack, furious and pissed off beyond recognition in the constant barking at the targets at hand. This is pure aggression, and yet so many of those great grooves that the band has accustomed us are still present and concealed within all the madness. Songs like “Collision Course”, “Orders Of Magnitude” or “Blank Look About Face” show the more mid-tempo part of the band’s death metal side, while speeding razor bullets are discharged on the punkish “Think Tank Trials”, “Leper Colony”, "Nom De Guerre" and “Opposites Repellent”. Those little quirks that the band has managed to envelop in the midst of their song structure continue to bear a presence throughout the album, and we get to see some clean singing sections as much as some atmospheric leanings that resemble somewhat of an industrialized feeling.
Utilitarian is a punishing piece of extreme music that goes on for 45 minutes, hunting down fat politicians and money-hungry bankers that show no respect for the average human. The band has released many good albums throughout its career but this new effort marks itself as definitely one of the strongest. It seems that they’ve found a perfect balance where they can be a death metal band as much as a punk-oriented grindcore act. This balance has eluded the band during a part of its career and now it seems like age, along with a two decade long stable line-up, has perfected and roughened the crust leaden edges of this legendary act. I began this review by saying that Napalm Death has nothing more to prove, but if this new record is indicative of anything then it would be that they still demand a lot from themselves and intend to continually reinvent their songwriting into new quality albums. Older bands seem to have been spiked by the new retro bands and are now retaliating in force and doing what they do best. Utilitarian is another great example of their sustainability and ability to endure the passage of time.
Originally written for and posted at Riff Magazine