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As maligned as Napalm Death's mid-period has become, one simple truth remains: the best songs of that era were tucked away on their various splits and singles. Whereas the full-lengths often fucked around with pointless experimentation and plodding hardcore grooves, these seemingly forgotten b-sides often delivered exactly what those albums were missing: bracing blasts of intense death-grind.
Released as a teaser to the forthcoming (and mostly mediocre) Inside The Torn Apart, this EP (technically a split) offers up a radio friendly album single partnered with four sharp death-grind leftovers, songs so strong that they should've made the album. I don't hate "Breed To Breathe" per se, though I recognize just how commercial it sounds: a very slick, catchy, and bouncy riff with Barney's barking vocals overlaid and a super pit-friendly break beat underneath. A song that will definitely get a crowd moving, especially the d-beat bridge into the heavy breakdown chorus. Is it a little too slick and cloying, owing more to Snapcase than Sore Throat? Yes, but I can't argue that it isn't well-constructed and somewhat enjoyable. You'll get more of the same on the actual album but if you've been missing more old-school N.D., the next few tracks will balm your wounds a bit.
While granting that all four of these b-sides have the same sugary production (very clean, bright guitar tones, clear bass, and snappish drums), the track constructions are of a less commercial nature. "All Intensive Purposes" is mid-paced and groovy but in a harsher, more tom-heavy (think Obituary circa World Demise) manner. Barney's voice is lower here too, layering over the guitars in a much heavier manner. "Stranger Now" does that shuffle/break beat intro into slammin' breakdown thing at first but there's a deadly morph halfway through into that classic grind tornado N.D. blast-mania that was so often missing during these wilderness years. "Bled Dry" is even better, forgoing the groove touches entirely and going straight hybrid death-grind, lots of chunky mid-paced riffage, bruising double-bass, and rabid backing vocals from Shane and Mitch. Even "Time Will Tell," a more atmospheric mid-paced number, churns with a simmering hostility and energy I often found absent on the full-lengths.
Foolishly, Earache decided to hold a promotional contest allowing unsigned bands to submit their covers of N.D. songs, the winner of which would have their version included on this promo. The 'winner' here is a band called Fatality but the 'loser' is the listener as this is one shit cover. Fatality butcher one of N.D.'s best tunes with a lifeless cover that sounds like the soundtrack to an N.E.S. game with someone retching into a toilet for vocals. Utterly putrid, useless, and stupid.
Napalm Death: "Breed To Breathe" et al: 80%
Fatality: "Suffer The Children (cover): 30%
It seems strange that this was seemingly advertised as a single for the track 'Breed To Breathe' off of 'Inside The Torn Apart' rather than for the four other tracks which are completely unique to this release. Anyway, this small release isn't mandatory but it's great for the serious Napalm Death collector who wants to hear everything the band's done; here's four tracks which appear nowhere else and are very strong tracks from the third era of Napalm Death.
The title track is of course strong and catchy, but is recycled and so the least important part of the package. The other four tracks are like more technical varieties of what's heard on the 'Inside The Torn Apart' album: death/grind/hardcore tracks laced with tense, single-string tremolo riffs blistering with a cruel and strained atonality and funk-influenced syncopated drumming. The songs move along at a good clip and don't get boring due to the highly varied and engaging drum performance, powerfully hot riffs, and, as always, the roaring vocals of Barney Greenway. The tracks never falter and are phenomenal examples of this era of Napalm Death, though perhaps lacking in the instant memorability of tracks from the LP they're most similar to.
It seems these tracks were recorded during the 'Inside The Torn Apart' sessions, being almost exactly the same in production as well as style. This isn't exactly a problem, as the music on that album is strong even now, and this related EP is no exception. In fact, the increased compositional density of the tracks on this CD might make them even better than the full-length, indicating a greater ambition and scope of artistic vision. A lot more seems to get done in these songs than usual on top of their natural catchiness and clever construction.
While this is not a mandatory release, it's encouraged for Napalm Death fans to give this a listen if at all possible. The music is as savage and intelligent as ever and shows an aspect of style not quite replicated anywhere else in the band's career. Grab it if you can find it.