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Misfire on all cylinders - 50%

Dead1, February 21st, 2016
Written based on this version: 1994, CD, Earache Records

Whilst Napalm Death is best known for virtually inventing grindcore, by 1990 they were definitely in the death metal camp. By 1994 there was change in the air again with Fear, Emptiness, Despair. The only problem is the change seemed uninspired and most likely commercially motivated, resulting in an unsatisfactory album.

The grindcore-infused death metal is still there, but now there is a strong element of groove in the mix. This is unsurprising as groovy metal was quite popular in 1994 with Pantera hitting number 1 on the charts with Far Beyond Driven.

The result is bland and uninspired. Most of the album is mid paced death metal with some very uninspiring grooves. A lot of the songs such as "Remain Nameless" plod along mindlessly. Memorable moments, let alone memorable songs, are few and far between.

Groove metal always required a bouncy production to get that moshy vibe it is known for. Yet the production on Fear, Emptiness, Despair is far too muddy with the guitar riffs blurring into each other. As such it often sounds like uninspired Bolt Thrower with Barney Greenway on vocals. Riffs blur into one another and too often it seems the same riff is played for too long. And at times Barney's vocals blur in with the guitars too. The end result is a boring album that comes across as far too long, even though it is only a mere 45 minutes long.

In some ways, Napalm Death was a victim of the times and its own success. By 1994, death metal was changing with many bands incorporating new elements into the mix, ranging from groove, to rock, to melody, and even to jazz. To stay successful, Napalm Death needed to add something into the mix to stay at the top of the game.

However, they failed and condemned themselves to relative obscurity, playing third-rate groove/death metal for the rest of the 1990s. If one can take anything from Fear, Emptiness, Despair, it is that Napalm Death learned from these experiments and were a much stronger band once they returned to grindcore in the new millennium.