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Perhaps my favorite Napalm Death release - 91%

Noktorn, September 27th, 2008

This is one of my favorite Napalm Death albums for several reasons. It heralds the entry of Barney Greenway, whose vocals I feel have always been much stronger than those of Naplm Death's previous vocalists. The production is stronger and the instrumental performances are tighter. But moreover, this is perhaps the purest combination of death metal and grindcore that Napalm Death ever executed, and the results are stunning, with long and involved yet still very aggressive and abrasive tracks filled with dark atmosphere and genuine anger. It's not as instantly memorable as other Napalm Death albums, and perhaps it's a good thing: it forces the listener to pay attention to what they're hearing, revealing music of much greater intricacy than anything from the band's earlier output.

The sounds of the instruments and vocals on this album are fantastic; much like the cover art, the sound is peculiarly hellish in nature, with a certain intensity that isn't communicated by any one feature alone. Maybe it's the guitar tone with its very simple yet intense distortion, or the sudden arrival of full-fledged death growls instead of the shouts of previous releases. Whatever it is, it conveys the sort of weight that previous Napalm Death releases lack, with a more definite aura of menace and darkness to it where the previous releases were merely angry for anger's sake. The songs themselves help convey that weight; generally around the four or five minute mark, there's a lot more room for the compositions to breathe and explore themselves via intricate death/grind riffing and frequent rhythm and tempo changes. Contributing greatly to the whole thing is Mick Harris, whose drumming starts on this album to incorporate some of the more unusual elements that would become a staple of later albums, such as his particular love of erratic snare notes and funk-based rhythms.

The riffing is strong and lacks the last tatters of good-time punk bounce that infected bits and pieces of the first two LPs. The only exception is the very out-of-place 'Suffer The Children', with its thrashy breaks and generally inappropriate feel when compared with the rest of the album. Call it Napalm Death's 'Angel Of Disease' if you will; the album would probably be better without it. The rest of it is almost extraordinarily good though. The death metal/grindcore combination (not death/grind; there is a rather important difference to be found) on this record is very savage, really feeling much like very fast and chaotic death metal most of the time. That's really what this is: traditional death metal played through the focusing prism of grindcore, making for death metal tracks that are much less orderly and predictable, but no less carefully constructed.

This is perhaps the first Napalm Death release so far in their discography that I can listen to the entirety of without ever feeling bored; the songs are much longer than the previous releases yet seem to capture my attention more. Maybe it's just Napalm Death finally shaking the last bit of punk off their bones; it feels like the band at this particular point was much more unrestrained by the shackles of d-beats and four-chord riffs. I like this album a lot and in general wish there was more music like it; it's more unique than it seems at first glance, at once logical and unpredictable without ever missing a step.