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Napalm Death - Smear Campaign - 93%

jdmunyon, August 26th, 2013

Napalm Death's Smear Campaign is aggressive, furious, modern and pounding death metal/grindcore. These guys have clearly stumbled upon a working formula here in the 21st century, with albums like Enemy of the Music Business, Smear Campaign, and Utilitarian all being quality works from the veteran grinders. I find Smear Campaign to slightly edge out those 2 albums, for example, not because of any difference in musical formula on this release, but because most of my Napalm modern favorites come from this release. "Sink Fast, Let Go", "Puritanical Punishment Beating", "When All Is Said and Done", "Identity Crisis", "Rabid Wolves (for Christ)", "Deaf and Dumbstruck (Intelligent Design)", "Persona Non Grata"... see, that's almost half of the album right there. (When I saw them live last December, I was bummed out that they didn't play a single song from this album! They could have made their set this whole album in order!) However, there isn't a single song on here that I would rate individually below an 8/10.

Musically, nothing on this album is virtuoso in construction or execution. No technical guitar work, no difficult vocal lines, and no complicated drumming. But all 4 guys playing on these songs know their abilities and what they are best at, and go just for that. Mitch plays some fast grind riffs, some standard death metal riffs, and some mid-paced Celtic Frost-ish chugging that's just as catchy as it is on a Frost song like "Morbid Tales". Mitch also throws his high-pitched screams into many of the songs, a nice complement and opposite to Barney's vocals. Shane's bass isn't very audible most of the time, but when it gets standout parts, the tone is highly distorted and the playing is fast and aggressive. Danny divides his drum parts between fast blasting, some double bass, and d-beats/thrash beats. No obvious under-usage or over-usage of any of these styles, and thus the drumming on the album remains "simple" but perfectly fitting and creative. There's not even a single song here that exclusively features one drumming style, so there is no chance of calling the drumming "repetitive". And Barney's vocals are brutal and intense, espousing total confidence in the material that he is singing. To speak of the lyrics, this album is a "concept album" with just about every song having religious criticism within. It's obvious that Barney and Shane (the lyric writers, who split it about 50/50) are convinced that religion is a detriment to the progression of society (a view I agree with), and the lyrics are smart, thought-provoking, and worth reading in the booklet. They almost make you wish the album was sung with clean vocals so they could always be understandable, but in the end you decide not to wish this because you realize you'd miss Barney's and Mitch's grind shouts and screams too much.

The production on Smear Campaign is appropriately modern and loud and clear, but not over-produced or annoying on any fronts. Sometimes Danny's blast sections lose a little bit of audio quality, and Barney's vocals sometimes have noticeable effects on them, but neither of these things take away any noticeable enjoyment from the album.

At 45 minutes, and with songs averaging around 3 minutes in length, there is plenty of material to ingest, and the songs receive the appropriate amount of development, enough to be more enjoyable then sub-minute grind blasts, but never to the point that they start to drag. The songs never contain too many riffs, preferring instead to work with 3-5 awesome riffs, and the songs are always better for this. Riff quantity does not supplant the quality or memorability.

Smear Campaign is a great release from Napalm, that is very memorable and that will draw you back again and again. "Sink Fast, Let Go" is a great opener that starts with Mitch's screams, "When All Is Said and Done" is an almost pro-humanist death/grind "anthem" that is clearly designed to be the catchiest song on the album, "Rabid Wolves (for Christ)" is an obvious throwback to the late 80's Napalm sound, "Deaf and Dumbstruck (Intelligent Design)" contains the greatest chorus combo of vocals, riffage, and blasting on the entire album, and all of the other songs are awesome too, even the slow, "experimental" title track/closer.

Absolutely worth purchase.