Grinding against fascism and authoritative corporatocracies for the better part of 30 years will wear down any band. However, Napalm Death has always been the exception to that rule. Time and time again these juggernauts of death metal and grindcore have continuously put the heavy metal world on its ass, releasing one spectacular album after another. Napalm Death has always been one of my all-time favorite bands, so of course my expectations are going to be ridiculously high, especially after the monster that “Time Waits For No Slave” came to be. That last album easily propelled an already legendary band into a whole other realm in my eyes. It was an incredibly powerful, emotional, and thought-provoking piece of work that would no doubt be a ridiculously tough act to follow. But, here I sit three years later, listening to their newest offering, “Utilitarian.” We have heard many things from the band in regards to this album, that new ideas had been implemented, and others brought even further into the mix, easily making “Utilitarian” my most anticipated album of 2012. Can this album really live up to the exceptionally high standards that I hold for Napalm Death?
The vicious and socially-conscious nature of the band is as strong as ever with the amount of social and political material they have had available to them throughout these past few years, and this is clearly made evident by the music on “Utilitarian.” Over the past few albums we have seen Napalm Death steadily increase the use of ambient introductory tracks, and they all have been very telling of the type of atmosphere said albums would bring to the listener, and the the haunting and heavy ambiance of ‘Circumspect’ is no different. After that, you are ready to experience the real meat of “Utilitarian,” with Mark “Barney” Greenway and Mitch Harris both having just a single word for us:
This deafening war-cry in the name of grind shakes the very foundation you stand on as the grinding cacophony of ‘Errors In The Signals’ violently tossed me on my ass. There was no turning back now; I have stepped into the world of Napalm Death, and they are pissed.
For a while now the band had boasted about all these new elements they had incorporated into “Utilitarian,” and let me tell you that these guys weren’t jerking us around with empty words. One of the more interesting discoveries was the introduction of clean choruses in a lot of songs. While we may have seen glimpses of it here and there on “Time Waits For No Slave,” Napalm Death took it to Anaal Nathrakh-levels of amazingly epic choruses. The real difference between the way both bands do it is that Napalm‘s approach is far more bombastic, giving off a militaristic and totalitarian atmosphere as the group bellows as low of a tone as they can possibly muster. There are plenty of these incredible passages on top of the non-stop grind attack that is “Utilitarian,” but even then, there is far more to explore.
Probably the most startling thing on this album has to be during the track ‘Everyday Pox.’ The music is fantastically done, with the whole crew really going all out on throwing the listener for a loop with their creative song-writing, which is what we expect from this band. There’s nothing strange about that, right? No, it isn’t, but what is strange is John Zorn himself playing a wicked alto saxaphone solo on top of the grinding onslaught. It really disoriented me, and I had to go over that short track over and over again to make sure I somehow didn’t stumble into Sigh‘s upcoming album. This occurs a couple times throughout the track, and each time it is just as bonkers as it sounds, but it has one hell of a charm to it. There are also some other fantastic little bits of new elements, but I don’t want to spoil them. Just trust me.
Each song on “Utilitarian” has its own energetic and undeniable personality. ‘The Wolf I Feed’ is a perfect example of this, as it has a few different tempos and tones, even being ridiculously reminiscent of old-school Fear Factory, which was quite unexpected but enjoyable as hell. ‘Blank Look About Face’ has one of the most powerful beginnings that really gets you pumped for the song as Barney repeatedly barks out the title in a drill-sergeant manner that would make Gunnery Sergeant Hartman quake in his boots. Plus, if you put that over the groovy stylings of Napalm Death then you have one hell of a song. ‘Fall On Their Swords’ is another great example; the usual death metal groove of Napalm is met with an amazing breakdown that peaks with a Gregorian-like chant that sends chills up my spine, and then going straight back into the grindcore violence. Danny Herrara especially stepped up his game, as his performance is stunningly tight and innovative, and that was one of the elements that floored me the most.
I’m sure that some of you may be a little apprehensive of the different elements that infests “Utilitarian,” but don’t you worry, as there are plenty of classically-sounding Napalm Death tracks, such as ‘Leper Colony,’ ‘Collision Course,’ ‘Quarantined,’ ‘Orders Of Magnitude,’ ‘Opposites Attract,’ and ‘A Gag Reflex,’ but they still have some of the new elements in them. Everything you know and love about Napalm Death is still intact, and is unlikely to go anywhere. I even noticed that this album has in some ways gone back to their hardcore punk demo days, as there is a good amount of punk influence in “Utilitarian,” which is a very nice change of pace. Seriously, just pick any song off of this album and you have a guaranteed winner. The only thing that I’m disappointed about is that there were no tracks that were as emotionally-charged as ‘Procrastination On The Empty Vessel’ from “Time Waits For No Slave” was, but ‘Analysis Paralysis’ comes pretty close.
Let me make this very clear. Danny Herrara, Shane Embury, Mitch Harris, and Mark “Barney” Greenway are the definitive line-up of Napalm Death. It has gotten to the point where if one of them were gone then no future album would ever have that “whole” feeling that they have had for over 20 years. The musicianship that each one of them has is absolutely unique to them, and together they make this sonic force that no other band in the world today can compete with. Honestly, I don’t even know what more I can say about “Utilitarian.” Napalm Death literally pulled out everything they had in their arsenal of death metal and grindcore and waged war with the rest of the world. I had almost unrealistic expectations for “Utilitarian” and it surpassed every single one of them. With a legacy such as Napalm Death‘s, it should be impossible for them to keep coming up with gold the way they do, but each and every time I think that they cannot release an even better album, they come back with something that slaps me in the face for my insolence. Ladies and gentlemen, “Utilitarian” is now a definitive Napalm Death record.