Monday, April 30, 2012

Napalm Death - Utilitarian (Limited Edition)

Napalm Death
Utilitarian (Limited Edition)
Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

Despite a career that’s spanned more than twenty-five years, legendary grindcore/punk/death metal outfit Napalm Death still know how to craft a thought provoking and extreme album. And if any evidence needed to be provided, one only has to listen to the band’s last three studio releases (2005’s ‘The Code Is Red... Long Live The Code’, 2006’s ‘Smear Campaign’ and 2009’s ‘Time Waits For No Slave’) to know that if anything, Napalm Death still have the creative streak that has been with the band for most of their career. Two years on from their last studio effort, the Birmingham (U.K.) based four piece outfit (Comprising of vocalist Mark ‘Barney’ Greenway, guitarist/vocalist Mitch Harris, bassist/vocalist Shane Embury and drummer Danny Herrera) are back with their long awaited fifteenth studio effort ‘Utilitarian’. And as expected, Napalm Death are as thought provoking and political as ever, and still retain their place as leaders rather than followers within today’s extreme metal scene.
Starting out in much the same way as their last few albums, ‘Utilitarian’ is introduced via a foreboding and atmospheric/mostly instrumental piece ‘Circumspect’, which sounds huge, dark and epic (Despite its short running time). And as expected, as soon as the introduction is over, the band pile on the onslaught with ‘Errors In The Signals’, which is equal parts grindcore, grooving death metal and part progressive death metal with its constant shifts in tempo, unhinged barking vocals from Greenway and vast array of razor sharp riffing from Harris.
From here, Napalm Death delve into more experimental territory with ‘Everyday Pox’ (Which features some very avant-garde alto saxophone contributions from John Zorn), which works surprisingly well amongst the song’s grinding contributions, while tracks such as ‘Protection Racket’, ‘Quarantined’, ‘Think Tank Trials’, the military-like ‘Blank Look About Face’, ‘Nom De Guerre’ (Which translates from French as ‘Names Of War’) and sharp and direct ‘Opposites Repellent’ are typically Napalm Death in both their construction and delivery – diverse and aggressive in their ‘take-no-prisoners’ approach.
Outside of the more straight-forward crushing numbers, tracks like the ‘The Wolf I Feed’ - which features Harris putting in a fantastic punk inspired lead vocal performance, and a stunning clean passage which bears an uncanny resemblance to Fear Factory’s Burton C. Bell – and ‘Orders Of Magnitude’ hint at some punk/hardcore influences to varying degrees, while ‘Fall On Their Swords’ and ‘Leper Colony’ both utilise the huge choral vocals that the band have been experimenting with on the last few albums to stunning effect.
Elsewhere, songs like ‘Collision Course’, ‘Analysis Paralysis’, the savage ‘Aim Without An Aim’ and the jagged ‘Everything In Mono’ reveal a bit more melody within the Napalm Death song writing, which allows the songs throughout the album to stand out with their wide array of diverse sounds and styles.
Although there’s a sense of familiarity within ‘Utilitarian’ when compared to the band’s last few releases, there’s also enough experimentation in approaches on offer to make the album stand on its own as well.
Overall, ‘Utilitarian’ is another show of commanding force from the grindcore/death metal legends, and one that both existing fans and newcomers alike will agree is another classic Napalm Death title to add to their recent string of critically acclaimed efforts.

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© Justin Donnelly