Saturday, March 10, 2012

Napalm Death - Utilitarian

Napalm Death are the most consistently excellent extreme metal band in the world. As bold a statement as that may be, Napalm Death have released 14 full-length albums over the past quarter century in an extremely intense part of the metal spectrum, and they have remained every bit as relevant as any band in their sphere. I can't think of a single other pioneering group from black metal, death metal, or grind that was releasing albums of the same intensity as these guys back in the 80s and has continued to produce equally strong material into the present day without any significant gaps.

With all that said, I assume most readers will be at least passingly familiar with the group, so I shouldn't have to spend a great deal of time describing the way this sounds. For those who don't know them, the extreme end of hardcore punk fused with the angriest part of metal back in the 80s to form grindcore, and Napalm Death were the band right at the heart of that development. They are the prototype on which all other grind is based and built. The instantly recognizable Barney Greenway bellows out his social and political rage in front of churning guitar riffs, gritty bass lines, and wildly fast drumming.

Utilitarian continues the band's more recent trend of incorporating more death metal elements into their traditional grind sound. Personally, I actually prefer this hybrid style to the band's older material, as the fuller song lengths and the inclusion of some meaty death metal riffs add more structure, allowing the songs to fully develop. It costs nothing in the intensity department, and I think it significantly enhances the overall sound and enjoyability of the listening experience.

Part of what has kept Napalm Death so effective for so long is their willingness to change and grow and experiment with their sound. They have kept close enough to their original formula that they have never lost their identity, and they have been judicious enough with their divergences that they have never "sold out". The group throw a few experimental touches in here, too. They open with an instrumental track, not typical for them, but it sounds good. At barely over two minutes long, it's just the right length to serve as an excellent warm-up to the album. The tempos, rather than maintaining pure balls-to-the-wall speed in every track, vary enough to maintain interest and help to distinguish the songs more clearly from one another in their tone and approach. In some tracks, like "Everyday Pox" and "Quarantined", the group also include some wild, squealing horn work that accentuates and heightens the mad frenzy of the music.

Other departures are not quite so welcome. The inclusion of clean singing on some of the tracks is the really notable example of this. In some places, like on the previously mentioned "Quarantined", the intrusion is minimal and the overall effect, while not exactly an enhancement, is at least not a significant annoyance. In "The Wolf I Feed", on the other hand, the clean vocals are weird and off putting. Largely due to those vocals, that particular track stands out to me as a jarringly bad song on an otherwise very good album.

Despite that particular knock, this is still a very strong and enjoyable album. I'm not sure that it's my favorite from their newer catalog, but the majority of the material is as good as anything else the band has produced in recent years.

Grade: B+
If you like Napalm Death, or just good grind in general, you'll like this. The inclusion of some unlikeable and ill-fitting clean vocals in places knocks the final grade down a bit.


  1. I almost picked that one up the other day but went for Eluveitie and Christian Mistress instead. I will likely get it soon.

  2. I still haven't heard the new Eluveitie. I'm trying to decide if I want to try that out.

  3. I think it's better than the previous one, but still not as good as Slania.