27 February 2012
by Tom Dare
It may at first glance appear odd to say it, but Napalm Death have never quite got the credit they deserve. “How so?” you say. “They’re a legendary band hailed as the godfathers of their genre.” And you’re right – to the point it’s become a vacuous cliché. There are stock phrases that get spouted about Napalm (usually prefaced with some jovial reference to them being from Birmingham) that are all-too-frequently only empty reverence of Scum, FETO and at a pinch Harmony Corruption. The fact they’ve put out astonishing records for 20 years after that gets overlooked far too often. And that Utilitarian is furiously extreme in all new ways highlights why they’re as vital a band as they’ve ever been.
Much of album number fourteen is Napalm Death doing what they do best – vicious, angry and abrasive vitriol switches jarringly between blastingly fast assault and stomping punk spite, from that trademark grinding bass sound to a groove that’s become instantly recognisable. These tracks like ‘Think Tank Trials‘ and ‘Orders Of Magnitude‘ are subtly evolved from their more recent material, but it’s basically Napalm being Napalm. They sound pissed fucking off and as righteously indignant as any band ever has, and do it brilliantly.
The clever thing Napalm Death have done is to turn on its head your expectations of what extremity is. By now, even vocalists as ear-searing as Barney Greenway aren’t in and of themselves extreme. We’ve had over a quarter of a century of cookie monster growls, demonic shrieks and aggressive shouting on punk and metal records. You expect it from Napalm Death, and it’s no longer shocking. What you’re not expecting is Barney to sing. Yes, sing.
Initially it’s the sheer shock value that makes it so effective when he first unleashes the low, portentous singing on ‘The Wolf I Feed‘, and as it’s a trick he uses pretty sparingly, that doesn’t fade on repeat listens. It’s genuinely jarring to hear melody delivered that way in this context. But with further exposure, it’s the character of the singing that’s so effective, suffused as it is with ire and casting an ominous pall over the mood, especially on some of the later tracks like ‘Blank Look About Face‘.
Watch the “album trailer” for Utilitarian by Napalm Death:
And then there’s the saxophone. The last couple of years have seen that particular instrument crop up more often (the Norwegian Shining and the last Ihsahn record being particular examples), and Napalm Death show once again how evocative it can be in the context of visceral metal. The insane, twisted chaos thrown out of the speakers on ‘Everyday Pox‘ is stunningly effective.
Over and above these new tricks, one key fact shines out of Utilitarian: the band behind it are still as furious, as passionate and as willing to kick expectations to bits in their drive to get across the points the care so powerfully about as ever before. Stop banging on about ‘You Suffer‘ from twenty-five years ago and realise how fantastic the band are in 2012, because Napalm Death still fucking rule.
Sounds Like: Napalm Death learning new tricks. Or, as Barney puts it, “wheelie bins falling down some stairs”
Standout tracks: Everyday Pox, The Wolf I Feed, Orders Of Magnitude