Napalm Death - Utilitarian
Century Media
Death Metal/Grindcore
16 songs (46:11)
Release year: 2012
Napalm Death, Century Media
Reviewed by Charles
Album of the year
A contradiction: The world doesn’t deserve Napalm Death, but if the world wasn’t so undeserving, then Napalm Death wouldn’t exist. The cover illustration of some suited types beating up a woolly-jumpered protester (differing from the more abstract images that adorned the last few albums) pointedly alerts us to the fact that this heroic band’s ethos is becoming noticeably more fitting in 2012 than it has been for quite some time. It’s probably their least subtle cover since Scum, and given the context, they are very much needed at their best. And so it’s fortunate that Utilitarian is such a fucking brilliant, vital album.

In contrast to the unflinching deathgrind of their last album, Time Waits for No Slave, the listener here is immediately signposted in the direction of 2006’s slightly more unconventional Smear Campaign. Opener Circumspect is a slow-building, ominous instrumental, very similar to that record’s Weltschmerz in tone. Does this herald a more experimental approach? Well, ‘experimental’ is the wrong word to use here, because their whole project from the very beginning has been an avant-garde one. But the songwriting on Utilitarian can often be complex, at times in a way that is perplexing, almost frustrating: Circumspect gives way to Errors in the Signals, whose blinding open riff crashes into a jarringly down-tempo chorus, like a deliberate sabotaging of momentum. At other points, though, the offbeat touches are inspired. For example, while the guest star on Smear Campaign (Anneke van Giersbergen) sounded slightly superfluous, here the collaborative element is much more arresting. Listen to the shape of the disorienting Everyday Pox, featuring a mad John Zorn saxophone solo.

These twists would mean nothing in the absence of suitably vicious death-grind riffing. But the great strength of Utilitarian lies not in its quirks but, as is to be hoped and expected, in the awesome sonic wind tunnel that is the sound of Napalm Death firing on all cylinders. Neck snapping riffs burst from every angle- the pulverising hardcore of Protection Racket, for example, or the jolting groove of Analysis Paralysis. The spine-tingling energy of it is simultaneously brutal and therapeutic. Think Tank Trials is an anthem for anyone who as ever snorted irritably at a report from the Adam Smith Institute (or something interchangeable); Blank Look About Face’s chorus is the response of scornful militancy to docile apathy. Then, there is the musical satisfaction of dizzying tracks like Quarantined, with its spiralling tech-death riffing, flattening breakdowns, and knucklheaded choruses.

In short, Utilitarian is wholly essential. I think the power of the album lies in its fittingness as a response to a world in which injustice is so obvious, so shameless, and yet so seemingly inevitable. Lyrics like those of Collision Course- “We have to try to push the boundaries further”- now have a resonance which was somewhat more obscure in, say, 2006. Of course, we know where Napalm Death’s sympathies lie, and Utilitarian is a brilliant record purpose build for a world of occupations, overwhelming corporate power, and the shameless kicking of people wearing stripy bobblehats.

Killing Songs :
Think Tank Trials, Collision Course, Quarantined, Blank Look About Face
Charles quoted 95 / 100
Other albums by Napalm Death that we have reviewed:
Napalm Death - Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism reviewed by Goat and quoted 85 / 100
Napalm Death - Apex Predator - Easy Meat reviewed by Goat and quoted 83 / 100
Napalm Death - Inside the Torn Apart reviewed by Adam and quoted 71 / 100
Napalm Death - Diatribes reviewed by Goat and quoted 58 / 100
Napalm Death - Words from the Exit Wound reviewed by Adam and quoted 74 / 100
To see all 18 reviews click here
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