Volatility is not the luxury commodity that it was back in 1987 when Napalm Death released their seminal work Scum. In fact, the metal ecosphere is so replete with bands drawing on chaos and frenzy that it’s become near impossible to work out if there’s any decent and original rendition of savagery being reflected in music anymore. Luckily, 25 years since they erupted in a sludge of groove and sickening fast riffs, Napalm Death are still outdistancing any other band that care to try and match them in extremity.
Utilitarian, the band’s fifteenth studio album, isn’t so much a rendition of past triumphs, but instead is a demonstration of the ease with which these veterans can slap layers of fresh gristle and skin over a trusted skeleton. Of course we aren’t wandering far beyond the Napalm Death trademarks here; Barney Greenway still gets his vocal tutelage direct from Old Hob himself, the guitars are a blend of punky guttural roars and straight-up thrash, and the songs inhabit a place between misanthropy and, well, more misanthropy. While these might be tenets read straight from the Napalm Death gospel, Utilitarian sounds like it maintains no sense of entitlement. This is an album of consistently brilliant tracks, fuelled by some bloodthirsty entity breathing down the neck of the musically indistinguishable and apathetic.
The album prepares to take you apart piece by piece; ‘Errors in the Signals’ is a jarring beast filled with Barney and Mitch Harris’ competing vocals and the lurching chorus berating the detachment of a human within its society. ‘The Wolf I Feed’ is a different thing altogether, but sees Barney actually taking a shot at singing and inducing an atmosphere saturated with unease. Alternatively, the insanity of the screeching saxophone that appears on the record marks Napalm Death’s ability to dally with unnatural musical forces and is a reminder of how metal is so much more than just a riff on the pentatonic scale. However, album highlight has to come from the bolshie ‘Analysis Paralysis’ because of its relentless and sadistic pace that showcases the kind of unrelenting thrash that Napalm Death wield so ably to this day. It’s insatiably fast and heaped with mounds of satisfaction.
Napalm Death have used this album to once again demonstrate that they can cut through the crap and get to brutality in a way that others struggle to. It’s no small effort to have released such a wealth of music over the last twenty years and still produce an album that sits right on top of the pile; this is vital music that represents the timeless savagery of all the best bits of metal.