Napalm Death are a well respected and pioneering force in extreme music and besides that, they are a very prolific band who have released numerous live albums, EPs, one and a half covers albums and now their fourteenth studio album of original music in 2012, entitled Utilitarian. With so much of a back catalogue to contend with, approaching a new album as a new fan could be confusing without all the musical context.
Furthermore, Napalm Death are a band forever surrounded by hyperbole due to the especially nasty, violent and savage sound that they make, so getting a feel of how one album is different to another can be difficult since everyone will just say clichéd things about how your ears will bleed etc.
An honest and hyperbole-free summation would be that if you generally like very extreme music, you should give Napalm Death a fair try and if you generally like Napalm Death then you should give Utilitarian a fair try, there is a strong possibility that you will like it.
Produced by Russ Russel, (The Berzerker, The Rotted, Dimmu Borgir) Utilitarian sounds great, and the energy level from the band themselves is very high. This is yet another expertly crafted album from the band delivering more extreme music and highly political lyrics.
Historically, the band have covered a lot of different ground in their lengthy career, and in the first decade of their career became known for taking radical shifts in musical style, sometimes to crys of ‘sell out’ and sometimes to great praise. In the past decade however, Napalm Death found a winning formula and stuck to it very rigidly, which both garnered praise for consistency and occasional criticism for treading water creatively.
With Utilitarian the band do retain a large quantity of that post millennial formula but they also seem to be overly aware that they haven’t changed up their style significantly in a while and so counteract that by using riffs, rhythms and vocal patterns here and there that you wouldn’t have heard on the last few albums.
In many ways, Utilitarian can feel like somewhat of a mixture of their albums Order Of The Leech (2002) and Diatribes (1996). Like Diatribes, there is more sonic experimentation and generally fewer blastbeats than on their recent albums and more time is given over to rumbly bass focused breakdowns, different vocal approaches and dissonant jangly guitar styles. However, a successful balance has been achieved between that experimentation and the recent formula and so the rest of the album is very much in the mold of Order Of The Leech in terms of riff style, song structuring, general attitude and the harsh sound from that record.
For example, ‘The Wolf I Feed’ initially has the feel of classic 1980s Hardcore Punk, but later introduces an almost Burton C Bell style clean vocal section. Other examples of the similarity with Diatribe’s variety include tracks like ‘Everyday Pox,’ ‘Orders Of Magnitude’ and the album highlight ‘Blank Look About Face’, feature the aforementioned dissonant waves of noisy guitar and even the echoey clean vocals from their late 90s style mixed in to the proceedings.
In terms of stand out moments of the other variety, special mention should be made for the album closer ‘A Gag Reflex,’ which is one of the catchiest and best songs that the band have written since their career highlight Enemy Of The Music Business album.
In summary; it is definitely nice that they are avoiding making the exact same album one more time, and if you lost interest due to too much repetition then you’ll probably view Utilitarian as a step in the right direction. That being said, its not as if Napalm Death are changing their direction as vastly they have been seen to in the past. The success of Utilitarian is that this album feels both fresh and enjoyably diverse, but it does so in a way that feels like a logical evolution. Overall, highly Recommended.