(DGR reviews the new album by Napalm Death.)
Our crops had been weak for decades, our village was starving, and we found ourselves on the near brink of ruin. Famine had torn through the whole country, but my village was hit especially hard. We knew that there wasn’t much time left, and despite this being the modern age we had few solutions going for us. We had tried so many on the path to getting ourselves back up on our feet but nothing had worked. We were desperate and starving and we all knew it. Ideas once thought stupid were now grand gestures of genius and we were embracing them all wholeheartedly. If we had honestly thought that painting ourselves blue and pretending to be cat people would’ve worked, we would’ve done it.
Now, we found ourselves turning to a person that we honestly hadn’t thought about or given a second notion to for years. He was a relic of the past, kept alive mostly by fool traditionalists and relatives. Nobody cared to learn his art and so he was to be the last of his kind, yet here we were, three days running now in a smoke-filled tent with a man now in his upper eighties with body paint on, deep in thought and apparently asleep. We had turned to our shaman and were using him in the way that my grandparents would’ve sought knowledge with his father. We were hoping to hear something wise, anything, really, to get ourselves out of the mess of starvation that we were currently in.
Finally, after three days of being so still as to appear petrified were it not for the glistening beads of sweat on his forehead, he began to convulse. My friend jumped forward to help but my father held him back, informing him that this was how it had always gone and were anyone to interrupt him the whole process would have to start anew. And so, we sat and watched a man convulse until finally he opened his eyes and one our own ran out of the tent hollering to the village that he had awoken and was going to speak. Finally, he opened his mouth and uttered a few words of wisdom before closing his eyes and nodding off.
“Napalm Death are an important band”
Everyone in the room’s shoulders sagged and we all looked at each other in profound disappointment, “That’s it?”, we seemed to all say. One of the older people who had been with us nodded and said, “Yes”, and left, because he had spoken something we had already heard and couldn’t help but sputter, “…but we already knew that!”
At least, that’s how I’ve been imagining this review going over in my head….
I’ve been seeing this for weeks, ever since I came down to my opinion on Apex Predator – Easy Meat. I’ve been seeing visions of people excitedly rushing up to their gathered friends and going, “Guys! Guys! Some guy over at NoCleanSinging said that Napalm Death’s newest disc is good!”, and they would all look at him and go, “…yeah?”, as if he had excitedly rushed up to them and informed them that breathing is, in fact, sometimes important, and that would be the end of it.
It occurs to me that over all my time doing this gig, I’ve never had the chance to properly review a Napalm Death album, and now that I have the chance to do so there’s always been a thought in the back of my mind of whether or not I even should. At this point, how does one even properly talk about a Napalm Death disc, because we know that the odds are high that the disc will be really good?
Napalm Death have been around long enough and able enough to drill down to their core of what makes their current death/grind sound work. They benefit from having become an institution of metal, a la Cannibal Corpse, they play fast and make extremely ugly music and have for decades. The difference between the two is that Cannibal Corpse will always have the horror-movie shtick to turn to and mine, whereas Napalm Death have made a huge chunk of their career turning to the real horror movie that is life. In some ways, by remaining a force of social consciousness Napalm Death have not only contributed massively to a genre but also have made themselves into what I dub the most obvious statement I’ve ever made, that they are an important band.
Yes, I feel it’s weird to say this, but I acknowledge that I listen to a ridiculous genre of music when I two of the most important bands to me personally, as far as my views on the world are concerned, are Napalm Death and Misery Index.
Is it weird that I’ve basically had an existential crisis over this sort of thing? Seriously, what does one say about Napalm Death that hasn’t already been said, especially when the band have been on a hot streak for some time — even if you limit it to my own discovery of the group’s discography with The Code Is Red….Long Live The Code back in 2005, when I was really getting into heavy metal?
But, I will try my best. Just bear in mind that I really, really like Napalm Death.
Apex Predator – Easy Meat comes after a bit of a wait for fans of Napalm Death, at a little under three years after the group’s previous release Utilitarian. As it was in 2012, 2015’s Napalm Death comes to find the planet still a mess and proceeds to scream about it for a smidgen under forty minutes. Napalm Death’s music has always been relentlessly real, and as the group turned toward the socio-political aspect of life for lyrical inspiration, it has only seemed more visceral an experience. The overall message throughout this disc seems to be an inquisition against the human experience this time around, the dichotomy being drawn between humans as the apex predator on this planet — that we can kill and eat anything — and also easy meat, in that we allow ourselves to be ground up in the corporate machine for scant pay just to have a place to live, and sometimes allow the cog we embody within said machine to define us.
It’s pretty basic from the get-go — the title is essentially a giant bludgeon being swung over your head with a stamp marked ‘symbolism’ right on it before the first song even begins. If you don’t understand it by then, the second song ‘Smash A Single Digit’ gets its point across in violent and circular-saw fashion. The up-front batch of songs are some of the hardest-hitting and arguably catchiest stuff that Napalm Death have put out in their past few discs. ‘Metaphorically Screw You’ expands upon the anger packed into ‘Smash A Single Digit’ with even more vocal attack smashed into the song. Napalm Death have been using a vocal section involving pretty much everyone in the band screaming their lungs out at one point or another, alongside Barney Greenway’s distinctive and monstrous yell, which means much of ‘Metaphorically Screw You’ and its predecessor ‘Smash A Single Digit’ have some high shrieks set up at the end of each verse to really punctuate them.
‘How The Years Condemn’, one of the songs that was released as a teaser before Apex Predator hit, has a bit of a metalcore tinge, given its heavy punk-rock-derived guitar part. The song’s driving guitars have an up-and-down rhythm and a bobbing drum section that are amped up high on the heaviness scale and it results in an insanely catchy deathgrind slab. It’s hard not to get excited during the opening section as the band roars, ‘We are not invincible/Nor are we indestructible!’
One of the things I’ve genuinely enjoyed about Apex Predator is that the album starts weird, ends weird, and has a weird middle section, with blocks of solid-as-fuck grind in between. It’s amusing that two of the longest songs on Apex Predator are its opening and closing tracks, one of which is an odd collage of sound and chanted vocals with the words ‘Apex Predator!’ being yelled over and over again by the end of it. The way the disc runs, there are two blocks of grind before the flow is broken up a bit by the songs ‘Dear Slum Landlord’ and ‘Cesspits’. That pair of songs represents one of the few times that Napalm Death slow down some on Apex Predator, outside of the intro to ‘Timeless Flogging’ — which starts slow before immediately dropping into another molten and fast riff.
‘Cesspits’ benefits from having a main section of the song driven by guitarist Mitch Harris and bassist Shane Embury, as the main part is a fast groove before the verse sections become more percussion-focused. The driving guitar and bass combo means the song finds itself in territory similar to ‘How The Years Condemn’ before it. Of course, I feel like it should be mentioned that in between all this discussion of different punk rhythms and bouncy guitars, Napalm Death keep things at high speed with a metric fuckton of blastbeats and grinding guitars, thereby earning their keep as one of the preeminent names in their scene. How the band have been able to do so for so long seems to come down to two things, one being a ton of experience and the other that there’s probably no shortage of subject matter — especially given how easily the band can point a finger at the world and go, ‘Look at how fucked up that is!’, on an almost second-by-second basis.
‘One Eyed’, one of the last songs on Apex Predator, is another late-album highlight. I mention it because the song itself is just goddamned relentless. It’s like the band decided to make Apex Predator a symmetrical album — with a weird opener and a weird closing track bookending things, songs two and fourteen being these vicious and relentless two-minute slabs of grind that are like having your face held up to a bandsaw, two solid blocks of music in between those, and the midpoint being the ‘Slum Landlord’/’Cesspits’ combo. Obviously, this is reading way too much into things, but it’s a happy accident that works well for the flow of Apex Predator, and a theory that I imagine is destroyed in a millisecond when you factor in the deluxe edition’s bonus songs — which I haven’t heard.
I’m of two minds in regard to Apex Predator. First, it’s no wonder that Napalm Death have managed to hammer out another fantastic grind album in 2015 — the guys benefit from years of experience as well as being at the forefront of the genre, and although their turn toward a death-metal-heavy sound has drawn some criticism, the group have made it work by creating a hybrid with their own take on it. The driving riffs of Apex Predator – Easy Meat mean that if this somehow is your first Napalm Death disc, it’s going to worm its way into your skull. You can’t help but headbang to it, and multiple sections of this album are as infectious as the latest outbreak-du-jour that is probably sweeping across the news (I couldn’t tell you — I don’t watch it any more because I can’t help but get angry, which probably puts me in prime Napalm Death fan territory). Either way, it could easily win people over who might just view them as the band that have that one real short song that had the world record for a while.
The second thought is that it’s fucking awesome that Napalm Death have a fucking awesome disc in Apex Predator. Napalm Death are an important band and Apex Predator keeps them as relevant as ever. They’ve once again drawn from the shitshow that we refer to as society and fueled another hugely angry album, one that is a high-speed assault that makes you feel like a piece of shit for not doing anything about it. Yes, Napalm Death have been doing this forever, but the fact that they still can — and do so with ease — means that they’re going to remain at the top of their genre for a long time to come. As long as they do, it will be some comfort knowing that there is still some honest fury left in metal.
Apex Predator – Easy Meat is out now on the Century Media label. In North America, it’s available in a variety of formats here, as well as digitally via Amazon and iTunes. You can check out the animated video for “Smash A Single Digit” plus two more songs from the album below. And you can catch the band on tour with Voivod and other fine bands at one of these venues:
2-6-15 Montreal, QC – Club Soda
2-7-15 Worcester, MA – Palladium *
2-8-15 Poughkeepsie, NY – The Chance Theater *
2-9-15 Cleveland, OH – Agora Ballroom *
2-10-15 Chicago, IL – Reggie’s *
2-11-15 Minneapolis, MN – Amsterdam *
2-12-15 Winnipeg, MB – The Zoo
2-13-15 Regina, SK – The Exchange
2-14-15 Calgary, AB – Republik
2-15-15 Edmonton, AB – Starlite Room
2-17-15 Vancouver, BC – Rickshaw Theater **
2-18-15 Seattle, WA – Studio 7 #
2-19-15 Portland, OR – Hawthorne Theater
2-20-15 Oakland, CA – Metro ##
2-21-15 Fresno, CA – Strummers ##
2-22-15 Los Angeles, CA – House Of Blues
2-23-15 Tempe, AZ – Club Red ##
2-24-15 Albuquerque, NM – Sunshine Theater ##
2-25-15 Denver, CO – Summit Music Hall ##
2-26-15 Lawrence, KS – Granada Theater ##
2-27-15 Dallas, TX – Gas Monkey ##
2-28-15 Houston, TX – Fitzgerald’s ##
* = Ringworm, ** = Dayglo Abortions, # = Theories, ## = Phobia