Napalm Death – Utilitarian

Today is full of new releases and I’m hard pressed to decide where to begin. I guess I’ll just jump in and see how far I can get. First up we have Napalm Death with their fifteenth album, “Utilitarian.” Elders of the extreme metal scene Napalm Death are credited with pioneering grindcore. Early Napalm Death member Lee Dorrian went on to form one of my favorite doom-style bands, the not very similar Cathedral. Other Napalm Death alum includes Justin Broadrick of Godflesh and Jesu. While none of the current members are founding members, they’ve all been with the band the longest of any members.

I first heard Napalm Death back in 1994 when I picked up a copy of “Fear, Emptiness, Despair.” I was still transitioning from 80s thrash into the extreme metal of the 90s and didn’t think too much of the album at the time. Barney’s vocals were a little hard for me to stomach. Always the optimist I went back and tried their next album in 1996, “Diatribes.” I picked up a special package that combined “Diatribes” and the “Greed Killing” EP in one big unwieldy case. I liked the music a lot more on this album, but still wasn’t into Barney. I wasn’t really into their sociopolitical lyrics either. Give me some gore-soaked Cannibal Corpse instead.

So after those two misses I really haven’t listened to much Napalm Death. My extreme music taste has constantly evolved over time and in the last few years I’ve been much more appreciative of the extremer arts. So when I received “Utilitarian” from Century Media I was curious what I would think. The first couple listens were spent just overcoming my preconceived notions about the band. By the third time spinning the album though I was starting to appreciate the songs.

Track 5, “The Wolf I Feed” had me running for Google to see if there were any guest vocals on the album. I couldn’t find any mention of guests, but I wasn’t the only one apparently to wonder if that was Burt Bell of Fear Factory singing clean in there. Now that I listen to it with headphones I don’t think it is, but it is definitely Burt’s style. There’s another vocal style on the album that isn’t Barney’s usual and based on my “research” I’m wondering if it might be Mitch Harris (listing him as guitars and backing vocals was my first clue). Even Barney sounds better than usual, and mixed in with the higher piercing vocals (that may be Mitch) I am intrigued to find that I’m actually kind of digging on “Utilitarian.” I’m still very much not into political songs, but I can at least get behind the raw power of this album.