Napalm Death ‎– Utilitarian – VINYL LP


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It pains me to say this but Napalm Death are long past needing to retire. I left Time Waits For No Slave behind soon after it was released, sensing a palpable diminishment in the band, mainly in Barney’s failing voice and the unwarranted need for them to start fooling around with the lame experiments that degraded their discography back in the late ’90’s. That feeling is so much worse with this record. Utilitarian is hands-down the worst record Napalm Death has ever released and I cannot fathom the acclaim it has received in so many quarters. In the two years since it was released, I have tried and failed repeatedly to like this album, to give my favorite band a chance to show me they still have some fire left, but I can only shake my head at this tired, wrong-headed album.

I remember when everyone shat their pants over Diatribes, a record that had many similar features to this one: clean guitar tones, clean singing, lots of mid-tempo grooves, and strange dissonant experimentation. That record cost ND half their audience (and all their street cred) in ’96 and it wasn’t until 2000’s Enemy Of The Music Business that the band recovered their earlier straight-up death-grind sound. So when TWFNS came out, and some of those earlier stylistic mishaps started sneaking back into the ND sound, I was worried. Utilitarian confirmed my fears.

The biggest problem is Barney’s vocals. Somewhere around 2006, Barney started losing his voice. The dry, airless barks on this record are a pale shade compared to his previously deep roars. I am surprised that few other reviewers have articulated how badly Barney’s voice has deteriorated. It is almost impossible for me to listen to how shriveled he sounds. Put on any song from Utopia Banished and hear the diminishment of two decades. It is impossible for me to ignore — something I wish I could do to his clean singing, its hilariously awful and always has been.

The music isn’t much better. After so many decades of death-grind, coming up with fresh riffs has proven a challenge. These riffs are tired and gussying them up with some fancy window dressing ala clean open chords, dissonant noise, skronking sax solos, etc. is just a distraction. Like so many other great bands whose best days are behind them, Napalm Death are stuck in a pattern of releasing new music as an excuse to tour. The revitalizing energy of the early 00’s has faded and the band has clearly run out of ideas. Utilitarian casts back over their entire discography, takes every single idea they’ve ever had and smashes it all together in a listless and pointless form of encapsulation: “this is all Napalm Death has ever sounded like, altogether, on one record” would be perfect promo copy, if they included a disclaimer about mediocre riffs and exhausted vocals.

For those of us decades in the trenches with Napalm Death, the band we used to love isn’t coming back. All those who dig and praise this record can keep it but to really hear the heights these guys once stood on, track back to Harmony Corruption and go forward from there.

Additional information
Weight 280 g


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