One of the laziest conceits of the music journalist is the oft used phrase “They never fail to deliver”; it’s shorthand for “I quite like it, but I haven’t really listened to it, but if you like band “X” then you will like this new one”. It’s the journalistic equivalent of the politician’s answer, the sitting on the fence- the get out of jail card if the prevailing view goes against you because you haven’t actually formed a proper opinion in the first place.
With this in mind then, the latest record – the 14th (14th!)- from extreme metal legends, Birmingham’s Napalm Death, arrives, maybe not with a huge level of expectation but doubtless surrounded by loads of reviews about how the progenitors of grindcore never “fail to deliver”. For once, though, the lazy arses are right. Utilitarian is a blast bomb from start to finish: a shrieking, roaring, energised blast of furious invention and dynamism. If you are a convert to their cause, there’s a huge amount here to rekindle that latent passion: for newbies, you’re in for a bit of a treat.
When you’ve been plying a trade for such a long time, there are two things that can happen- you can become lazy, or you can become effortless in your art. Napalm Death- despite the complexity of their songs and the intensity of their lyricism- are purring like a well oiled machine. Don’t misunderstand the lazy metaphor by yours truly- this is perhaps the band’s most ferocious release since Enemy of the Music Business, now over a decade old. What really impresses about Utilitarian, though, is the attention to detail: the songs are brilliant from the opening uppercut of Errors in the Signals, through the ferocious and ferociously catchy The Wolf I Feed, the pummelling Orders of Magnitude and the simply outstanding Leper Colony, this is a band completely in control of their art, completely at home in their skin and completely devoted to delivering a scintillating, immersive aural racket.
For a band who are now firmly entering middle age, with (one suspects) families to support and mortgages to pay, one could forgive a stepping off of the gas, a moderating of the world view. Not a bit of it. This is a relentlessly angry, visceral record with lead vocalist Barney Greenaway leading the howls of indignation and fury with a passion and invective: he, and the rest of the band, appear to be utterly reinvigorated, up for the fight and not ready for anything remotely like taking it easy. Utlilitarian has power, brutality and – good grief, really- it has melody. Above all though, Utilitarian reminds us, if we needed reminding, that Napalm Death, nearly thirty years on, absolutely, irrefutably, matter.