Napalm Death – From Enslavement To Obliteration

I didn’t really like ‘Scum’, but this album I definitely enjoy.  It’s not as punky as the first side of ‘Scum’; really it’s a natural step forward from that album’s second side, but still much more ‘songy’ and coherent as a whole.  The instrumental performances are better (though still nowhere near rigid) and the production is a substantial step up from the rehearsal room atmosphere of the band’s debut.  The package feels much more complete overall, which I guess isn’t surprising since ‘Scum’ was originally intended to be a demo.

The fundamental importance of this album is that it’s perhaps the most definite, clear, pure first grindcore album ever made.  ‘Scum’ was rather excessively punky to fully hold that title and most others that could be theoretically crowned aren’t as decisively absolute as this one.  This is, in essence, grindcore in its purest form.  Short and immediate songs with sped up crust/thrash riffs, ripping growls and screams, and blasting, chaotic drumwork.  The songs aren’t nearly as chaotic in general as the second side of ‘Scum’.  There are plenty of entirely intelligible riffs during even the most chaotic sections, and rhythmically the band is less tighter than the borderline noisecore of certain tracks on ‘Scum’.

I can’t say the songs are particularly memorable (apart from the stunning ‘Evolved As One’, which, like many other future tracks goes to show that Napalm Death NEEDS to do an album of entirely slow songs), but at around a minute and a half each, they aren’t really intended to be.  It’s an album to be consumed as a whole, as these bursts of brutality don’t really stand up without a dozen or so of their compatriots as props.  This is grindcore as it was originally supposed to be: an experience that is felt more than listened to.  You’re simply battered by the music more than pleased by it, and I have a feeling that that was the intention of the band from square one.

Though it is a mighty step up from ‘Scum’, it’s not my favorite album by Napalm Death.  There’s a couple of clear weak points.  First and most importantly is a periodically weak vocal performance by Lee Dorrian, which occasionally slips into monotonous shouting that doesn’t do anything to drive the music forward.  The tracks are still occasionally rather simply structured without logical connectors from riff to riff.  And while I appreciate this aesthetic of pure brutality and of the album being undergone more than listened to, I still prefer Napalm Death a couple albums down the road where the brutality was maintained but the music was more capable of standing up on its own merits rather than relying on its aesthetic.

That being said, this is still a great album, and not merely in the influential sense that ‘Scum’ was.  It’s a grindcore classic for a reason, and, at least in my opinion, the first and foremost example of the genre.  Really a mandatory listen for all extreme metal fans both for historical and musical reasons.  Napalm Death got better, but they were never quite this pure again.


~ by noktorn on September 12, 2008.

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