You Suffer Not: The Rewarding Difficulties of Napalm Death’s Apex Predator – Easy Meat
If you’re most people, the 21st Century hasn’t been all that kind to you. The world seemed to collectively experience New Years in 1999 like everyone but William H. Macy did in that Boogie Nights scene. So when the world’s being a dick, who can you count on? That’s right: Napalm Death. While the vast majority of people don’t know that to be the case, the band’s run since the turn of the century has been not only remarkably consistent but also routinely excellent. Especially from The Code is Red… Long Live the Code on forward, Napalm Death have operated as an efficient killing machine, blasting jagged grind riffs into our skulls with merciless precision. Each record wasn’t necessarily improving on the last but instead maintaining a very high standard of excellence. Napalm Death aren’t one of the admirably consistent/less embarrassing metal bands of the last fifteen years; you could argue that they were often one of the best.
And the streak doesn’t come to an end on Apex Predator – Easy Meat. Well, at least in terms of bringing solid metal. The Napalm Death of the Bush/Obama era have been a great source of blasty, punky, fierce metal-centric grindcore. Apex Predator offers all those things, but from an angle significantly different than the one they’ve taken on their last 4-5 releases. The results are, at the very least, interesting.
But once you get used to it… sheeeeeeit. While Napalm Death have steadily evolved over the course of their last few albums, it’s never been this pronounced. Utilitarian brought their dependability to exciting new heights, so one can’t be blamed for being a little put off by a differently-twisted Napalm Death (especially after the lean brutality of their post-millennial stuff). But “little” is the operative word in the prior sentence. While Earth scorchers like “Metaphorically Screw You” and “Timeless Flogging” are a bit different, they’re still Napalm fucking Death. When things start to get markedly weirder—after the hobbled pace and melodic bellowing of “Dear Slum Lord”—they don’t lose hold of what makes them who they are. However, I don’t know if they’ve ventured this far out of their comfort zone in a while. Vocalist Barney Greenway’s obsession with prog isn’t a secret (especially considering his former side-gig at Kerrang), and that hasn’t gone unremarked upon over the last few Napalm records. However, Apex Predator takes it to a new level.
Thing is, that doesn’t make it a lousy album. In fact, it’s one of the more interesting in their catalog. While the band haven’t been 4/4-servile, hearing the jazzy time signatures and jarring dissonance of “Beyond the Pale” or the tuneful coda of “Hierarchies” are a different type of confrontational and abstract. The fascinating thing about Napalm Death embracing this is the reminder that prog is more than the stuffy pomposity of Yes or the polite time signature shifts of Rush or Porcupine Tree. It’s also the weird ambient stuff and dissonance that made the huge success of ’70s King Crimson so confusing (listen to their stuff up through Red now and it’s remarkably difficult.) Napalm Death’s embrace of the genre has been either undetectably subtle or obvious (i.e. delay-drenched guitars and brief singing). Seeing it blatantly woven into the fabric of Napalm’s overall approach is simultaneously seamless, fascinating, and difficult.
That difficulty is intended, though. “Everyday Pox,” to someone who listens to a lot of fast and/or heavy music, is kind of fun. But the same sort of thing isn’t the case on Apex Predator. There’s a general atmosphere of dread and uneasiness that permeates even the parts that feel more familiar. Maybe a more nuanced (well, as nuanced as the most well-known grindcore band can be) survey of our current landscape requires more than going right to the grind and deathgrooves. Those are there too, but they’re different. This could be the beginning of a new Napalm Death, minting yet another classic era to follow then lionize. Or they could double down on Mitch Harris’ rusty hacksaw riffs and Greenway’s proletarian bark. The situation with either outcome, though, is that Napalm Death will be worth keeping up with along the way. Apex Predator – Easy Meat isn’t the easiest of theirs to like, but it’s still Napalm Death right down to its bones. I trust where they’re headed, and you still should too.