Released: 2015, Century Media Records
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
For a stretch during the mid-to-late '90s, Napalm Death went a bit overboard with their experimentation and yielded a series of rather dodgy, aimless albums. But after shaking off the doldrums with 2000's stripped down, ferociously indignant Enemy Of The Music Business, they got themselves on a pretty good roll that continues to this day.
Yet to keep things from getting too predictable, they've occasionally gone back to the experimental well, even in briefly, such as featuring Anneke van Giersbergen's vocals on Smear Campaign or John Zorn's squealing sax on Utilitarian's “Everyday Pox.” And there is more of that sort of spirit to be had on Apex Predator - Easy Meat, the band's 15th studio outing. But fear not, this album is anything but aimless and is unquestionably ferocious.
Still, it might not seem that way out of the box. The title track kicks things off on an almost a capella note, with only frontman Barney Greenway's Gregorian chant-like vocals. When he is joined midway through by the Spartan industrial clangor of Danny Herrera's drums and Shane Embury's bass throb, Greenway opens up with a full-throated, campaign rally diatribe. It's certainly an unorthodox and unexpected start. But then “Smash A Single Digit” erupts in a 1:26 flurry of grindcore intemperance and Napalm are off to the races.
The bulk of Apex Predator is as furious and frantic as anything Napalm have done, post-Harmony Corruption, driven by Herrera's blistering pace. He is one of the unsung heroes of extreme metal and while his predecessor Mick Harris still gets most of the notoriety - since he popularized the blast beat, a quarter-century ago! - Herrera's marathon stamina at sprint speed, and ability to shift gears in a wink, is always nothing short of amazing.
Here, he jockeys between full-on blasting and the hooky surges of “Single Digit,” “Stunt Your Growth,” “Stubborn Stains,” “Metaphorically Screw You” and, especially, “Cesspits” with ease, and powers the nose-busting, hardcore-tinged “How The Years Condemn” and shuffling riffiness of “Timeless Flogging” with martial authority as Embury and guitarist Mitch Harris hammer away. Not to be outdone, Greenway has lost none of his venom or vehemence with the passage of time, and delivers his usual spit-flecked, feral performance raging over the top. “Bloodless Coup” will make you cower.
As noted, there are more distinct left-hand turns here than there have been, even of late. “Dear Slum Landlord ...” is a two-minute Swans-like drone reminiscent of the title track, while “Beyond The Pale” sounds like a nod to current tourmates Voivod with its shimmering guitars and atypically oblique arrangement. The relatively clean, harmonized choruses of “Hierarchies” are perhaps not such a surprise, but give the song an almost epic feel that certainly is. And Napalm's standard nod to Celtic Frost is especially pronounced on the “Procreation of the Wicked”-like second half of “Adversarial/Copulating Snakes.” Talk about groove. Oof!
Despite its unconventional beginning, Apex Predator ends up being a nicely balanced effort that blends its variations from the norm with plenty of the punishing, unbridled aggression Napalm have long been famous for. And where the similarly divergent, but clumsily perpetrated, Diatribes nearly spelled the end of the band in 1996, Apex finds Napalm sounding more confident and emphatic than ever.