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Napalm Death
The Code is Red . . . Long Live the Code
Century Media

If your point of reference is, say, Cat Stevens and Jackson Browne, then the music of Napalm Death probably does all sound the same. But careful listeners-those whose eardrums haven't yet been blown out-can distinguish the many stages of Napalm Death. From the early blast-beat-driven explosions of their pioneering grindcore albums to the mediocre nu-metalisms of their late-90s work, Napalm Death has frequently evolved, and not always for the better. But the new millennium has seen them recovering the furious intensity of the early years (when, to be sure, only bassist Shane Embury among the current line-up belonged to the group), and The Code Is Red . . . Long Live The Code partakes fully of this mid-career revitalization. If Philip Roth can write the best novels of his life in his 70s, there's no reason these portly, middle-aged gents can't do the same in their chosen field (granted, they're only half Roth's age, but the road surely takes twice the toll of the typewriter).

Opening track "Silence Is Deafening" shows the Napalmers learning tricks from younger bands like the Black Dahlia Murder; the deployment of high-pitched black metal screams against Mark "Barney" Greenaway's traditional grunt-emissions works to great effect on the song's raging chorus. Later in the album the band follows other extreme-metal practitioners like Mastodon and Converge in including a staple dirge, the somewhat plodding "Morale." For the most part, though, Napalm Death follows only its own precedent, showing its confidence by stretching several tracks past the three-minute mark - an epic length in a genre that began with Napalm's two-second track "You Suffer."

Grindcore may be monolithic and monotonous to the uninitiated, but the group keeps The Code Is Red... as sonically varied as the genre permits. The band falls into a chugging lockstep groove on "Diplomatic Immunity," as Greenaway excoriates the "cowboy killer" who created a "war through lies on demand." Later, it blasts out staccato riffs on "Climate Controllers" while Greenaway sarcastically growls, "Patriot-yes, it's an act." Mitch Harris' guitar chords on "Pledge Yourself To You" wouldn't sound out of place on a punk album, though Danny Herrera's manic drumming gives plenty of double bass pedal reminders that this is the harder stuff.

The lyrical samples quoted above are representative of the album as a whole. Though its members have frequently shifted, Napalm Death's leftist political bent has never wavered (the first track on its 1986 debut Scum was, after all, called "Multinational Corporations" and was not a celebration of said entities, to say the least). The band has addressed everything from apartheid to abortion rights in the past, but on The Code Is Red... its wrath is directed mostly at George W. Bush; the neo-imperialist war in Iraq draws Greenaway's strongest ire, but the Republican attempt to regulate sexuality also generates righteous fury, as Greenaway dismisses "family fucking values": "No urge to procreate/No crime to stimulate," he insists. Guest vocals from former Dead Kennedy Jello Biafra on "The Great and the Good" reinforce the album's progressive slant and recall Napalm Death's DK cover "Nazi Punks Fuck Off" from years gone by.

Music this continuously aggressive runs the risk of having a numbing effect over the course of a 40-odd minute album. But The Code Is Red . . . Long Live The Code avoids that pitfall, relying on strong songwriting and tight musicianship to keep the listener's attention riveted. Someday a clever politician will campaign to a musical backdrop of Pete Seeger and Napalm Death to attract progressives of all ages; she probably won't win, but she'll get my vote.

-Whit Strub

Track Listing:
1. Silence Is Deafening
2. Right You Are
3. Diplomatic Immunity
4. The Code Is Red . . . Long Live The Code
5. Climate Controllers
6. Instruments of Persuasion
7. The Great And The Good
8. Sold Short
9. All Hail The Grey Dawn
10. Vegetative State
11. Pay For The Privilege Of Breathing
12. Pledge Yourself To You
13. Striding Purposefully Backwards
14. Morale
15. Our Pain Is Their Power

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