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.
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
15. Our Pain Is Their Power
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