Napalm Death – ‘Coded Smears And More Uncommon Slurs’

By Jay Hampshire

Stamps. Beer mats. Foreign coins. Bottle Caps. Pokémon. First editions of novels. The disembodied souls of those who have wronged you. There’s something that satisfies about the act of collecting, whether it’s the act of hunting things down, accumulating them or the closure of the complete assembly.

That instinct is undoubtedly behind Napalm Death’s latest offering; ‘Coded Smears And More Uncommon Slurs’. A thirty one track behemoth of rarities and exclusives from 2004 – 2016, it’s touted as a ‘collecting completing effort’, and it’s difficult to disagree.

As such, the album doesn’t have a strong conceptual or sonic through-line, jumping around and finding the blistering Brummies locking into different modes throughout. First disc opener ‘Standardization’ blasts away frantically, bristling with bruising riffs and Barney Greenways bellowing roars of “uniformity, uniformity”. ‘It Failed To Explode’ hammers out a deeply groovy bass undertow while the guitars gallop away. ‘We Hunt In Packs’ channels the bands’ punk side with machine gun kick drumming and swinging, one-two knockout chords.

While the quartet comfortably flex their grindcore muscles, showcasing their familiar turns of speed, intensity and blistering, breathless energy, the album also sees them tapping into different influences and throwing a few curve balls. “Paracide” sees them employing guitar tones that are worthy of Motorhead, weighing in at a much more ‘traditional grindcore’ length of 1:39. ‘To Go Off And Things’ is arguably the band at their most playful, sci-fi beeps and rapidly spat vocals contending with stabbing riffs and madcap synths.

There’s a guarantee of quality that surrounds Napalm Death – you don’t get to be thirty year plus veterans of the heavy music scene without being fucking good at what you do. Some of these tracks stand among their best – ‘What Is Past Is Prologue’ eschews dynamics in favour of all out muscular assault and punishing drumming, and ‘Aim Without an Aim’ swaggers with savage energy and staccato vocals. None of the thirty one tracks can be accused of being weak or sub par.

It’s just that none of these tracks made it onto a Napalm Death album proper for a reason – they’re good, but they don’t quite hit the band’s stringent standards of quality. The fact that tracks that were written almost a decade apart sit next to each other flags up inconsistencies and changes within the bands’ recorded sound, leaving some songs seeming to lack in heft and polish compared to others. The sheer number of tracks, coupled with their length (few dip below the three minute mark, practically a lifetime in grindcore terms) is liable to leave the listener feeling fatigued, and makes it difficult to isolate specific tracks or moments that stand out.

That said, this is a solid release. Some collection records are pumped out as soulless cash grabs or total fan service. Not so ‘Coded Smears’ – while it might not be the bands most accessible release, and it’s arguably only an essential purchase for the hardcore ND fan, it’s a collection of interesting and surprising turns from a cornerstone of British music.

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