Album Preview: Napalm Death – Utilitarian
Napalm Death has been on a decade-plus streak of strong if not spectacular albums: Enemy of the Music Business, Smear Campaign and Time Waits For No Slave among them. That doesn’t mean there weren’t jitters before they started writing their 14th studio album, Utilitarian. “You always wonder if this is going to be the one where I’m going to get writer’s block and not be able to do anything,” vocalist Barney Greenway said from England recently.
Napalm started recording Utilitarian – named after the John Stuart Mill philosophy that the proper action is one that leads to the most happiness – in February 2011. The album was complete in October. The band didn’t work for nine straight months but rather staggered studio time to cull through an enormous amount of material. “With the amount of stuff we had we didn’t want to go crazy,” Greenway said. “The studio is compact and we would have driven each other around the bend.”
No abrupt stylistic leaps appear although Greenway said he continues to expand his vocals. “We’re all very different people but when we write we’re able to converge,” he said. “What makes this album different is that I’ve tried to take influences like My Bloody Valentine and Joy Division and put them in a faster context, especially with vocals.”
The album cover – designed by Danish artist Frode Sylthe — gives an unintended nod to the debut Scum, which featured a tableau of starving children and businessmen surrounded by corporate logos. It also hints at the works of dystopian writers George Orwell and Aldous Huxley.
“The guy on the floor is the would-be utilitarian, the guy with ethical thoughts,” Greenway said. “The guys in suits around him kicking him are the embodiment of power. They are saying he isn’t making any difference. They are basically kicking all of the opposing thoughts out of him.”
Utilitarian will have an even stronger social media presence than recent albums. Napalm designed an “Occupy Napalm” page to both support the Occupy movement and provide tidbits on the record. Greenway said the Occupy movement wasn’t a direct inspiration since it started well after the band began writing but he was nonetheless moved.
“I feel a real solidarity with the whole thing, like there’s a lot of momentum to a movement that wants to be heard and wants things to change,” he said.
Despite the manifold injustices catalogued in Napalm’s music Greenway said he gets happier with the passage of time. He doesn’t mull the band’s future, either.
“I’m pretty philosophical,” he said. “There’s a real positive thrust to the band. But any band could be over next week. I’m not being pessimistic; it’s just sort of the truth. I would never want this band to be a shadow of its former self.”
“As you get older you’re supposed to become more conservative,” he said. “I find that life is getting simpler and I’m happier with myself and more confident. Things seem a lot clearer. I’ve always been pretty driven to be honest. But I’ve always preached the benefits of living simply, that happiness is one of the most important things you can have.”
—Justin M. Norton
Utilitarian will be released on Feb. 28.
2. Errors In The Signals
3. Everyday Pox
4. Protection Racket
5. The Wolf I Feed
7. Fall On Their Swords
8. Collision Course
9. Orders Of Magnitude
10. Think Tank Trials
11. Blank Look About Face
12. Leper Colony
13. Nom De Guerre
14. Analysis Paralysis
15. Opposite Repellent
16. A Gag Reflex
17. Aim Without An Aim BONUS
18. Everything In Mono BONUS
Greenway discusses the album concept