There are names in metal that you just know even if you don’t like, haven’t listened to or just haven’t really clicked with them. One of these ever-present monoliths of true metal perseverance is Napalm Death. One of the pioneers of grindcore, the band is perhaps most well-known for making the Guiness Book of Records for shortest song (see footnote.) Now, as we wait for the follow-up to the well-received and excellent 2014 full-length Apex Predator – Easy Meat the band has released a compilation double-album.
Coded Smears and Uncommon Slurs is a double-album compilation made up of rarities, bonus songs from limited edition versions of previous albums and even a few cover songs (which are amazing.) At a whopping hour and thirty-two minutes (so average movie length) these outtakes add up to 31 cuts of the Napalm Death blend. Sound-wise it is representative of the band’s output so far: you have your heavy guitars alternating between punk, metal and hybrid riffs all to the sound of ugly, grumpy bass rumbling along. All this forms the upper layers of the foundation which is supported by skillful and varied drumming and of course, the social-commentary / politically-charged lyrics belched out with conviction and urgency.
This shouldn’t be taken to indicate that the songs are the same old blastbeat-laden breakneck-speed doldrum that lasts longer than it should. Coded Smears and Uncommon Slurs has a degree of variety that adds immensely to its value. There are slower songs like Omnipresent Knife In Your Back, Oxygen of Duplicity, Atheist Runt (that also features choir-like, chant-like vocals) for instance, that break up the relentless pace quite nicely. Apart from these and a noticeable genre shift in the hilarious and jumpy Cardiacs cover, To Go Off and Things, it’s pretty much Napalm Death all day, all the way. Luckily for the you, Napalm Death’s ability to write memorable riffs easily separates the songs from each other, at least for as long as you can withstand the constant assault.
What I mean by that is, I don’t think grind is a suitable genre for the standard album length of avg. 45 minutes (even though the comp. chides me for thinking that in the very first track…) Grind is built on intensity (speed and heaviness) and as such, does tend to wear the listener out after a while. Coded Smears and Uncommon Slurs does suffer a bit from this, in that the songs on either half tend to blur together after a while. Further compounding this is the shortcoming of compilations: they never have the flow of an actual album. But this is not all bad: on one hand, you lose track of what exactly you were listening to as riff after riff after riff is mercilessly pounded into your head. On the other hand, the songs are excellently written and structured, so you can space out and then latch back on at any point during any song and still enjoy it. This is perhaps the greatest strength of this compilation as well as Napalm Death in general.
Helping this is the fact that the songs, while cut from the same cloth, aren’t always evenly produced. This is expected of a compilation, of course, but it wouldn’t be a review if I didn’t gripe about production at least once.
So is Coded Smears and More Uncommon Slurs an essential item? Well, yes and no. It is great for gathering together Napalm Death rarities and offering more than adequate meat to keep you occupied. It can also serve as a general primer as to what Napalm Death is about, however, and this is where the “no” comes in, it is not an album in-and-of-itself, which means maybe you will enjoy an actual album crafted to be one. But either way, I’d recommend it both to fans, those who are curious and those who are wondering what the fuss is about.
Mark “Barney” Greenway – vocals
Mitch Harris – guitar, vocals
Shane Embury – bass
Danny Herrera – drums
Footnote: 1- The song in question, “You Suffer” is only 1.36 seconds long and was reportedly recorded as a joke. That didn’t keep it from spreading almost to the point of becoming a staple of the genre. Some examples of such microsongs are Anal Cunt’s “Tom Arnold”, Psychotic Noise’s “Pig” and Wormrot’s “Dead Wrong” or “Still Irrelevant.”
2- I don’t believe that good production and intensity are mutually exclusive. Grind in particular seems to alternate between brickwalled messes and lo-fi messes – I understand the need to be heavy with a gnarly edge, but you can retain all that with a solid production. Especially in a genre that’s made up of adrenaline junkies, not wearing the listener’s ears out three songs in (which’d be around five minutes, by the way) is a very good idea.