It’s neither a secret nor an uncommon opinion that Napalm Death has been on the upswing in the new millennium, starting with the blistering Enemy Of The Music Business back in 2001 and not really slowing down since. The Code Is Red saw a revitalized Napalm in full swing, and Smear Campaign was strong but still paled somewhat against its raging predecessor. That latter disc also featured a few (perhaps unwanted) surprises in the unexpected martial / symphonic intro and the presence of guest vocals by Anneke van Giersbergen (formerly of The Gathering). Whatever your opinion on Smear‘s stylistic twists, it doesn’t matter now because they’re gone from Time Waits For No Slave. Napalm Death is back to doing what Napalm Death is best at doing–kicking your damn ass.
I hear quite a few records, as you can imagine. Maybe one in ten makes me completely stop and stare at my stereo, but within just the first few tracks, Slave had me dialed in, had my attention focused, had a grin on my face and my head and hands and feet moving. There’s a fury on hand for this one, a venom and a fire, that equals the best moments in Napalm‘s storied history, and that’s saying something, considering that this is one of the most pissed-off bands of all time. There’s an anger here, even though often the tempo is scaled back from previous efforts. Even in the mid-tempo moments, there’s a palpable energy that rivals even that of Enemy or Enslavement, those two differing releases that represent this group’s finest hours to these ears. Barney Greenway bellows his vocals with a white-knuckle rage above and beyond even his normal ferocity, and Mitch Harris’ high-pitched screeches fit perfectly against Greenway’s roar. There are a few instances of clean processed vocals that are reminiscent of past tracks like “Breed To Breathe” from Inside The Torn Apart, but mostly, Greenway shouts like a man possessed. As is expected from a modern Napalm Death release, the riffing alternates between grind and death, with some prominent divergences into a more traditional hardcore approach (see the intro to “Life And Limb” or sections of “On The Brink Of Extinction.”). Some riffs are groovy, some frenetic, and some almost melodic; some are Swans-y, dissonant and raw, and yet, no matter what, all of them are positively destructive. Those fans clamoring for a return to pure-and-simple grind won’t be satisfied, but hopefully the increased intensity will compensate for the lack of thirty-second songs and the continued incorporation of the band’s varied influences.
Where Slave succeeds fully is in the songwriting. These tunes are simply the best that Napalm has written in many a moon. The title track, with its tremolo-picked riff that drops into a droning Swans section, is a personal favorite, alongside lead track “Strongarm” and the grooving “Life And Limb.” Aside from a renewed vigor and focus, there’s little in the way of surprises, and I’m okay with that. The dissonant noise bits have been making increasing inroads into the songwriting over the last few records, so even those off-kilter drones aren’t unexpected, although they seem to fit better into the framework of these songs than on past efforts.
All in all, Time Waits For No Slave is a monster, through and through, another entry into one of metal’s most esteemed catalogs and another success from a long-running band approaching the three-decade mark atop a wave of rejuvenation. Slave is vicious and violent, supercharged and superb, unflinching and undeniable. Napalm Death rarely disappoints, but only in a few select instances have they equaled this one. One of the top releases of 2009, hands down, and a good candidate for the top slot on my year-end list.
In fact, it’s so good that I’m tempted to reach up there and switch that one little score a half-point higher, but even as good as Slave is, it’s not perfect. It’s Napalm doing Napalm‘s thing and killing all the way, and while that’s good enough for me, I recognize that it’s not a vast departure from the the band’s tried-and-true formula, just an improvement upon the established norm. So with that in mind, I’ll let that stay a 5.5, and end it here.