After five straight highly acclaimed studio albums, it would be easy for Napalm Death to play it safe and bash out another slab of intense grind. Instead, we get an incredible release that might possibly be their most experimental album since the late 90's, while still retaining the high-level intensity Napalm is known for. They've been incorporating some new elements since Smear Campaign, using droning clean vocals and epic instrumentation to achieve an almost operatic quality on some songs, and that feature sees progression on Utilitarian. In fact, the "clean" vocals have been emphasized more than ever, as they figure prominently in choruses or sections of several songs. On the track The Wolf I Feed, Barney's clean vocals sound quite a bit like those of Fear Factory's Burton C. Bell. On several other tracks, like Fall on Their Swords, Blank Look About Face, and Leper Colony, his Gregorian chanting style sounds almost suited to a massive cathedral. On each of these tracks, Napalm uses this familiar piece of their sound in new ways to keep the songs fresh. Another change in the vocal department involves guitarist Mitch Harris, who, on two songs, utilizes a hardcore punk style while singing on several verses. The Wolf I Feed and Orders of Magnitude benefit from this vocal trade-off between Barney and Mitch, something they haven't done in quite this style before. You still hear plenty of Mitch's insane, high-pitched screaming, but his more conventional vocals on these songs bring a slightly new dimension to Napalm's sound.
The music doesn't conform to all expectations, either. For one, Everyday Pox has the weirdest noise I've ever heard on a Napalm song, and, as it turns out, the responsible instrument is....a sax? Yes, there's an eardrum-piercing, high-pitched, screaming loon-sounding sax "solo" on a Napalm Death track. It sounds every bit as crazy and alien as you'd expect. Also, Mitch incorporates more melody than on any of their other albums, which makes for a more diverse listening experience. The overall sound, though, is still Napalm. Brutality is the foundation of each song, and every track crushes, even the ones with more melody. The guitar tone might be a little less low-end than usual; several songs have a fairly clean, but raw, punk edge to the guitar interspersed with the usual weighty buzz heard in Napalm riffs, although the same can be said of the last album, Time Waits for No Slave. In the 90's, these guys went very experimental for a few albums, barely using grindcore elements, but they now seem to have found a way to combine both the brutality and the experimentation of their past on Utilitarian. Even though some parts of their sound have been enhanced on this release, you still hear tons of blast beats, insanely fast riffs, hardcore influences, ridiculously intense screaming and roaring from Barney....you know, Napalm Death!
The limited edition includes two bonus tracks, Aim Without An Aim and Everything In Mono. These are both solid songs that could have easily made the album if not for time constraints. Everything In Mono has a heavy thrash influence and an odd section of clean vocals, like several others on Utilitarian. My favorite of the two is Aim Without An Aim, which alternates between driving hardcore and a completely infectious groove (no pun on Mike Muir's funk-metal band intended) that's about as catchy as anything Napalm has done. This album is a powerhouse that all extreme metal fans need to check out. Napalm Death does not mess around.