Few bands can claim to be the forefathers of their genre. It’s an honor reserved only for the masters of a particular craft or those accidental visionaries creating the sounds of tomorrow. Napalm Death is one of those rare bands who might just be both. Beginning with 1987’s debut “Scum,” the Englishmen began a continuous campaign of sonic warfare, setting the metal underground to the torch. Before the release of that critical album, metal had rarely been so visceral — so inexplicably kinetic and violent. “Scum,” then, gave birth to the grindcore genre, setting the stage for innumerable imitators. Since that time, a number of impressive bands have come and gone, furthering and reveling in the sounds first set to tape so many years ago. But, Napalm Death has been churning along with the horde, releasing record after record of pure punishment. Less revelation and more solidification, Napalm Death’s 16th studio album is far less concerned with pushing envelopes than furthering the band’s narrative. “Apex Predator – Easy Meat” is just the next wave of the onslaught.
Kicking off with the title track, one thing is immediately clear: the band knows how to make an entrance. Druidic chants build and build before giving way to pounding industrial percussion as manic howls pierce the cacophony. It’s nothing if not an effective start, setting an ominous tone for what’s to come. Swirling guitars, frenzied growls and tidal waves of percussion follow, reminding any listeners who may have lost the plot that this is, in fact, Napalm Death, back and ready to pulverize the masses. Lead single “Smash A Single Digit” features the band trading harsh and clean vocals as the maelstrom surges beneath, building to a funk-laden groove to close out the proceedings. If there’s a mission statement track to be found on the record, this just might be it, surging with primal fury and the pure momentum we’ve come to expect from the Englishmen. Later, “Dear Slum Landlord…” effectively halts the record’s breakneck pace, opting for slow, winding lead-work before it culminates in Barney’s explosive roars battling over the mechanical percussion. It’s a smart move, one that keeps “Apex Predator” from devolving into pure indulgence as it transitions back into the madness with “Cesspits,” one of the record’s heaviest numbers.
If any concerns are likely to be leveled at Napalm Death’s “Apex Predator – Easy Meat,” it’s not with the music itself; rather, it’s the state of the band in general that may come into question. Typically speaking, the longer a group stays together, the more necessary – and the less likely – change becomes. For now, that doesn’t seem to be an issue for the four Englishmen, who’ve crafted yet another solid entry in their storied catalog, but given time, all empires fall, and the band may come face to face with the realization that their trademarked brand of brutality might not cut it anymore. Even so, that’s a worry for another day, because for now, “Apex Predator” certainly lives up to its title.