Somehow, the phrase "on a roll" seems wholly inadequate to describe the phenomenon of NAPALM DEATH's years-old post-Earache renaissance. It's more like a fucking avalanche. For a bunch of guys getting acquainted with their late thirties and forties (that's, like, 104 in grindcore years), they've never sounded hungrier, angrier, or more dead-set on musical destruction. And "Smear Campaign" may just be the pinnacle of their lethal fury… at least until next year!
You may have heard a few things about "Smear Campaign" that worry you — Anneke van Giersbergen from THE GATHERING does vocals on one track, yes. But it's a few lines of spoken words and indistinct coos, similar to the female voice in CELTIC FROST's "Return To the Eve", nothing more. And there's talk of Barney doing "different styles of vocals", as if he's joined a damn barbershop quartet or something. There are a few lines in "Persona Non Grata" where a vocoder is used to add an extra dimension to the voice, and the title track features some SWANS-influenced, echoed-out bellows that I suppose some would call "clean vocals".
But there's nothing to get upset about here — 95% of "Smear Campaign" is fast, furious, urgent to the point of a heart attack, and utterly compelling. Not every song is a blast-fest — "Identity Crisis" and "When All Is Said and Done" are throttling midtempo raveups, akin to DISCHARGE doing "Protest and Survive" while snorting crushed-up trucker speed — but there are plenty of blast beats, and that loping punk/thrash polka tempo, and even the slowest moments on the album bristle with nervous tension. There's a raw intensity here, from the positively grimy and overdriven sound of the vocals to the insistent tempos to the blunt-force trauma of the simple and bludgeoning guitar lines. It all combines to make an album that beats you mercilessly and refuses to let up.
That's not to say it's not textured, or that there aren't catchy parts. There are even a few overt CELTIC FROST homages (old-schoolers will probably laugh out loud at a couple guitar breaks and vocal "ooh" and heyyy!" outbursts), the aforementioned SWANS creepiness, and a few bone-cracking breakdowns. But all of that comes at you like a runaway truck, with an energy level that tops even the band's own storied past, and trumps just about anything and anyone currently making extreme music today.
Grindcore, punk, death metal — throw out the categories, because at this point, NAPALM DEATH are a class unto themselves. It's hard to think of a band this influential, around for this long, that's doing the best work of their career right fucking now. Suffice it to say that "Smear Campaign" is one of the best, most important albums of 2006, and it's a must-own for anyone who claims to support the underground. The only question is — how the hell are they gonna top this?