When a band is on a roll like NAPALM DEATH has been, it's hard not to notice the sound of sharpening knives when their newest album nears completion. Fans and critics are always ready to pounce, and seem to take a perverse glee in declaring the winning streak over, and being among the first to point out a beloved band's misstep. At the slightest whiff of change — a couple slower songs, a little bit of quirky and dissonant melody — the FIRST POST! brigade will be howling in righteous indignation at the speedy demise of their favorite group.
If it happens here, don't you fucking believe it. "Time Waits For No Slave" is, improbably, yet another intense and crushing piece of smart, visceral extreme metal from a band whose creative renaissance shows no signs of letting up. If you've liked the path the band has chosen since "Enemy of the Music Business", wearing its '80s hardcore punk influences on its sleeve and mixing d-beat mayhem with flaying grind parts and the occasional bit of dirge and noise, you'll be happy as hell here. The energy and vitality that blasts out of the speakers is simply undeniable — it's almost frightening, how strong and focused this band is right now.
If anything, the band has managed to sneak in a little bit of songwriting refinement — these are longer, more fleshed-out cuts, mini-epics of attention-deficit tempo shifting and stubbornly ferocious blast beat squalling. NAPALM DEATH in this decade are nothing less than the sound of panic, a heart attack in digital form, careening off the rails in burst after tightly-controlled burst of disciplined noise. Just try catching a breath during "Feeling Redundant" or "Diktat" — the breakdown at 2:45 in the latter seethes with pent-up intensity, and is interrupted with a caffeinated blast before more than a few seconds are up.
Even the most chaotic songs are structured around real hooks, though, little singalong phrases or one-second hypercondensed air-guitar moments that make each of these songs, blistering walls of sound that they are, memorable and even perversely hummable in places. And when little bubbles of the band's SWANS fetish pop up here and there — see the chorus of the title track — it's woven seamlessly into the overall statement, and used to great effect, providing a moment of dissonant respite from the grind barrrage. In years past, the band got a lot of shit for doing too much of this kind of thing, but they deploy their brief forays into non-grind turf strategically here, with the confidence of a band utterly on top of their game.
In several places on "Time Waits For No Slave", a few songs slow down and seem to scratch that itch for dynamics. "Life and Limb" sticks mostly with a bruising midtempo and includes a bizarre mechanized chorus that works like a charm, proving that tempo isn't the sole tool of heavy at NAPALM DEATH's disposal. "Procrastination" brings back some of that uneasy, chiming quasi-melodic guitar of their 90's albums, while "Passive Tense" comes off like some great lost 80's post-hardcore stomper and "Larceny of the Heart" percolates with thundering tom drums in the verse. What these songs lack in continual blasting, they more than make up for with sheer fervor, exuding a pissed-off intensity that never lets up and puts bands half their age to shame.
Quite simply, there isn't so much as a wasted second on "Time Waits For No Slave". It's a manifesto, the culmination of this entire decade of forward movement in the NAPALM DEATH camp, and a testament to their ability to mix the cerebral and the chaotic. In fact, I'll go out on a limb and say that the only thing that could realistically keep anyone from calling this NAPALM DEATH's best work is misguided nostalgia. "Time Waits For No Slave" is a perfect storm of furious grinding metal from a band that hasn't sounded this alive and hungry in their nearly three decades of existence. Extremity retained!