Double Play: Napalm Death & If These Trees Could Talk

Two nine-star albums get the breakdown in this week's double review!

Iann Robinsonby Iann Robinson


Napalm Death


Century Media Records

Rarely has the plight of man’s inhumanity to man been as sonically devastating as with Napalm Death. Metal has always been a genre that conveys anger, rage and bitterness. Some of it is politically motivated; some supernatural, other forms draw from the dark poisons that make day-to-day life unbearable. No matter what the inspiration, even the most doggedly brutal metal outfit can be categorized into some kind of emotional slot for easier assimilation. Napalm Death simply can’t do that, their methodology is too explosive, their drive too insane and their music too much a crushed together version of all that makes metal, well, metal.

Napalm Death displays that rapid-fire ability in fine form with Utilitarian, their latest audio hand grenade. This is classic Napalm Death. Near perfect execution by men driven to play their instruments as though somebody holds a large caliber gun to their heads. What has always made Napalm Death stand out is how they play. It’s as if each note might be the end of the world, so you’d better play it hard and with purpose. This is not just about being fast, brutal or harsh; it’s about firing those ideas in all directions. 

Utilitarianbegins with an ambitious instrumental titled “Circumspect”. This isn’t a fast tune, instead it moves forward with an ominous purpose. Imagine the marching song of an evil death squad. “Errors In The Signals” opens Utilitarian up with a swift kick to the nuts. Hard and fast, “Errors In The Signals” is the wake up call to anybody who thought Napalm Death got soft. From there the record plays with dynamics in a very basic way. Slow and fast are the predominate movements here. The slow is methodical and the fast is relentless. Utilitarian’s emotional core is discomfort. The album makes you feel off. It’s that tension of knowing something bad is in the room with you but you have no idea where it is.

What gives Napalm Death the power to fuck with you so badly is their blender style of attack. This isn’t a band that wants to show off how well they can play. For them the joy is hitting you over the head with everything they do as fast as they can do it. That’s not a slight and it’s not to say that Napalm Death aren’t great players, they are. What I’m getting at, is they are seemingly possessed to play what they play so bothering with flowery tricks makes no sense. This is happening now. This is in your face and it isn’t altogether pleasant. How do you react? What do you do when the music you rely on for catharsis turns on you? Those answers are how you process any Napalm Death album. Utilitarian runs you over and then leaves you to put the pieces back together again. 

This isn’t an album for everyone, not even metal heads. You need to enjoy being challenged, even if it’s only in how long you can listen to Utilitarian before your brain begs for a break. There’s a lot going on here, more than you’ll hear even after the first or second listen. Bassist Shane Embury and guitarist Mitch Harris form like some kind of fucked up Voltron. There isn’t really bass and guitars happening on this record. Not in the traditional sense. The instruments meld together to make a bone-crushing wall of sonic noise. Within the guitar and bass parts there are screeches, white noise and all kinds of audio blips and chirps. The brain can’t process it all and so multiple listens to Utilitarian are required. 

Holding the entire collapsing bridge together are Barney’s vocals. There isn’t much in the extreme genre that gets the brand of unique, but Barney does. His wails and cries vary to such a degree that he comes off like a raging madman. There’s no standard to what Barney does, he just explodes on the track with the same ferocity as the instruments. Napalm Death is one of the few bands that can actually claim the vocals as another instrument. In that respect Napalm Death is more of a jazz band than a metal one.  Utilitarian is another devastating release from a band that is greatly under appreciated but never fail to create an artistic statement wrapped in some harsh and crushing sounds. 




If These Trees Could Talk

Red Forest

Sounds Of Science Records

If These Trees Could Talk is a band that shares the same principals as Napalm Death but do it for the other side of the brain. Both come from dark places but Napalm Death is confrontation while If These Trees Could Talk is speculation and pain. While Napalm Death has Barney to illustrate their rage, If These Trees Could Talk are instrumental, relying only on musicianship to see them through. The band’s latest release is Red Forest, a record that illustrates the beauty that comes through struggle. Their music is built on that give and take, the push and pull of our demons and how we choose to deal with them. Sound pretentious? It probably is, but I don’t care, If These Trees Could Talk is good enough for me to dabble in pretention for a bit.

Akron, Ohio? That’s the birthplace of all this gorgeous music? If These Trees Could Talk hail from a part of Ohio known for creative juices. Devo came from there, which is pretty much all anybody needs to know. After honing their skills with 2009’s Above The Earth, Below The Sky, ITTCT (I’ll be using the abbreviated band title from now on) have released their magnum opus with Red Forest. The post-rock instrumental game has become quite the busy scene. It’s hard to stand out against all the other work going on out there. ITTCT strike their chord by giving the music an emotional core. I don’t mean they draw inspiration from that core, I mean their music feels like it translates emotion into sound, which is very powerful.

When dealing with instrumental music like this it’s hard to talk specifics. Everything on Red Forest is heart; it’s all honesty within the moment.  I could mention the heartache of “The First Fire”, or how the guitars rise to a grand fever on “Barren Lands Of The Modern Dinosaur.”  The dark future played out in “They Speak With Knives” is particularly wonderful, as is the weeping sadness of the title track. None of those descriptions will help you to understand what ITTCT can do with their music because they are my own. You have to immerse yourself in Red Forest and take from it what touches you. That’s what makes the music so good. How personal it all is. 

Technically, for those who need a blue print, Red Forest is filled with moving guitar lines, dissonant notes and layered harmonies. The drums vary from straight ahead rock to more complex jazz rhythms. If you enjoy bands like Sunlight Ascending or Tides From Nebula, if Isis or Pelican moved you, then ITTCT will be right up your ally. I hate to put those kinds of limitations on any of those bands, but folks who need a little more concrete reasoning on why to invest in new music can use that list as a barometer.  Red Forest is a huge record, with production that allows clarity even in the most dissonant sections.

ITTCT is another indicator that the new punk rock might be the post-rock, math-rock, instrumental-rock ideal. This is music that deals strictly with emotions. Though not full instrumental themselves this is the same commitment to reaching people through extended musical passages that drove bands like Television and Suicide. Sometimes words just get in the way. This music has the purity to it that punk rock did originally, before the sped up Chuck Barry riffs or the English fashion spin. From that ideal were born bands like Neurosis, Isis, and Pelican, and from that we now have a full-fledged movement that speaks to me more so than most. Red Forest is a lush, haunting and beautiful record that allowed you to invest your own emotional catharsis in it and find release.