Napalm Death - Fear, Emptiness, Despair
Earache Records
Experimental Death Metal, Grindcore
10 songs (34:57)
Release year: 1994
Napalm Death, Earache Records
Reviewed by Goat
Archive review

As large as the change in genre that Napalm Death made between From Enslavement To Obliteration and Harmony Corruption was, the switch between Utopia Banished and Fear, Emptiness, Despair is pretty darn amazing, too. The change in logo was one indication that the band had switched sounds radically, but putting on the album now is as much of a shock as it must have been in 1994. Where Utopia Banished was rabid Grindcore with hints of Death Metal, Fear, Emptiness Despair is a rolling blast of groove, an underlying Industrial influence giving it a dark atmosphere that later mid-period albums sadly lack. Without a doubt the best album from Napalm Death’s 90s experimental period, Fear, Emptiness, Despair tends to be forgotten nowadays when listing the best albums from the band, which is a travesty.

It’s definitely one of the band’s most intelligent albums, the songs all diverse and progressively-structured, drummer extraordinaire Danny Herrera’s second full-length with the band, and his backing playing is simply fantastic, packed full of fills and frills. The real stars of the show, however, are guitarists Mitch Harris and Jesse Pintado, cranking out technical groove after groove as the music twists and turns like a snake, catchy without obvious hooks. Above it all, of course, Barney Greenway roars his usual outrage at the state of the world, for the first time using the spoken vocals that would become an important part of his repertoire later in the band’s career. There’s a massive variety in the songwriting, as mentioned, without the songs actually changing a great deal; State Of Mind’s mid-paced dirge that turns into a neo-Industrial grind as Barney whispers ‘I told you so’ and the music rises and falls like the sea. Opening blast Twist The Knife (Slowly) builds on a set of riffs to rise above you, subtly epic yet very much grounded. Hung, meanwhile, lives up to its name, swinging gently in the breeze before dropping as if from the highest point of a rollercoaster.

What truly makes this album special is the Industrial influence, taking as much from Godflesh as anything. The end of Hung, with its bursts of noise-guitar, is clearly influenced by Broadrick and co, whilst Plague Rages and More Than Meets The Eye are atmospheric bursts of darkness that rock out whilst having distinctly creepy undertones in sections. Songs throughout the album are quite short, never going over the four-minute mark, yet despite this all are complex enough to keep your attention. The likes of Primed Time’s ominous nature will take time to explore, the bursts of speed tightly controlled and far from the chaos of the band’s early days. Of course, if you just want some catchy brutality there’s plenty of that too, every track mentioned so far simply killer, and moments like Armageddon x7 and Retching On The Dirt are perfectly headbangable without losing that important experimental edge.

Looking back on Fear, Emptiness, Despair fifteen years later, it’s amazing at how well it has stood the test of time. Just as heavy as it was then, and still quite a leftfield record in terms of the drumming and experimental parts, it more than deserves repeated listens from any fan of the band’s post-Grindcore days, when other influences got mixed in and for a while it looked as though this strange beast called underground Metal may take over the mainstream. As we now know, it didn’t quite happen like that, and whilst not all of Napalm Death’s mid-to-late 90s albums are perfect, this is the best of the bunch.

Killing Songs :
Twist The Knife (Slowly), Hung, Plague Rages, More Than Meets The Eye, State Of Mind
Goat quoted 86 / 100
Adam quoted 81 / 100
Other albums by Napalm Death that we have reviewed:
Napalm Death - Apex Predator - Easy Meat reviewed by Goat and quoted 83 / 100
Napalm Death - Utilitarian reviewed by Charles and quoted 95 / 100
Napalm Death - Inside the Torn Apart reviewed by Adam and quoted 71 / 100
Napalm Death - Diatribes reviewed by Goat and quoted 58 / 100
Napalm Death - Words from the Exit Wound reviewed by Adam and quoted 74 / 100
To see all 17 reviews click here
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