Far Beyond Time Bomb A.D.
The ’90s was a time of reckoning for a lot of classic ’80s metal and punk bands. Usually said bands jumped onto a trend and lost any of their identity, stuck to their guns only to fall flat, or ended up producing a magnum opus. Napalm Death were odd in that they not only managed to jump onto a trend (hardcore/groove metal) but then actually made a very respectable transition with Fear, Emptiness, Despair. Sadly though, they couldn’t keep up the momentum of that album and in 1996 dropped their worst album. Mind you, for a nadir it’s hardly awful, being more forgettable than anything.
To sum up most of the album’s contents it falls squarely into the Chaos A.D./Time Bomb/Far Beyond Driven style, that being a hardcore-informed strain of groove metal, albeit with death growls in place of shouting and nods to other NYHC bands like Helmet or Snapcase. Barring one bonus track on this 2CD (‘Antibody’) as well as the title track, there are no remnants of the band’s classic death/grind hybrid sound at all. None of that darkened, hazy atmosphere of the preceding album is anywhere to be found either – this is probably the most stripped down of ND’s groove albums (distinguished by their modern logo), with the riffing being repetitive and textured, clearly designed to be the brutal yet rhythmic and memorable motif of a given song. There aren’t even any solos; the riffing as well as the beefy death growls of Barney are the main focuses here.
And it’s with this stripped down focus that the album largely fails. Barney is his usual self, with a particularly hardcore-infused take on the death growl with a percussive quality that this style demands, so he isn’t at fault. The real problem is the music itself. Now, while I can appreciate that some time was spent crafting this album, with everything being meticulously performed and the energy levels remaining high throughout, I can also say that the music here pretty much falls flat. Very few of these riffs, and therefore by extension these songs, are memorable at all. Nothing really sticks, which is a big problem for a riff-driven album like this. The most memorable part is in fact the drum performance; what it lacks in blasting it makes up for by being a continuously rolling, shifting mass that dictates the direction of the music that also manages not to distract from the main show (the guitars and vocals.)
It’s not all bad though, and some tracks clearly stand out to me in one way or another. This album marks the first time the band would throw in a ‘dirge’ – a slower, experimental song which is akin to ambient music in its construction (layers being added and removed over time, slowly evolving the song) that features dissonant, sustained chords. In this case said song is ‘Cold Forgiveness’, and it manages to work to this album’s strength of textured, monolithic riffing, as well as featuring a much needed change of pace in both the music and Barney’s spoken word performance. And in spite of myself, the rather infamous ‘Cursed to Crawl’ is a winner to me as well, having some of the most memorable and well-written riffing on the album and a more varied vocal performance (even if it is quasi-rapped(!)) The opener is quite the shock as well – with its bright, melodic and memorable riffing as well as its catchy nature ‘Greed Killing’ is probably the single best song ND made during this period and is easily their most distinctive.
However, apart from other songs like ‘Self Betrayal’ (another dirge on the 2CD) and ‘My Own Worst Enemy’ (which has fairly distinctive riffing and rhythms) this album simply doesn’t work all that well. For something so focused on being memorable and textured very few of the songs actually achieve this goal. Nothing on the album is bad, but at the same time not a lot of it is inherently good given what the band were going for. It’s well worth it for ‘Greed Killing’ and even ‘Cursed to Crawl’, and the album is pretty cool while it’s on but ultimately it leaves you wanting of something more than the wall of stock groove riffs and death growls it constantly pushes to the forefront.