No longer cursed to crawl
Damage 381 is a ripper of an album, and it would be, given what it represents for the band. It features Barney Greenway, who had just been kicked out of Napalm Death due to his frustrations over the mid-tempo, grooving direction taken on Fear, Emptiness, Despair and Diatribes, a sound he had almost no part in (outside influence had impacted the musical direction.) Extreme Noise Terror’s then-former vocalist Phil Vane had been convinced to leave ENT and join ND, leaving the former with no vocalist. ENT had just come off of re-recording their debut for the third time so it’s safe to say they too felt frustrated with the direction of their music. Barney joined the fold and the result of this swap was an album clearly born out of a desire to rekindle a flame that had died out with time.
From start to finish, the band waste no time in delivering 33 or so minutes of absolutely blistering and explosive deathgrind. Every last song here is loaded with furious and fiery performances all around. Barney’s growls and grunts here are lower and heavier than what he did on any of Napalm Death’s groove albums, and his voice contrasts well with Dean Jones’ higher shouts, with the two frequently alternating throughout songs and both of them delivering very powerful and rapid-fire performances. The riffs here are an even mixture of death metal, hardcore punk and grindcore, in a similar stylistic mould to Utopia Banished or Harmony Corruption and the drumming is very active, consisting of numerous long stretches of blast beats and double bass as well as simpler, slower beats spiced up with many fills.
The band frequently mix it up in a song to produce something multi-faceted that keeps the listener on their toes and interested, with songs consisting of fast, blasting grind-inspired sections with up-tempo death metal material and slower, more grooving sections. Whatever the style, the music never fails to deliver great riffs and interesting, propulsive drumming. While the band doesn’t reinvent the wheel here, they really don’t need to as everything is so tightly and convincingly performed it manages to be fresh and interesting throughout – the album never fails to deliver intense and inspired performances as well as track after track of supremely heavy deathgrind, with no song or the album coming close to overstaying its welcome. The production is punchy and clear, with the sound accentuating the guitars and drums nicely and giving them the impact they need.
Sadly this union with Barney was not to last – Phil was booted from ND for not making the grade and Barney was asked to return to the band, but this wasn’t a fruitless situation. Aside from this album, which is the band’s finest hour, ND clearly started listening to Barney more on following albums as their music’s intensity increased, before leaving Earache with the turn of the millennium and shifting to a purer death/grind sound. As great as the legacy this situation had on ND’s music is, this album is honestly even better than a lot of what ND has done since then – do not skip this one out.