Napalm Death’s Apex Predator – Easy Meat: The Years Do Not Condemn

Max Jonas Knaver, Writer




Due to what is suspected to be an issue regarding copyright infringement and Napalm Death’s label, Century Media Records, this album can only be streamed from Spotify at time of writing.

It’s rare that an artist becomes as inherently connected to and synonymous with their genre as Napalm Death. They’re not merely the first grindcore band, they’re not just the biggest grindcore band, they’re not simply the greatest grindcore band. The Birmingham four-piece is the grindcore band. Since defining the genre itself with their 1987 debut Scum, Napalm Death have grown to become the undisputed kings of it, continually evolving in terms of songwriting, lyrical concept, and absolute savagery while still maintaining a consistent sound and style.

Apex Predator – Easy Meat opens rather quizzically, the atmospheric and dark title track sounding more like a war chant or exercise in Tibetan throat singing than a typical Napalm Death song. However, the troupe quickly switches gears and unleashes the onslaught that is “Smash a Single Digit”. There is none of the pseudo-ambience and slowness that saturate the opener; this is a grind song through and through, a minute-and-a-half bruiser full of roaring screams, buzzsaw guitar work, and politically conscious lyricism. With this, the album’s true colors are revealed. This is a Napalm Death record, with everything that entails.

A successful full-length grindcore album is dependent on riffs to a very large degree. Metal in general is a musical idiom heavily reliant on riffing in its rhythm guitar work, but grind, with its short song lengths, has to pack particularly many meaty guitar licks into an LP to fill it. It’s very easy to create filler, as short songs with one or two uninspired riffs apiece are largely inoffensive to listeners and are dead simple to write. There is no filler on Apex Predator, though. Guitarist Mitch Harris and bassist Shane Embury have done a fantastic job crafting the instrumentals on this album. The riffs are experimental, yet still effectively run the gamut of what one might expect from a grindcore band. There are more old-school parts like the opening riff of “Hierarchies” that channel classic punk and heavy metal styles, full-bore onslaughts like “Bloodless Coup”’s main riff, and slow, creeping phrases such as the opening of “Dear Slum Landlord…”

This track coincidentally represents the album’s best use of vocalist Mark Greenway’s aforementioned cleaner melodic singing, which appears several times throughout the album to varying effect. When utilized to highlight a slower or more atmospheric part of the music this vocal style creates a darker, more melancholy texture that adds variety and intrigue to Apex Predator’s fifteen tracks. This said, there are points that feel as if they would be infinitely better served by Greenway’s usual legendary roar, which appears in its usual expertly delivered form at all other points during the record’s runtime.

The lyrics Greenway delivers, largely self-penned are of the same politically and socially conscious sort as much of the Napalm Death catalog, harboring topics like injustice, corruption, and social stratification. Not only are these themes not new to the band, they’re basically standard fare for grindcore bands in general. They do deserve special mention, however, for being exceptionally well-written. Beautiful use of metaphor in conjunction with and contrast to stark bluntness and visceral imagery, often within the same line, lend Apex Predator’s vocals a certain authority. It’s nice to see a band whose lyrics not only have a message, but eloquently and poignantly deliver said message with well-constructed and thoughtful lyrics.

The album’s production is crystal clear and modern sounding, but retains the edge and at least an inkling of the rawness of classic grindcore records. Harris’ and Embury’s instruments are pleasingly weighty and aggressive, meshing to create a behemoth of distorted riffing during the usual unison parts without detracting from their own individual timbres when one stands alone. Greenway’s trademark screams are kept satisfyingly raw, allowing his voice’s natural aggression and almost inhuman range of overtones to shine through unhindered. His cleans are largely more processed, which is occasionally to their detriment, but by and large the production favorably compliments and adds texture to their tonality. The real winner as far as Apex Predator’s production is concerned, though, is Danny Herrera. The album as a whole sounds very clean, but with a natural sounding, almost distressed edge, and nowhere is this more apparent than the drums. They sound both massive and raw, the toms in particular manifesting more as sublime sonic explosions than conventional drum tones.

Herrera’s drum work in general deserves special mention for being both creative and fitting perfectly into what is very obviously a grind record. Various grooves, and blast beats in particular, are used deliberately and appropriately to properly add to the intensity of the parts they accompany, accentuating the already dynamic and flowing songwriting.

On the whole, Apex Predator – Easy Meat is precisely what it should be – an experimental and modern-sounding Napalm Death record which retains all the attitude and vitriol which has marked the group’s style since day one; an album which breaks new ground while still being firmly rooted in and respectful of the past. It is perhaps a prime example of a record that meets the seemingly impossible task of giving one’s fans precisely what they all seem to want – more of the same, but different.