Sound — 8
Napalm Death has never and will never be for those weak in the heart. However, if you think you might be able to withstand a metal firestorm of bloodcurdling wails and growling roars that are backed by lightening-fast rhythms, well, then you might just be ready for Smear Campaign. There is a fury in Smear Campaign that will probably never be embraced by the general public, but behind the angry faade are thought-provoking lyrics and musical prowess. On top of that, there is something to be said about any band that can endure for two decades without having any of its original members.
The album starts out with an instrumental that actually is a bit bone-chilling at times -- the slower-paced intro Weltschmerz sounds as if there is muted talking occurring in the background, which gives an eerie enough feeling as it is. But then the song begins to add layer upon musical layer, eventually including a keyboard that could easily be mistaken for a massive and ominous pipe organ. The band made a beautiful choice in opting to have only a distortion-free guitar heard at the start of Weltschmerz. By the end, when all the other music is layered upon it, it almost feels like a demonic presence has taken over the song. It may be less than two minutes in duration, but that would be no big change for the band -- particularly when it has earned a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for the shortest song ever, the 1.316-second long You Suffer.
Probably the most amazing aspect of the band is drummer Danny Herrera. His drum fills stand out above and beyond the other instruments the majority of the time. While guitarist Mitch Harris and bassist Shane Embury can absolutely hold their own, Herrera's rhythms are mind-blowing in pretty much every song. One song that exemplifies Herrera's ability is Short-Lived, a track where Herrera is given only a brief moment here and there to slow down the pace. Regardless of how fast he plays, Herrera actually adds a whole other element to the musical compositions and actually feels almost as prominent as the vocals.
With all the interesting moments heard on Smear Campaign, the everyday listener will likely find it too much on the ears. Probably the most noticeable reason is that the vocals are inaudible due to vocalist Mark Greenway's burly yells. For Napalm Death fans, this is probably one of their favorite aspects of the band, but there are plenty of people who enjoy connecting with the lyrics they hear. Combined with the numerous changes made in the pace of each song, Smear Campaign will probably grate on the nerves of straightforward rock fans.
Lyrics — 10
For those who get the opportunity to read the lyrics in Smear Campaign, it's worth the time. Because the vocals are so indistinct, you might unfortunately get the impression that the words probably aren't worth annunciating. But the lyrics are surprisingly well thought-out and have a literary quality.
There is a definite theme of anti-establishment, particularly in the religious sense. A good example is in Freedom Is The Wage Of Sin, which examines the role that religion dictates over our daily lives. Greenway sings, Cower in a corner and keep the heresy stowed; Freedom is the wage of sin; No universal (theoretical) force of influence; Should dictate behaviour that we can't handle ourselves. The lyrics are almost scholarly in a sense and go way beyond the typical lyrical format.
Probably the most controversial lyrics are found in Puritanical Punishment Beating, a song that takes many jabs at the right-wing view on hot topics like homosexual marriage and birth control. Greenway sings, Protection - oh well, take a slow sexual death; There's no salvation through safe birth control;
Same sex, different habits - who gives a f--king shit? This won't make the species unfurl. Most bands don't allow themselves to be this blunt, and this track is just one of many that Napalm Death lays it all out without hesitation.
Overall Impression — 8
Smear Campaign is a fascinating listen, and even those who don't care for grindcore or the harder metal genres might find it interesting in smaller doses. Musically, the band does take a few breaks from the metal fury with some ethereal-like aspects. The best example comes in the song In Deference, which features vocals by Anneke van Giersbergen, who sounds similar to Mazzy Star's Hope Sandoval. The breezy vocal quality of Giersbergen adds a haunting dimension to the song when it contrasts so wildly from Greenway's voice.
It is actually a shame that most people won't be exposed to Napalm Death, if even just to hear the band members' musical capability and lyrical quality. Smear Campaign is a well-constructed album that is exceptional in many ways, but it will also be too much of everything for some. The ideas that are conveyed in the lyrics are probably among the most honest out there today, and those will hopefully be noticed by more than their legion of faithful followers.