More than three decades after they first plunged their bowel-exploding grindcore weaponry into the soft underbelly of the metal mainstream, Napalm Death still transcend every joke and cliché about their apocalyptic blast-furnace extremism. Their most recent studio album, 2015’s Apex Predator – Easy Meat, was one of their most uncompromising to date, both sonically and politically. As this 31-track double-disc collection of rare and unreleased material spanning 2004-2016 proves, these long-serving avant-thrash icons have matured, but not mellowed. They remain true originals, thrillingly abrasive, gloriously ugly, a standing challenge to the safe conventions of heavy rock.
One of the Death’s most endearing qualities has always been the dark, sarcastic humour that informs even their most brutal sonic battering rams. It’s here in arch titles such as Phonetics For The Stupefied and Like Piss To A Sting, both eardrum-busters. You can hear it again in Clouds Of Cancer/ Victims Of Ignorance, which wrongfoots listeners with its plaintive piano introduction before erupting into a breakneck rage-punk assault. There’s also mischievous wit in giving the Shakespearean title What Is Past Is Prologue to another cacophonous face-melter.
The Death’s power-grind still packs an exhilarating punch, notable examples here including We Hunt In Packs and Call That An Option? But such hyper-aggressive pummelling can wear down to a one-dimensional caricature over the long haul. Many of the more arresting tracks on this varied but generally strong double album are those which push the band outside their familiar discomfort zone; stylistic outliers like the occultish incantation Oxygen Of Duplicity, an unusually subtle digression into brooding gloom-core, or Omnipresent Knife In The Back, which combines heady psych-rock chaos with surprisingly melodic undertones. The menace-laden execution anthem Atheist Runt is another ear-catching oddity.
Essaying a rare cover version, the Death also make a decent fist of The Cardiacs’ To Go Off And Thing, moving beyond metal into a looking-glass otherworld of angular, carnivalesque art-punk surrealism. It was first released in 2013, with all revenues going to stricken Cardiacs singer Tim Smith. Which proves that behind their ferocious horror-mask of planet-crushing nihilism, Napalm Death are not just diamond geezers but also national treasures.