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Once upon a time those limeys in Napalm Death posed an important question: What would hard rock sound like if you took out all the boring parts? You know, nothing but sonic climax—just Pete Townshend ripping through overamplified power chords as Keith Moon demolishes his kit. Of course, one of the answers to that question is grindcore, a genre that crystallized with Napalm’s 1987 debut, Scum. At first, the band’s vertiginous combination of metallic heft and punk speed was considered novelty. Sixteen years later, innovation is now tradition. And like any tradition, grindcore has its master stylists: Not only do the guys in Oakland, Calif., quintet Benumb know all the rules, but they love ’em, too. Pull out any Germs or Black Flag or Minor Threat record and it’ll all sound like the White Album compared with any of Benumb’s superconsistent full-lengths. That makes “Oppressing Binds of Silence,” a track buried deep within Benumb’s third and latest full-length, By Means of Upheaval, as good an example as any. The under-two-minute Ashcroft-equals-Big Brother broadside is absolutely saturated with chugging guitar and dog-paddle drumming, both played so fast they blur into noise. And vocalist Pete Ponitkoff sounds more like an auctioneer than a metal god as he races to cram his wordy lyrics into the breakneck beats: “Regardless of failure that may surround/The present situation/The wanting need, want and desire to acquire/Freedom from the oppressing binds of silence.” It’s great fun, but the best track here is also the only one that breaks from this formula in any way. Sure, the speedy intro to the album-closing “Fixation of Complacent Self-Loathing” is indistinguishable from the rest of Upheaval. But then—about 25 minutes into the 22-song disc, to be exact—you get some true frisson: The band slows down and actually lets the music breathe a bit. Harmonics shoot out like bright sparks between
Sabbath-esque riffs, and the rhythm section busts into an honest-to-goodness groove. It’s hardly “My Generation,” but maximum R&B just doesn’t get any more maximum. —Brent Burton