With UK grindfathers Napalm Death about to drop their 16th album, there seemed no better time to look back across the bands storied and long history, via five of what I consider to be some of their most pivotal and influential work. Whilst none of the original members of the band remain from their birth in 1981, the main core of the band as it is today, bassist Shane Embury, vocalist Barney Greenway and drummer Danny Herrera, have been in place since 1991. Without the Birmingham grind stalwarts it’s hard to picture what the UK extreme music landscape would look like. In fact their influence is so much wider-reaching than that, having influenced countless bands across the globe.
As a fan myself for around 30 years, writing this piece is not only a privilege but an incredibly tough task narrowing it down to just 5 albums but here we go!
Whilst 1988s ‘From Enslavement To Obliteration’ is a more cohesive and arguably better album than ‘Scum’, there is no doubt that the debut album is infinitely more of a pivotal moment in not only the band’s history, but the entire grindcore landscape. The two sides of the album were recorded by almost entirely different lineups, drummer Mick Harris being the only mainstay through the album. The first side features the only album recording featuring founding member Nick Bullen on bass and vocals and future Godflesh figurehead Justin Broadrick on guitar. Side 2 sees them replaced by Carcass guitar player Bill Steer, former Unseen Terror member Shane Embury on bass and future Cathedral frontman Lee Dorian on vocals. And it’s not just the veritable who’s who of UK extreme music featured here than makes this album important, but tracks like ‘The Kill’, title track ‘Scum’ and the infamous, under-two-second shotgun blast that is ‘You Suffer’ deliver a real punch and are still often included in live sets over 30 years later. Sure the production is scruffy (the first side was really only recorded as a demo) and the sonic difference between the 2 line-ups can be a little jarring but the venom and lyrical awareness the band are famed for are all here in their rawest form.
UTOPIA BANISHED (1992)
By the time this album had arrived in 1992, bassist Shane Embury was the only member from ‘Scum’ still left. Two years prior had seen the first appearances on record of former Benediction frontman Mark ‘Barney’ Greenway, former Righteous Pigs member Mitch Harris and Terrorizer’s Jesse Pintado both on guitar. They had recorded ‘Harmony Corruption’ which ruffled more than a few fans with its more death metal approach and production (courtesy of Florida death metal production legend Scott Burns at the infamous Morrisound studios). ‘Utopia Banished’ saw new drummer Danny Herrera brought on board and a return to a more grind aesthetic, a return started by the preceding EP ‘Mass Appeal Madness’. Colin Richardson’s production here is definitely still more from the metal realm, as opposed to the early and more raw sounding releases, but doesn’t muffle or swamp the overall viciousness of tracks like ‘I Abstain’ and ‘The World Keeps Turning’. Often overlooked due to being sandwiched in between two quite polarising releases, ‘Utopia Banished’ is an underrated and vital burning missive from the band.
From 1994 to 2000 saw a lot of change for the band, the bands iconic logo change, Barney briefly left the band, and the band explored a more groove styled background for four albums in varying levels. None were a more distinct departure for the band than ‘Diatribes’. As much as ‘Harmony Corruption’ polarised fans, it pales in comparison to the commotion this album caused. Predecessor ‘Fear, Emptiness, Despair’ had introduced a lot more groove than previously heard from the band, but this released grabbed the bull by the horns and ran with it. There were still hallmarks of the band’s sound there, not least Barney’s distinct vocals, but there was something missing. Sure, songs like ‘My Own Worst Enemy’, ‘Greed Killing’ and ‘Dogma’ are great, but the album lacked the punch and vitriol the band were famed and revered for. Barney left briefly after the album, only to return before the next album ‘Inside the Torn Apart’, which along with ‘Words From The Exit Wound’ both still contained elements of the groove but in an increasingly more diluted form.
ENEMY OF THE MUSIC BUSINESS (2000)
Driven by the probable anger from a bitter divorce from long time label Earache, Napalm Death burst in to the new millennium on fire. ‘Can’t Play, Won’t Pay’ exemplifies the band’s distain for corporate influence on the music industry and how they continue to work to defy it. The band never sounded so pissed off and we all got to benefit from it. Front to back this is as cohesive as the band has ever been. ‘Necessary Evil’ grabs some of that 90’s groove yet loses nothing in the anger stakes. From this album onwards Napalm Death haven’t made so much as a misstep. Working with Russ Russell has been something of a masterstroke, you can hear that he obviously really understands the band better than anyone they’ve ever worked with before and draws the very best from them. ‘Enemy of The Music Business’ through to 2009’s ‘Time Waits for No Slave’ is a run of vital grindcore that few bands could ever hope to match. Alas, on a sad note, this album was the last to feature long time guitarist Jesse Pintado, who left the band in 2002 and unfortunately passed away in 2006.
APEX PREDATOR – EASY MEAT (2015)
The band have never been ones to fear experimentation and their influences have always been far more wide-reaching than first impressions may give. 2012’s ‘Utilitarian’ brought the band into their 4th decade in screaming glory and hinted at a level of experimentation of a band ready to further spread their already impressive wingspan. ‘Apex Predator – Easy Meat’ took it a step further. Don’t fear though, the band are still pissed off and songs like ‘Smash a Single Digit’ grind as hard as the band ever have, just expect influences from the likes of Industrial and post-punk to crop up throughout. Napalm Death’s refusal to stand still or burn out is probably one of their finest qualities and as long as the band have the desire to carry on, it’s hard to see them slowing down. Early signs from stand alone 7” ‘Logic Ravaged by Brute Force’ are incredibly promising for the 16th album and Barney Greenway continues to be one of the finest and most aware social commentators in music. If any band is capable of 20 relevant and quality albums, then it's Napalm Death.
'Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism' is out 18th September via Century Media