Napalm Death, the godfathers of grind, are one of only a handful of surviving acts that can genuinely be classed as pioneers of extreme music. Gary Trueman takes a look at the band and chatted to vocalist Mark ‘Barney’ Greenway about the importance of speaking out and why new album Throes Of Joy In The Jaws Of Defeatism is a reflection of the world today.
Born in the midlands village of Meriden near Coventry Napalm Death have succeeded in popularising extreme music like no other. Their debut album ‘Scum’ sent shock waves racing through the entire music scene. It wasn’t just metal that wouldn’t be the same it was everything. Gone were the constraints imposed by artificial boundaries known as genres, gone was the notion that experimental had to mean trippy psychedelia. At last heavy music had its very own Pink Floyd, a band that were not only fierce but that had something to say too. Grindcore had been born.
“I think it’s just a natural enthusiasm for the art. I’m as enthusiastic now as I was when I joined in 1989. I have to be. I just think the enthusiasm keeps us going, the chemistry and the ideas, and the fertility of our song writing. We don’t restrict ourselves in things we can give a Naplam twist to, to make them really extreme. That’s what we do. There’s plenty for us to work with so we keep on rolling.”
Those early days saw a few line up changes but for the last three decades things have been rock solid stable. This enabled the band to build on that first success with consistently progressive and meaningful work. In a way they became a radar alerting fans to world issues and injustices. Napalm Death spoke out and that meant they became targets for racist groups, particularly in the US.
“The worst thing that anybody has done to us is more physical stuff. Getting into fights with people on US tours in the 90s, like really hard core racist people. And having really scary things happen like having a cloakroom blown up by a neo Nazi group. I wasn’t overly scared by those things even though I probably should have been.”
Thankfully more recent times have proved less directly confrontational, but that hasn’t altered the writing process or the need to speak out. These days with instant access to all corners of the world people are more aware than ever of what is happening, and more aware of issues highlighted by Napalm Death.
“The thing with Napalm is I think it’s really important to be able to reflect something current. I always try to make my stuff specific and I think it’s really important to broach those subjects now because this is something that’s always been there but now we’re at the point where it’s gone up a level.”
Their latest work Throes Of Joy In The Jaws Of Defeatism retains all that fans love about the band. It is as you’d expect a brutal set of songs. There are differing textures though, the writing and arrangements keep you more than interested. It sends an important message too, now more than ever that is so important, and Napalm have stepped up.
“We have governments in Europe, especially eastern Europe that are not only using dehumanising language but have got dehumanising policies in place. This is serious shit. Dehumanise people, then make scapegoats out of them so the local and national population will start to hate them, then the step on from there is of course violence, oppression and in the end murder, and mass murder. So this is not inconsequential stuff. It’s really serious and it really needs people to understand it, and stand against it. Learn the lessons of history. These are fellow human beings you’re talking about.”
Well over thirty years in the business and sixteen wonderful albums later the lads from Black Sabbath country are still going strong. Thank you Napalm Death, we hope you continue to shine a light for a long time to come.
A full interview with Barney will appear in Devolution magazine issue 48.