Napalm Death


A napalm death is the worst way to go. Flaming gasoline-infused jelly soaks into your skin and cooks you alive. Your flesh boils off the bone, your eyeballs melt, and your brain explodes. Napalm kills. Death delivers. Screaming won't save you because no one will hear you over blasphemous blasts of pain and suffering.

Napalm Death live up to their name, but there is so much more to them than you may imagine.The word legendary is often applied in in exaggerated terms to bands who really don't deserve the accolade. It is a word which can only be used in conjunction with something groundbreaking, something that changes the rules, something that influences others leaving an indelible mark. Napalm Death are true legends of the extreme music scene - few can claim to have achieved so much and yet remained cutting edge with each release.

Originating from Birmingham, England in the early 80's, the line up for side one of their 'Scum' debut of 1986 (Mick Harris (drums), Justin Broadrick (guitar), Nik Bullen (bass/vocals) had already gone through many changes. It changed once again for side two of 'Scum', with Broadrick departing for Head of David and later Godflesh, to be replaced by Bill Steer, Bullen replaced by Jim Whitely, and one Lee Dorrian taking over vocal duties.

Finally released in 1987, 'Scum' did phenomally well for all its anti-commercial ferocity, and the band set out on their first tour of any length. However, there was more line up switch, with Shane Embury replacing Whitely on bass, before this more concrete line up went on to record a string of uncompromising releases (two John Peel Radio sessions, tracks on the 'North Atlantic Noise Attack' and 'Pathological' compilations, and an infamous Napalm/SOB split flexi) that saw them through to August 1989, establishing themselves as the foremost grindcore act. But, no-one could have predicted the mind shattering 'From Enslavement to Obliteration' LP, featuring a staggering 54 tracks on CD, often lasting no more than a matter of seconds and completely turning the musical rule book on its head. The Napalm Death steamroller gathered momentum, and a six track 12" 'Mentally Murdered' gained the band further acclaim and notoriety.

Various television appearances followed, including the bands domineering presence on BBC 2's 'Arena Heavy Metal Special', and Napalm began venturing further afield from the typical European circuit. In July '89 they embarked on a highly successful Japanese tour, but the escalating recognition could not prevent another split in the ranks upon their return, as Dorrian and Steer decided they'd had enough. Both found success with new projects, Cathedral and Carcass respectively, whilst instant replacements were drafted in, with Mark 'Barney' Greenway (ex-Benediction) coming in on vocals, and Jesse Pintado from grind supremos Terrorizer coming in on guitar.

In a flurry of activity, the band immediately embarked upon the UK and European Grindcrusher tour alongside Bolt Thrower, Carcass and Morbid Angel, and then flew out for their first American show in New York. Into the Nineties and all efforts were directed at recording the new LP, and a second guitarist was drafted in in the shape of Mitch Harris, ex of Righteous Pigs. This unit recorded 'Harmony Corruption' at Morrisound in Florida. Another 12", 'Suffer the Children' displayed the bands change in emphasis to a more Death Metal style. Although the album proved to be their most successful to date, the band felt that the production on 'Harmony...' was a little too clinical. Finding themselves in between tours, the band went into a tiny studio in Birmingham and recorded four new tracks for the 'Mass Appeal Madness' EP, which possessed a thick wall of rawness and the heaviest all round sound yet.

Napalm Death had toured massively worldwide by mid-'92, and with all the pressures associated with that lifestyle led to a rift between Mick Harris and the rest of the band. Deciding to leave, Harris founded the successful ambient dub outfit Scorn, whilst his vacant place was filled by Danny Herrara, whose first live gig was in front of 3000 fans in Germany. An extensive US jaunt with Sepultura, Sacred Reich and Sick of It All followed, together with a short trip to Russia, playing to a combined audience of 14000 over two shows.

Back in the studio, the band unleashed 'Utopia Banished', the fourth full length LP, a record full of new found intensity. Another 12" was culled, this time the three track 'The World Keeps Turning.' Uniting with Obituary and Dismember the band trekked across Europe once again as part of the 'Campaign for Musical Destruction' tour. This continued into the States with Carcass, Cathedral and Brutal Truth. Other notable live dates followed as support with Faith No More in Holland, before a trip to South Africa in 1993. A compilation, 'Death By Manipulation' was also issued, featuring the best of Napalm Death to date.

Returning from the highly charged atmosphere of South Africa, Napalm recorded a cover of the Dead Kennedy's 'Nazi Punks Fuck Off' as a 7" , with all proceeds going to Anti-Nazi organisations. To this date it has sold over 10,000 copies. More dates took place in Canada, before it was time once again to return to the studio.

Originally called 'Under Rule', the result of all the hard work became 'Fear Emptiness Despair', a fitting title for an album of such brooding intensity. Fans and critics alike acclaimed it as Napalm's finest hour, and live slots with Entombed, Obituary and Machine Head brought the power to hungry audiences. Then, with the latest album 'Diatribes' released in January '96, Napalm Death bluntly accepted the challenge laid down by the new breed of Nineties metal acts - and threw it back in their faces.

Bassist Shane Embury, speaking at the time, was typically enthusiastic about the record's prospects: "We've been taking influences from everywhere, and using them to get a more mature sound," he relates. "It's interesting to see what gets people moving in the clubs and at gigs, and we've noticed that what gets them going is songs with a good structure, something they can dance to - although we're not about to write any pop songs. It's just that we're into what bands like Smashing Pumpkins and Jane's Addiction do with their songs, and we draw on that and just make it a lot heavier."

'Diatribes' certainly retained all of Napalm Death's trademark power, but a certain maturity had developed into a tightly focussed idea of what the band can achieve. Most importantly, the album proved that Napalm Death today are as relevant as they'd always been. Lengthy touring of Europe, America, Australia and Japan ensued, but band tensions seemed to be running high. These fears were recognised in November '96, when the band revealed that they had replaced long-term vocalist Barney with Phil Vane from Extreme Noise Terror. A split EP with Coalesce emerged in January 1997, seemingly marked the end of Barney's career in the band, but the partnership with Vane was short lived as during the 'Inside the Torn Apart' recording sessions Barney was dramatically re-instated.

Re-energised the band attacked the recording of the new album with new verve, completing sixteen crushing songs in double quick time. The suitably ironically titled 'Inside the Torn Apart' can be seen as the result of creative tensions working to the maximum effect. With the turmoil within the band out in the open, each individual member seemed determined to let the music do the talking. From the opening salvo of 'Breed to Breathe' and 'Birth In Regress' to the morosely twisted ending of 'The Lifeless Alarm', the album sees Napalm Death firmly looking to the future, and finally laying to rest tired accusations that they had seen better days.