The evolution of extremity with Napalm Death
Though it would be appropriate to preface any discussion of UK grindcore trailblazers, Napalm Death, as legendary; the description steers the conversation in the wrong direction.
In examining the band’s body of work ahead of their sixteenth studio release, Throes of Joy In the Jaws of Defeatism, it seems natural to articulate their enduring influence that has carried over for decades. That sort of past-tense focus however, just doesn’t align with an entity that is only concerned with forward-thinking.
Career, brand, legacy, these conventional talking points are in fact, the very opposite of how Napalm Death navigate their continued creative yield. Receptive to spontaneity, enamored with the abrasive, and rooted in their conviction, Napalm Death has spent over three decades cultivating a reputation synonymous with extremity. Their continued evolution and commitment to dismantling the cliches of aggressive music is why their legacy certainly matters, but their persistent relevance merits the heft of the conversation.
The band’s voice in Mark "Barney" Greenway is never one to mince his words. The ever articulate frontman addressed the totality of Napalm from a unique vantage point. “I have never considered this a career. Referring to this as a career implies this sense of “I’ll fulfill my job duties and then I’ll move on’ and that’s just not what this is,’ explained Greenway.
“Napalm has always been about vibrancy and spontaneity. We’ve never really encouraged that idea of legacy because we are more concerned with progression. If we put out a new record, we are going to play new songs from that record,” continued Greenway. “Relying on nostalgia expresses a sense that ‘clearly their new stuff isn’t that good.”
Therein lies the a portion of the anomaly that is Napalm Death. Decades deep, with an extensive catalog to boot, the band still manages to one-up themselves. Five years since the release of Apex Predator… Easy Meat, the band has taken the extended break in between releases to mount a charge that plainly reiterates their importance in the lexicon of heavy music.
Throes of Joy In the Jaws of Defeatism embraces a comprehensive approach in crafting confrontational music. The arsenal of audio offers a stylistic assortment that includes the the staples of metal, grind and punk, accented with the ambient and elements of post punk. While some would consider the dynamics a sort of experimentation, Greenway again explains the importance of defying expectation.
“There are more than two strands to the notion of extremity. We see extremes in the unconventional. We look at bands like Sonic Youth, Joy Division, and My Bloody Valentine,” said Greenway. “There are no rules here. The only criteria is that it’s abrasive, it’s confrontational, and that it’s delivery is extreme.” Greenway added, “People tend to think of Napalm as a metal band and that is just a very narrow definition.”
If there was ever anything predictable about a Napalm record, it would be the notion of confrontation. During a time when the societal fractures are at their worst, the entirety of Napalm’s catalog is a collection of protest music that has always been keenly aware of the world on a macro level, and while the current reality vindicates the band, their endgame would suggest that vindication is irrelevant.
While the music is steeped in angst, there is always a sense of metaphor that warrants further examination. Napalm aim to agitate and make no apologies for being angry but the strategy has always been to affect change. Greenway explained, “To just be constantly angry doesn’t present any solution. You have to offer some kind of antithesis. Coming from a place of pure anger contributes to the circle of violence that never encourages any real progress.” The vocalist continued, "We have ideas that are very humanitarian. We present those ideas on the table and hopefully people chew them up. Ultimately though, you can’t influence how people consume your music.”
Maintaining their sense of integrity while evolving in their artistry is at least in part why Napalm Death has never needed to rely on nostalgia. While Throes of Joy… offers instances of what propelled Napalm to prominence (reference scorchers like “Fuck the Factoid” and “That Curse of Being In Thrall”) the record ads to the archive with alternative departures like the post-punk heavy “Amoral” and the menacing descent of “A Bellyful of Salt and Spleen.” The recorded effort is signature Napalm Death but don’t dare refer to it as a brand.
“I hate terms like ‘brand’ and ‘product,’ reiterated Greenway. Those kinds of terms suggest that this is synthetic and this band has always been a living, breathing thing. I would get out of this thing tomorrow if it ever became that.”
Approaching the band with that kind of reverence underscores why relevance continues to supersede legacy when it pertains to Napalm Death. The band’s contributions are historic, yet they continue to assert themselves among heavy music’s contemporaries.
Napalm are pioneering provocateurs and some three decades later, the band still remains ahead of the curve when it comes to crafting extreme art. The band dodges cliches and manages to connect with generations of fans that are either reaffirmed or newly-convinced. “It’s not a surprise that our music reaches a younger generation, confides Greenway. “There is effort to discredit younger people like, ‘they don’t know what they are doing’ and yes, they fucking do. They have a keen awareness and they are discerning with what they consume,” defends the frontman.
He punctuates the idea with the following, “Nothing should be generation-specific.”
While the reality is that most everything is finite within a generation, Napalm Death remains the exception. Legacy seems to imply a heyday and evidently, Napalm Death just hasn't hit it's peak yet. If there is any dispute, Throes of Joy In the Jaws of Defeatism serves as an emphatic statement that reiterates that fact.
Evolved in extremity, substantiated in its confrontation, and articulately abrasive in a way that commands attention - Napalm clearly continue to lead from the front.
Pre-order Throes of Joy In the Arms of Defeatism HERE