There’s very little I could write about Napalm Death and their impact on popular culture that hasn’t already been written 1,000 times before. Not only are they one of the most extreme metal bands to ever come out of the UK, they’re also one of the few that your average man-on-the-street could name, thanks partially to their appearance in the legendary Arena documentary in the 90’s and John Peel’s support.
The purely “everything faster and louder” Napalm Death of those first couple of albums is very much a thing of the past though (and not just because of their notoriously fluctuating line-up). Napalm 2020 is a much more nuanced beast, a band that have stayed true to their original anarcho-punk ethics while not letting genre boundaries hold them back musically. That’s why, despite being a band for over 30 years, ‘Throes Of Joy In The Jaws Of Defeatism’ finds them still sounding fresh and inspired.
In recent interviews, vocalist Barney Greenway (AKA the nicest man in grindcore) has spoken about how the band channelled a lot of noise and industrial influences into their songwriting this time around, and it doesn’t take long for that to become apparent. ‘Joie De Ne pas Vivre’ mixes clattering industrial percussion with throbbing bass and a borderline black metal vocal, while ‘Invigorating Clutch’ starts off with some vaguely gothy atmospherics before settling into a mid-paced groove that recalls Big Black or Unsane. The single ‘Amoral’ is another example of the band not limiting themselves to traditional punk or metal styles. Described by the band as a “homage to pre-Scum Napalm Death”, the song wouldn’t be out of place on a Killing Joke album and is one of the catchiest things they’ve ever written.
That’s not to say that the band have abandoned their metal/hardcore roots. Opener ‘Fuck the Factoid’ is a blistering slice of classic grindcore, reminiscent of the bands ‘Enemy of the Music Business’ era. ‘Contagion’ (one assumes the title is an unhappy coincidence) draws influence from 80’s thrash and ‘Fluxing The Muscle’ mixes d-beat fury with a Crass-esque spoken word section.
One thing that is consistent throughout the album, and throughout the band’s career for that matter, is their dedication to speaking truth to power and drawing attention to the many ills of society. In extreme metal it can be a cliché for bands to want to seem malevolent or inhuman, whereas Napalm Death continue to wear their humanity on their sleeve, fighting for a better world rather than wallowing in the decline. Their anti-fascist, anti-capitalist and pro-animal politics have inspired a lot of people like me over the years and they’ve never yet let us down.
As the album comes to a close with a tidal wave of noise in the form of ‘A Belly Full of Salt and Spleen’ the listener is left not just feeling elated at the sheer force of the band, but also inspired and a little hopeful for what they continue to strive for.
Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism is out on September 18th via Century Media and can be ordered here.
Words: Dan Cadwallader