It’s a funny thing to say but, my discovery of Napalm Death in the late 1980s was similar to my discovery of Devo in 1978 – I had trouble listening to it without laughing. I wasn’t sure if they were serious – let’s admit that a one and a half second composition like “You Suffer” (see 1:20 to 1:22 in the link) skirts the boundaries of the term “novelty song”. But, as with Devo, the more I listened, the more it became evident that this was no joke, it was a new way of imagining rock and roll music. It’s not possible to think about it in terms of verses and choruses and you’re not likely to sing along with lyrics that read like “Existing for a purpose you’ll never find/ Inducements, distortions command your mind” but sound like “WUUURRRRRGH! OOOGA OOOGA OOGA! BLAAAAAAGGH!” If that vocal sound has become a cliché in years since, it doesn’t feel like one in the hands of its originators. More than thirty years after its formation in Birmingham, England, Napalm Death still stand out from the pack.
Their debut album, Scum, was produced by entirely different people than the ones onstage tonight, though the current lineup has been in place since 1991. In the years since their early albums changed the face of extreme metal, other acts have tried to overtake them in sheer brutality and extremity. But Napalm still exhibit a spiritual connection to the hardcore punk and noise merchants whose best traits they tried to combine when they invented this shit. And the best hardcore bands had tunes and hooks. They remain frighteningly fast and tight, but even at their most crazed moments, there’s still a melody, or suggestion of one, underlying the chaos.
Photo gallery and full review after the jump.
Were I still a pit-jumping kind of guy, this stuff would have had me foaming at the mouth, as it did for a healthy number on the House Of Blues floor. For the first three songs, the photo pit in front of the stage turned into a game of Human Whack-A-Mole for crowd surfers. Frontman Mark “Barney” Greenway has the look of a kid running around his room, jumping on the bed and throwing a shit fit, while bassist Shane Embury leans forward with the bass hanging off his broad shoulders, guitarist Mitch Harris bangs his head maniacally and drummer Danny Herrera flails his limbs at impossible speed. Napalm was one of the first to have that particular drum sound that suggests you could break a tequila bottle over the drummer’s head, throw a bag of ice and some limes at him, and have margaritas pouring out of the bass drum, and they continue to use it as a potent sonic weapon.
Much of their set revolved around their latest album Utilitarian but chestnuts from the old days were plentiful – the title track of “Scum”, their infamous, totally unrecognizable cover of “Nazi Punks Fuck Off”, and of course a note-perfect “You Suffer” among the highlights. I’m pretty sure I heard one or two tracks off From Enslavement To Obliteration whose titles I don’t know. But for the most part, having no idea what era of music they were playing didn’t matter, they sound like Napalm Death even as other styles are employed. I think they did one from what I’ve heard called their “groove-grind era” and I can see how fans might not have thought that was the right way to go, but as a brief interlude during a career-spanning set, it sounded fine. Bill Crooks from Cryptic Slaughter made a surprise appearance for a version of CS’ “Lowlife” that saw the pit setting turned up to “liquefy”.
I have to give it up for Napalm, they were flat out awesome, one of the most original and viscerally effective live bands I’ve ever seen.
Municipal Waste, a more recent band that sounds like it grew up on the music of my youth, offer a more palatable version of extremity for the modern generation. Much of their set came over like Slayer covering Black Flag’s most fist-pumping, shout-along repertoire, think “Six Pack” with arpeggios and double-kick drums. And the songs are pretty solid, one after the next sounds like a hit. Why should LMFAO have the market cornered on party music? Crossover metal needs its own version of the Macc Lads or Murphy’s Law, Gang Green could only take it so far, you know.
The audience was even more fanatical for this set, leaping over the barricades in droves. “Hey Mr. Security guy, how you doing?”, asked singer Tony Foresta, gesturing with his mic. “Oh he says he wants more crowd surfing!” I must have been taking a piss when they reportedly goaded the crowd into doing the “wall of death” that I used to witness in Trenton, in which the entire audience links arms and moves back in unison to clear the floor, then runs at the stage as fast as they can. I saw little girls at a Murphy’s Law show flattened by skinheads as a result of this activity so I can’t say I’m a fan of it, if it’s true.
Then again, these pits today aren’t quite the extravaganza of broken bones I saw regularly in the 80s so maybe their Wall of Death is less punishing. It’s a party crew that seemed to be more interested in grabbing you by the arm and twirling around the room bumping into things while singing along to “The Inebriator” or “Born To Party” or “Beer Pressure” or “You’re Cut Off” or “Thrashing’s My Business… And Business Is Good” or even “The Art Of Partying.”
Reading that setlist, it’s hard not to think about Key & Peele’s LMFAO-related sketch last week in which, faced with a 24-hour hour party that just don’t stop, after eight or nine days, those two guys eventually go insane and kill themselves – you can’t party THAT much. But as a friend once told me about singing the line “I wanna rock and roll all night and party every day” with sincerity even when you have to get up for work in the morning, you don’t have to really DO it, you just have to WANT it.
Bay Area hardcore holdouts the Dwarves put on the tightest, strongest set of killers I’ve ever seen from them. The new rhythm section of bassist Nick Oliveri and drummer Gregory Pecker is just beautifully strong-yet-flexible while Blag Jesus has remained an effective, and as one audience member yelled out, “creepy” presence at the mic. “I’m an old man that wants to fuck you, baby, it don’t get any creepier than that!” was the singer’s response.
While the band has restrained its potential for sudden, awesome violence on stage – the fifteen-minute set I saw them do at the Garage in 1989 was downright manic, if not quite Fearless Leader-level frightening – it has instead done the more interesting thing of getting good, sustaining a level of musical power that makes the listeners want to do all that crazy shit without the band members having to do it to each other. And they’re now crisp enough musically to fit in on a bill with double-kick metal bands without getting heckled. Don’t miss them in their current incarnation – they’re that rare band that got famous twenty plus years ago that might be doing its best stuff now.
Napalm Death set list:
Errors in the Signals
Can’t Play, Won’t Pay
Silence Is Deafening
The Wolf I Feed
Practice What You Preach
When All Is Said and Done
Nom de Guerre
(Cryptic Slaughter cover)
Suffer the Children
Breed to Breathe
Nazi Punks Fuck Off
(Dead Kennedys cover)
Instinct of Survival
Municipal Waste set list:
Headbanger Face Rip
You’re Cut Off
Thrashing’s My Business… And Business Is Good
Wolves of Chernobyl
The Fatal Feast
The Monster With 21 Faces
Unleash the Bastards
Born to Party
The Art of Partying