Barney and Shane of Napalm Death at House Of Blues. All photos by Bob Lee for the LA Beat.
This winter’s Through Space And Grind tour brought together Napalm Death and Voivod, two of metal’s most forward-thinking bands circa 1988, both of whom are still thriving almost thirty years later thanks to a remarkable ability to evolve while remaining true to their core essence. In the case of Voivod that essence leans toward the precision and complexity of progressive rock, while Napalm are so extreme as to be the John Cage to Voivod’s Stravinksy, destroyers of tradition, seekers of total, rootless, raw expression with no concession to traditional ideas of melody, time or any of that bullshit.
But in the pairing, which drew a near-capacity crowd to House of Blues, one could see a certain shared aesthetic, a rejection of the kind of boneheadedness you get from a lot of metal bands. Neither on relies on any cliches except for their own, and the lyrics reveal a humane consciousness beneath these brutal sounding expressions, with no particular fondness for Satan, nor partying. They might very well be vegetarians. I’ll bet they argue across the aisle about 20th century literature and the effects of imperialism the tour bus.
It was Voivod’s first trip to Los Angeles, if I’m not mistaken, since the 2003 Ozzfest tour, a journey I declined to make and always regretted given that it was the last time founding guitarist Piggy, God rest his soul, played near LA. New guitarist Daniel Mongrain, with the group since 2008, plays the old songs with reverence, and adds his own passion and invention to the new material, though it must be said, it all sounds exactly like Voivod should sound. Snake is one of my favorite lead singers of the form, he delivers his lines with the intensity of the French castle guards from Monty Python And The Holy Grail. And the band’s sole constant, drummer Michel “Away” Langevin, is one of the virtuosos of the craft, as well as the ideas-man, and it’s a pleasure to see him work up close. (I’m going to miss the House Of Blues Sunset when it closes in July, it’s by far the best sounding venue for hardcore or extreme metal in town.)
Napalm Death are sometimes said “not to have slowed down in their old age”, but I’m not sure, I think that version of the 3-second classic “You Suffer” might have been bloated out to five seconds. “We tried out an extensive buildup that time, do you think it worked,” asked singer Mark “Barney” Greenway, the answer that came back was, “Somewhat.”
That’s okay. The band have had to undergo a break in their rather impressive run of 22 years with essentially the same lineup (with the exception of unreplaced second guitarist Jesse Pintado, RIP), as guitarist Mitch Harris is on hiatus due to a family illness. Erik Burke filled Harris’ place quite impressively. This is the kind of music it’s hard to imagine sitting down and learning, it’s so explosive yet micro-timed. These guys don’t give up easily; singer Mark “Barney” Greenway’s left arm was in a cast, but luckily he can hold a mic with his right. Honestly, this band plays at a default setting so fast, I don’t think the human brain would notice if they did slow down several beats per minute- it’s a sound so fast, only dogs can slam to it. There’s a time and place for everything, and sometimes, it’s time for Napalm Death and nothing else will do. Sunday was one of those nights, a blessed opportunity to let ourselves get thrown in the blender for an hour or so, sent home clarified and free from debris.
Also on the bill, some enjoyable but non-descript death metal from Exhumed, and the junkyard-punk good time music of Iron Reagan, in which Municipal Waste singer Tony Foresta gets even sillier than usual. They’re no SOD, but they seemed like fun from the few minutes we caught.