Napalm Death are a grindcore band formed in Meriden, England in 1981. While none of its original members remain in the group, the lineup of vocalist Mark "Barney" Greenway, bassist Shane Embury, guitarist Mitch Harrisand drummer Danny Herrera has remained consistent for most of the band's career.
Napalm Death are credited with defining the grindcore genre by incorporating elements of hardcore punk anddeath metal, using a noise-filled sound that uses heavily distorted, down-tuned guitars, grinding overdrive bass, high speed tempo, blast beats, and vocals which consist of incomprehensible growls, or high-pitched shrieks, extremely short songs, fast tempos, deep guttural vocals and sociopolitical lyrics. The band's debut album Scum, released in 1987 by Earache Records, proved substantially influential throughout the global metal community.
Napalm Death have released fifteen studio albums and are listed by Nielsen SoundScan as the seventh best-selling death metal band in the United States.
Early history 1981–1986
Napalm Death were formed in the village of Meriden near Birmingham, in the United Kingdom, in May 1981 by Nic Bullen and Miles Ratledge while the duo were still in their early teenage years. The duo had been playing in amateur bands since 1980 as an extension of their fanzine writing, and went through a number of names (including "Civil Defence," "The Mess," "Evasion" and "Undead Hatred") before choosing Napalm Death in mid 1981. The band were initially inspired by the early wave of punk bands, particularly the anarcho-punk movement (a sub-genre of punk music focused on anarchist politics), and associated groups such as Crass.
The first stable line-up of the group consisted of Nicholas Bullen on vocals and bass, Simon Oppenheimer on guitar, and Miles Ratledge on drums, and lasted from December 1981 to January 1982. Graham Robertson joined on bass in January 1982. Simon Oppenheimer left the group in August 1982 and was replaced by Darryl Fedeski who left the group in October 1982: at this point, Graham Robertson began to play guitar and Finbarr Quinn (ex-Curfew) joined on bass and backing vocals. The group played concerts throughout 1982 (playing their first concert on July 25, 1982 at Atherstone Miners Club) and 1983 (sharing billing with anarcho-punk groups such as Amebix, The Apostles and Antisect), and made 4 demo recordings in 1982 and 1983, one of which contributed their first released recording to the Bullshit Detector Volume 3 compilation released by Crass Records in 1984.
The band entered a period of hiatus from the end of 1983 onwards, playing only one concert in 1984 (a benefit for striking mine workers) with additional vocalist Marian Williams (ex-Relevant POS, and sister of the drummer of the group Human Cabbages from Coventry, UK). During this period, Nic Bullen met Justin Broadrick, a guitarist from Birmingham with whom he shared an interest in the music of bands such as Killing Joke, Throbbing Gristle, Crass, Amebix, Swans, and the developing power electronics scene. Bullen joined Broadrick's Final project for a period in 1983.
In July 1985, Napalm Death briefly reformed in order to appear at a concert at the Mermaid in Birmingham which was also notable as the last concert by Final. The group consisted of a 4-piece line-up of Miles Ratledge - drums, Bullen - vocals, bass and guitar, Graham Robertson - guitar and bass, and Damien Errington - guitar. After this concert, Miles Ratledge and Bullen asked Broadrick to join Napalm Death as guitarist, with Bullen as vocalist and bass player. The band began to develop a musical style which blended elements of post-punk (particularly Killing Joke and Amebix), heavy hardcore punk in the vein ofDischarge, and thrash metal (with particular reference to Possessed and black metal group Celtic Frost).
The group played their first concert as a trio on 31 August 1985 (playing 2 concerts on the same day: Telford with Chumbawamba and Blyth Power, and Birmingham with We've Got a Fuzzbox and We're Gonna Use It), and began to play regularly in the Birmingham area (particularly at The Mermaid public house in the Sparkhill area of Birmingham) with a wide range of musicians including Icons of Filth, Concrete Sox, The Varukers, Indecent Assault, Decadence Within, and The Groundhogs.
In September 1985, Peter Shaw (ex-Autism) joined on bass. The 4-piece line-up recorded Hatred Surge (the band's 5th demo recording) on 23 October 1985 which the band made available at their concerts and by mail. Following the recording of the demo, Bullen and Broadrick wished to extend their exploration of a more extreme musical style which created a split in the group with Ratledge: as a result, the group splintered and Mick Harris (a local fan) was asked to join as drummer in December 1985.
The trio - Bullen on vocals and bass, Broadrick on guitar and Harris on drums - made their first performance on 15 December 1985 and went on to play many concerts in 1986, predominantly in the Birmingham area, with musicians such as Amebix, Antisect, Chaos UK, Varukers, Disorder and Dirge. The group recorded a 6th demo, From Enslavement to Obliteration, on 15 March 1986, which the group made available at their concerts and through mail, before making a 7th recording later that year, Scum, which was provisionally intended to form part of a split LP with the English hardcore band Atavistic on Manic Ears records. This recording later became the first side of the band's debut album Scum in 1987.
Cover for the Hatred Surge demo recording from 1985. From left-right: Justin Broadrick, Nicholas Bullen, Mick Harris
The band then faced a number of line-up changes. Nic Bullen was becoming frustrated with the musical direction of the group, and began to lose interest as a whole: as a result, Jim Whiteley was asked to join as bass player. The band played a number of concerts as a four-piece before Justin Broadrick left the group to play the drums for local bandHead of David. The group attempted to find a new guitarist by asking Shane Embury (ex-Unseen Terror and a fan of the group) to join and giving a trial period to Frank Healy (ex-Annihilator, later of Cerebral Fix and Sacrilege). After Broadrick's departure, Nic Bullen's dissatisfaction with the musical direction of the group led him to leave the group in December 1986 (in order to focus on his studies in English Literature and Philosophy at university).
The band promptly lost another member just before they undertook a short tour after the release of Scum. Jim Whiteley left the group (to join Ripcord) andShane Embury (former drummer of Unseen Terror) moved to bass. The band then appeared on two compilation records ('North Atlantic Noise Attack' and the 'Pathological Compilation'), recorded two Peel sessions and a split 7" with Japanese band S.O.B. They also returned to Rich Bitch studio once more and recorded their second album: From Enslavement to Obliteration.With the departure of Broadrick and Bullen, the band had to look for new members. Guitarist Bill Steer played in a band based in Liverpool, called Carcass and given the affinity between the bands, he joined Napalm Death while still playing an active role in Carcass. The band asked a friend (Lee Dorrian) to join as vocalist due to his good relationship with the band (he had organised a number of concerts for the band), even though he had never been in a band before. This line-up recorded the B side of the Scum LP at Rich Bitch studios in May 1987, and the album was released through Earache Records. Bill Steer also came third place on Decibel Magazine's"Top 20 Death Metal guitarists of all time."
A follow-up release to "Enslavement..." came in the form of the six song 12" EP "Mentally Murdered", which was to be the last recording with the Harris/Steer/Dorian/Embury line-up. This EP was recorded at the Slaughterhouse Studios and took on a slightly different sound, blending grindcore with death metal. Following the release, Napalm Death were featured on national television in the United Kingdom in a heavy metal special by Arena (BBC 2).
The band continued to tour, but as soon as they came back home from Japan, in July 1989, Steer and Dorrian left the band: Steer decided to dedicate himself full-time to Carcass, while Dorrian formed the doom metal group Cathedral. The group recruited Jesse Pintado (ex-Terrorizer) on guitar and Mark "Barney" Greenway (ex-Benediction) as vocalist. This line-up took part in the Grindcrusher tour organised by Earache Records and featuring fellow label-mates Carcass,Bolt Thrower and Morbid Angel. The group recruited Mitch Harris (ex-Righteous Pigs) as second guitarist after the tour.
In Florida, they started working on their next album, Harmony Corruption. While writing Harmony Corruption they changed their style a little, from grindcore, to a mix of blast beats and some slower, more rhythmic parts. In addition, death metal was a major influence on Harmony Corruption, more so than their previous records. After releasing the new record, they went on touring around the world and from the material filmed at those concerts they released a home-video, Live Corruption. Directed by noted metal director Steve Payne.
The band caught considerable flack from longtime fans in respect to the "death metal" sound and production of Harmony Corruption. Smarting from the accusations of selling-out by the British underground "elites", Napalm entered Eddie Van Dale's Violent Noise Experience Club in March of '91 to record six new tracks. These new songs, the "Mass Appeal Madness" 12" LP, had a much more raw grind quality to them, finding instant favour with fans. This recording, along with the "Mentally Murdered" 12", the spit 7" with S.O.B. and live tracks from Live Corruption, found a home on the Death by Manipulation CD.
Drummer Mick Harris - the only remaining member of the line-up that had played on the band's first album, Scum - eventually left Napalm Death because of conflicts regarding their musical style. Danny Herrera, a close friend to Jesse Pintado, was brought in to replace Mick. The addition of Herrera would be the last major line-up change of the band, save for Jesse Pintado's future absence, which has yet to be filled (and vocalist Phil Vane never recorded with the band). Napalm Death released a new record, Utopia Banished. Now working with producer Colin Richardson.
This release was a kind of "return to the roots" - grindcore. After recording The World Keeps Turning EP, the band toured Europe with Dismember and Obituaryon the "Campaign for Musical Destruction" tour. They then toured the US with Sepultura, Sacred Reich and Sick Of It All. The proceeds of Napalm Death's 1993 EP Nazi Punks Fuck Off were donated to anti-fascist organisations.
The band remixed the track "Mind Of A Razor" by London based hip hop crew Gunshot. The remixed version of the track appeared on the EP of the same name in 1992. Thereafter, they went to the studio and recorded Fear, Emptiness, Despair. Although it was still as heavy and aggressive as previous releases, the new record took a different direction and sounded more experimental; they added more rhythmic riffs, a groove-like structure, and then added grindcore blast beats. Live concerts with Entombed, Obituary and Machine Head showed the audience how violent and aggressive the new Napalm Death sound was. They continued with the experimentation through the rest of the 1990s.
Shane Embury from Napalm Death laying down his trademark buzzsawfuzz bass
The Greed Killing EP was the next release from the band, through Earache. After the preview with the EP, Diatribes, a full-length album was released. Although things seemed to be going smoothly from outside, they were going through problems. Misunderstanding rose between the members and singer Greenway was expelled from the band in late/mid 1996. Greenway went to record with Extreme Noise Terror (the ENT release Damage 381 features Barney on lead vocals) and ENT's main singer Phil Vane went to fill vocals slot in Napalm Death. Things did not go as well as they were supposed to, and Vane was kicked out of the band just before they got into the studio to record the new album. And so Greenway returned to Napalm Death.
The next albums Inside the Torn Apart and Words from the Exit Wound continued with the experimentation but displayed more signs of grindcore, notably faster tempos than the last two albums. This return was completed with the release of Enemy of the Music Business. It shows their anger with the music industry and especially with Earache. Order of the Leech continued where their previous album ended and can be seen as even more faster and aggressive.
In 2004, they recorded a covers album called Leaders Not Followers: Part 2, the sequel to their earlier covers EP. It contains covers of old hardcore punk and heavy metal bands, including Cryptic Slaughter, Massacre, Kreator,Sepultura, Siege and Discharge. Due to personal problems, Jesse Pintado did not play on either Order of the Leech orLeaders Not Followers: Part 2, and left the band in early 2004. Nevertheless Pintado stated that he left because he grew tired of Napalm Death and wanted to start something new. The two guitars that you hear is Mitch over-dubbing.
In April 2005, their next album The Code Is Red...Long Live the Code was released. It features guest appearances from Jeffrey Walker (formerly of Carcass), Jamey Jasta (Hatebreed vocalist) and Jello Biafra(formerly of Dead Kennedys, and Lard among many other bands). The album continued the band's progressive approach to their brutal brand of extreme metal, with their trademark grindcore sound retained.
Napalm Death finished recording their follow-up album titled Smear Campaign in June 2006, and it was released on 15 September 2006 to strong reviews from fans and critics alike. The main lyrical focus is criticism of the United States Government and other governments who are strongly religious. The album features a guest appearance by Anneke van Giersbergen, vocalist for the Dutch rock band The Gathering. There is a limited edition digipak version of Smear Campaign, which has two new songs, "Call That an Option?" and "Atheist Runt".
In early 2006 Napalm Death headlined a tour with Kreator, A Perfect Murder, and Undying. On 27 August 2006, Jesse Pintado died in a hospital in theNetherlands due to liver failure, prompting Mitch Harris to express his sadness at the loss of someone he thought of as "a brother" on the band's official website. After the Smear Campaign tour, the band did a 2007 "World Domination Tour". Bassist Shane Embury is currently working on a project with Mick Kenney ofAnaal Nathrakh, their work together will be released on FETO Records at the end of 2007. In November 2008, Napalm Death's fourteenth studio album, entitledTime Waits For No Slave, leaked onto the internet; it was officially released on 23 January 2009. Similar to Smear Campaign, Time Waits For No Slave also had a digipak version containing two extra songs ("Suppressed Hunger" and "Omnipresent Knife In Your Back").
In February 2011, Napalm Death appeared in an episode of E4's Skins. Napalm Death entered Parlour Studio in Kettering, with producer Russ Russell to begin working on a new album. Also in 2011, they recorded the single "Legacy Was Yesterday". Napalm Death released their fifteenth studio album, Utilitarian, on 27 February 2012 in Europe and 28 February in North America via Century Media. In March 2012, Napalm Death headlined the Metal Mayhem IV festival organized by "Defenders of Metal" in Nepal. This was the first time Napalm Death played in Nepal.
Napalm Death were scheduled to play a special one-off show at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, on 22 March 2013. The show was eventually cancelled at the Victoria and Albert Museum, due to concerns that the noise levels could damage parts of the museum; however, the show has been relocated to the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill, and is due to be performed on 29 November 2013. The performance will be a collaboration with ceramicist and Victoria and Albert Artist in Residence Keith Harrison. The show will feature 10 large-scale wooden speakers filled with liquid clay that will be left to solidify. When the band begins to play, the clay inside the speakers will vibrate, causing the speakers to crack and eventually explode.