21 July 2015

Napalm Death - Scum

The album that invented a genre! Sounding like a fucking firefight, this album burst onto the scene and quickly built up a following thanks to it's mix of metal, punk, hardcore and whatever else it could lay it's hands on. This would then become known as a genre called "grindcore" - which within a few years, would then splinter and fragment into many sub-genres all within the grindcore umbrella, with the songs becoming shorter, faster and heavier. Such was the bands influence, that other bands of similar ilk would form. In fact, due to the amount of members that have been in this band, the various line-ups at one point look like some kind of extreme metal super-group. Members would leave to form other bands (most notably Godflesh, Cathedral, Carcass among others) and side-projects (most notably Meathook Seed and Defecation but you're best off Googling Shane Embury and taking it from there as it's a very extensive list).

As much as I would like to say that my first experience of Napalm Death involved listening to a tape-traded bootlegged copy of "Scum", a tape-traded bootleg of a live show or even a couple of John Peel sessions - possibly tape-traded, I'd be lying. My first experience was the album "Diatribes" (link here, along with blogs for other ND albums) when it was released in the mid-90's. Mind, it was tape-traded by a mate I went to college with. I know I've mentioned tape-trading quite a bit, but that's how music was passed around in those days, especially with the likes of file-sharing and streaming sites but a world away. Besides, quite a few of Napalm Death's influences were from the tape-trading scene. But I digress. It was during an episode of a popular TV music quiz show called Never Mind The Buzzcocks that I first heard the title track "Scum" as it was part of the show ("Guess The Lyrics" round, if I remember). After that, I went out and bought the album - it blew me away! Although the 90's stuff is great, this was a completely different beast altogether. Even more remarkable is the fact it was put together by two different line-ups of the band, one on each side. Because of this, the blog you are reading will be presented in a different format to what we're used to. But don't worry, normal service will be resumed.

Side A: Nik Bullen - vocals and bass, Justin Broadrick - guitar, Mick Harris - Drums.

Opening with the feedback-and-cymbal racket known as "Multinational Corporations" (a better version would be recorded for an EP later down the line), it switches right into "Instinct Of Survival" which manages to meld together both crust-punk and thrash in one unholy racket! The biggest shock was the vocals - an extremely rapid-fire guttural barked delivery, they tell us of how multinational corporations only care about profits instead of humanity. As is life. Then we're onto the twenty-three second long "The Kill", which just flays you alive! THEKILLAFTERDEATHTHEKILL!!! Believe me, the songs get shorter on this album. The title track follows next, and it's quite elaborate for this sort of thing. Starting with a slow, rolling intro, it threatens to break into something faster before going back to the same rolling-riff. It sharp all kicks off though - the verses appear to be the kind of grindcore delivery the band would become known for but inter sped with not only the rolling-riff but a mid-paced bridge too. It's quite elaborate, really. In fact, that seems to be the M.O of the band on this side, a mixture of stop-start riffs and arrangements. It's actually quite clever. Similar format for "Caught...In A Dream", a mixture of stop-start which would have went down a storm live. "Polluted Minds" just bulldozes its way through in a minute long blast of grindcore! "Sacrificed" is up next and does pretty much the same thing. Discordant mid-section though. Nice. Atmospheric. "Siege Of Power" comes in next and shows plenty of the bands hardcore punk influences. Before they became a mixture of full-on metal and whatever else, Napalm Death were heavily influenced by hardcore punk, the likes of Discharge and Crass. Proper punk instead of The Sex Pistols whose only goal was to make a lot of money for one man...nice mid-section in "Siege Of Power" where you can hear the feedback trying to escape. "Control" is up next and shows some of those hardcore punk influences we've just discussed. "Born On Your Knees" has a ragged opening before blasting into some fantastic grindcore! Same with "Human Garbage". Sounds all raggedy at the start but it then becomes this awesome song. Fantastic. Next is the infamous "You Suffer". The song, if you can call it that, is ONE SECOND LONG. It's just a thud of noise with YOUSUFFERBUTWHY??!! as the vocals! It was certainly a blast to hear this one.

So that was Side A (In old-school terms). After this was recorded, both Nik and Justin left the band (Nik was allegedly not happy with the direction the group was heading and Justin went to play drums for a band called Head Of David. After that, he formed Godflesh but that's another story), leaving only Mick Harris the drummer. He then recruited new members and did Side B, which we'll listen to now...

Side B: Lee Dorrian - vocals, Bill Steer - guitars, Jim Whitely - bass, Mick Harris - Drums.

This side opens up with a completely different tone compared to the first. It seems that the atmospherics provided previously have gone and in it's place is some kind of pissing contest as to who can play the fastest. The vocals are also more extreme as well. I think the guitar may have been tuned town a tad, The one thing we can be certain on is the overall songs are faster. But are they any good? Let's see...

"Life", "Prison Without Walls", "Point Of No Return" and "Negative Approach" as well as "Success?", "Deceiver" and "C.S" all roar past with startling ferocity. And - let's be honest here - all interchangeable from the other. A similar format to various other grind bands, which is fine, but in the confines of Napalm Death, it's a bit of a comedown as the first side showed more diversity and atmospherics but there you go. "Parasites", "Pseudo Youth" and "Divine Death" follow and these are slightly better. "Divine Death" in particular. Nice bit in the middle which sounds like the whammy bar of a guitar going down whilst down-tuned chords are played. This is so far, the highlight of Side B. "As The Machine Rolls On" and "Common Enemy" are both next - the former is continuing the Side B vibe of just bulldozing it's way through and the latter is almost like "The Kill" as it's sixteen seconds of savage fury. "Moral Crusade" then tries to bring some of that Side A vibe of atmosphere and feedback to the table amid a sea of whirlwind riffs and it succeeds. "Stigmatised", "M.A.D" and "Dragnet" are the final three of this album and they're OK. "M.A.D" is a good exercise of contrasting rhythms and the outro is all feedback and squeals before finally going into the aforementioned "Dragnet". A song to blow up your speakers to.

So all in all, on one hand we've got an excellent album and on the other, we've got an exercise in speed and brutality which borders every so slightly on self-indulgence and possibly self-parody. But, one thing we can be clear on - this was a groundbreaking album in 1987, a time where one had to look to the underground for stuff like this. Being featured on a TV show called Arena was also good for the bands profile. The band themselves are still going - albeit with zero original members - and continue to release music which is still as heavy and as experimental as to when they first started. I can recommend this album.

7/10 - This is good and well worth a check.

Top Track: Scum (Side A), Divine Death (Side B).

Chris J.


No idea if the album is on iTunes as I cannot get logged on right now...(EDIT: It is)

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