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Class 6(66)

Napalm Death: From enslavement to obliteration

29/11/11  ||  Habakuk

Introduction

One good thing about reviewing Class666 bands is that many of them don’t need a lengthy introduction.

“- Oi chummer, you know this super obscure band from Birmingham? They’re called Napalm Death and invented grindcore!”

“- This is that new scene music?! I could lose my eardrums listening to this. Who the hell dripped this lot of nonsense out? Pull the chain on this one. How many people listen to this and… enjoy? Oh you’ve got to be joking.”

Nailbomb quotes aside, this shit has been around for more than 20 years now and if you don’t know it yet, get off your ass and buy – for example – this album. It is a damn good example though, and here comes why:

Songwriting

At times there’s hardly any progression from “Scum” in terms of how the songs work. So, there are a lot of short, fast, intransparent blocks of noise with grunted syllables spat towards the listener on top of them. However, when comparing the two albums as a whole, there is a noticeable reduction in redundancy, which can only be attributed to the band getting, well, better. This is even more clear in the (to me) shining moments of the disc where the simplistic riffing in the vein of “Siege of power” is put in the spotlight, driving the song onward with pure, unstoppable, filthy hatred. Find me a better intro riff than the ones to “Unchallenged Hate” and “From Enslavement to Obliteration” and there will be cake. That, combined with the otherwise almost endless barrage of <1 minute noise assaults with the odd killer passage woven in ("Display to me", "Mentally murdered") makes this album noteworthy despite its genre-creating predecessor. So, while "Scum" is the somewhat official foundation of the genre, "FETO" marks its definition. Technically, grind could pretty much have ended after this. Breaking news: It didn't. Just for the haters to go on hatin' and for the rest to enjoy everything from Repulsion to Insect Warfare. 9

Production

While it’s obviously still very lo-fi, the production has moved away slightly from the scraping sound of the debut, with a bit of grit trimmed off the guitars’ edges, less fuzz surfacing from Shane Embury’s four-string (don’t worry, it’s still there), and a little bit more punch to the drums. It works very much in favor of the few more memorable, riff-focused songs, while blurring the punkish outbursts as well as the rank and file grind numbers a bit, which gives those a bit less personality than on “Scum”. If you are here for the sound, however, don’t even bother picking one of those two albums, but get the fantastic Peel Sessions on Grind Madness at the BBC. Early Napalm Death really doesn’t get better than that. 6

Guitars

The presence of absolutely epic riffs I have already mentioned, so what else is there to say about Bill Steer’s performance? Well, we could say he definitely didn’t put the well-being of his instrument before the music. Constant, fast-paced, violent hardcore punk rooted three-note riffwork fills the album from start to finish. Compromise there is not, and much to dissect there isn’t either. Take my word for it, it works like a charm. 8.5

Vocals Lee Dorrian had a bad-ass growl for this kind of music, and his gargling high-pitched screams are also something that needs to be experienced. At times his bark is so powerful it seems he’s got the microphone in his mouth, and he didn’t shy away from simply trashing a few syllables in order to keep the grindsauce flowing – but yes, with the booklet in hand and a bit of fantasy to fill these holes, you can actually make out some lyrics. Also, Mick Harris screams “yeeeeeeees” in the background at the end of “Retreat to nowhere”. I thought you should know. 8.5
Bass

There are low frequencies and a buzzing drone somewhere in the background. That’s your bass. It does what bass does. Fuzz lovers go for “Scum” or “Horrified” instead. 6

Drums

Two words: Mick Fucken Harris. This guy has got to be one of my all-time fave drummers, just because of his playing intensity and personal style. You simply have to love his spastic alternating hi-hat / crash blast (and believe me it’s put to good use here) or the trademark delayed last snare hit in slow patterns (check “Unchallenged Hate”, right at 0:13). What’s new on “FETO” in comparison to the debut are a few bits and pieces that were merely hinted at on “Scum”, and those are the more thought-out deviations from the standard blast / slow formula – Such as the brilliant double snare hit pattern that beats “Display to me…” forward, or the awesome use of double bass during the break in “Mentally murdered” – it really shows that this is one-of-a-kind of playing. Listen to any re-recording of this song and it simply isn’t the same. The guy was one of the innovators of grind drumming, and to me, though far from tight, he’s pretty much unmatched until today. 10

Lyrics

Once you’ve accepted the fact that you can’t understand shit, you’ll eventually go ahead and read the fucken booklet. What happens then can be puzzling but possibly an eye-opener of sorts – I mean, why would they even bother about lyrics at all if they are rendered absolutely incomprehensible by their delivery? I think the lyrical direction of the radically anti-establishment texts provides an answer to this: a) putting the question of how it sounds above comprehensibility further strengthens the whole “point” of the early grind band Napalm Death, which in my book is exploring the musical path to total defiance of everything “socially accepted”. This reflects in the lyrics as well. b) it exposes the band’s punk roots and shoes how even through the process of defying musical rules, the interest to deliver a plethora of messages (green, feminist, anarchist, pacifist, anti-anything corporate, you name it) has prevailed. And if you are not interested in all these theoretical bendings, this sentence is for you: the lyrics are strongly leftist, cynical, to the point and well-written. 9

Cover art

In the vein of “Scum”, with more corpses, but less skulls and corporations. And the dude in the middle looks like some 80s TV show host desperate about his forthcoming commercial demise. It’s kind of typical for the style, but there’s nothing wrong with it either, except for not looking too cool. 6

Logo

I must admit I never really liked this one. 4

Booklet

5. It’s got thank yous and lyrics, except for a the last few songs that are listed without them, for no apparent reason. That and a few band member pics, including one of Shane Embury at the age of 17 or something, and one of Mick Harris with his tongue out, which saves this from getting mere 5 points. 6

Overall and ending rant

If you like grind, there is no way around having this disc in your collection, although I give you that the “Peel Session” recordings of these songs sound better, as said before somewhere. Nothing beats the combination of BBC studio money and one-take recordings. Still, without straying much from the landmark album “Scum”, but solid progression, there is nothing that anyone with an interest in the genre could be deterred by on “FETO”. Curiously enough, this is actually Napalm Death’s last grind album – still, they kept their reputation of being “the” grind band until today, 23 years after its release. This should tell you enough about just how awesome this is.

9

  • Information
  • Released: 1988
  • Label: Earache
  • Website: Napalm Death MySpace
  • Band
  • Lee Dorrian: vocals
  • Bill Steer: guitars
  • Shane Embury: bass
  • Mick Harris: drums
  • Tracklist
  • 1. Evolved as one
  • 2. It’s a M.A.N.S World!
  • 3. Lucid fairytale
  • 4. Private death
  • 5. Impressions
  • 6. Unchallenged hate
  • 7. Uncertainty blurs the vision
  • 8. Cock-rock alienation
  • 9. Retreat to nowhere
  • 10. Think for a minute
  • 11. Display to me…
  • 12. From enslavement to obliteration
  • 13. Blind to the truth
  • 14. Social sterility
  • 15. Emotional suffocation
  • 16. Practice what you preach
  • 17. Inconceivable?
  • 18. Worlds apart
  • 19. Obstinate direction
  • 20. Mentally murdered
  • 21. Sometimes
  • 22. Make Way!
  • 23. Musclehead
  • 24. Your achievement
  • 25. Dead
  • 26. Morbid Deceiver
  • 27. The curse