Napalm Death shocked the shit outta me during the recent tournament. Out of 32 bands, the venerable British institution placed third – keeping in mind my dictate that the band had to be evaluated based on its current merits and not be allowed to lounge on decades old glories that were sieged by other people’s power. Hell, I thought pitting them against Agathocles in the first round would be a clever little joke to play on a band that has often strayed far from the roots of the style it embodies (in most people’s minds).
We all love Napalm Death in some form or another, right? But I was surprised to find out people love the current version as much as they do because I’m not really sure it's accurate any more to label them a grind band.
So that’s the question I’ve spent the last few months really pondering as I dug back into some of the more awkward annals of the band’s history – like that period after Harmony Corruption but before their post-Earache rejuvenation.
And here’s the thing, post-From Enslavement to Obliteration, Napalm Death has graced us with 11 full length albums of original material. But of those, only three, at least to my thinking, qualify as actual grindcore records: Utopia Banished (which some of you already dispute), Enemy of the Music Business and Order of the Leech. That's only 27 percent.
The rest drift through phases of death metal and crusty grind-lite with varying levels of success. Smear Campaign is probably only of my favorite recent album. Inside the Torn Apart, granted not recorded under the best of circumstances, is a blast beat-free blight on my record collection that I’m perfectly happy to never hear again but can’t bear to throw out. Diatribes used to have a soft spot in my heart, but the poppy production has soured my appreciation for it (instead, I recommend getting their collection of BBC recordings where the band – short Mitch Harris, who had the flu – just destroy songs like “Greed Killing”). Fear, Emptiness Despair and Words From the Exit Wound (aka the screaming face albums) are, respectively, short on blast beats or given to really unnecessary experimentation. Seriously, I can live a pretty contented life without Barney trying his tonsils at clean vocals ever again.
Shane Embury has credited Nasum with kicking the band in the ass and setting them back on the path of true grind with the Spitfire duo of Enemy of the Music Business and Order of the Leech, but while the former was a joyous return to adrenaline and aggression, the latter fell a bit flat, like a carbon copy of a better record. It just lacked some spunk and spark.
That spark was short lived because the band’s trio of albums for Century Media has seen it drifting into another experimental phase, mixing Amebix crust with Voivod thrash with scattershot results; again, Smear Campaign kicks ass, but the Code is Red … Long Live the Code seemed like Fear, Emptiness, Despair v. 2 and Time Waits for No Slave was nearly a damn hour long and could use the ministrations of a ruthless editor.
I’ve been kicking this around for quite a few months now, and I’m not sure I can really come to a conclusion. Napalm Death seems at once to be a band that is both something more and something less than you can sum up by labeling it grindcore. Unable to work this one out for myself, I toss the question out to you: Is Napalm Death still a grindcore band? A lot of you and a lot of folks over at Cosmo's digs seem to think so.