Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Fear of Napalm(isms): Grind Waits for No Slave

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.


Luke Oram said...

I still like them, but in an Iron Maiden kind of way.

Alex Layzell said...

I personally still classify them as a Grind band, not your typical Grind band mind you. Being an avid death metal fan, they don't really add up in that category either, as it stands in current incantation I think they just break the skin of Grind sufficiently to be Grindcore, however I can also appreciate and accept that other people don't think they are. Its gonna be one of those things that in a few years we will know with certainty that it is either a or b, we just need to see the continual evolution of the genre.

Miskatonic said...

Good question. When ND went through a complete lineup overhaul (after their second album) they really had no business continuing on with the moniker of ND. By that time they had no original members left and only one seminal member. They got away with it because they put out a great record (Harmony Corruption). The weird thing was that said great album was unarguably death metal. Weird.

Anyway. Essentially, that was the birth of a brand new band which happened to be as great as the previous incarnation(s). That band lives to this day. Sure, we've seen a slight return to their days of grind, but you'd have to be nuts to say it has much relation to the first two records. Rather, I'd say that their current incarnation is putting out attempts at Utopia Banished.

I agree with you that Smear Campaign is their greatest latter day achievement. They perfected the 'Jabba and his little buddy' approach to vocals with Mitch Harris on 2nd vox (invented by Lee Dorian with both parts being performed by him alone [correct me if I'm wrong])This vocal approach is an under heralded style endemic to grind and you'll not find a better version of it than on Smear Campaign. So, for that reason, I consider it grind, but arguments to the contrary are certainly valid.

Andrew Childers said...

to play devil's personal attorney, miskatonic, if you go look at the songwriting credits on harmony corruption, it was mick harris who wrote the music for six of the 11 songs (if you count the bonus track "hiding behind."). so you say they had no right to the name at that point, but it was the longest tenured member who drove them to drastically alter their style. once mick left the band, pintado and mitch began immediately banging out the kind of songs you'd expect from ex-members of righteous pigs and terrorizer. what went horrifically wrong post-utopia banished is anyone's guess.

Miskatonic said...

Yes, but I'm pretty sure Nic Bullen and Justin Broderick were rolling their eyes at Harmony Corruption. It's great that Mick Harris wanted to experiment, but it just doesn't make sense to do it with that name. Certainly, good arguments can be made otherwise (and they have). It's just my opinion. I'm just glad we agree about Utopia Banished...

Andrew Childers said...

i'm pretty sure miles ratlidge was rolling his eyes at scum. ha.

brutalex said...


Invisible Oranges said...

I'd agree with the characterization that Napalm Death have drifted in and out of what is defined as "grindcore". But really, why does it matter??? When I listen to Napalm Death records - or any music - my primary question is "Is this good?", not "What subgenre does this fall under?"

Will said...

I sure am getting an education via this blog and other linked blogs about what other people thing grindcore is. No, ND doesn't count anymore for me.

DesiccatedVeins said...

Nope! ND now are a bunch of dudes who might play a grindcore song live every now and then.

Andrew Childers said...

i'm not disputing your point, cosmo. i just think it's a really fascinating taxonomical question. napalm death pretty much helped invent grind, but taken as a whole, only 38 percent of the band's lifetime production would fall into what i consider grind to be. at what point do they/did they become something more?
but hell, i still think of carcass as a grind band, but that's probably because i rarely listen to anything after symphonies of sickness.

eva05 said...

Considering I have let my rather opinionated views be known elsewhere - I will keep this brief. No. For most bands, I would be right there with Invisible Oranges. I actually like a lot of the post-Totsuan SOB stuff and I enjoy Gate of Doom a lot. These are definitely not "grind" records in my strict sense of the word, but I still like them because I like the creative behind the song writing.

In the case of Napalm Death, none of the creative that drove the music I liked is still with that band. It's no surprise that their records have been missing something to me since LD and BS left.

Then again, when I think about grind, there's less than a dozen bands I would say qualify. This has of course earned me the rep of being a douche bag elitist, but if you can't be passionate about something like art, what is the point of it all?

Grind is the ultimate expression of emotion played with every fiber of the player's being straining until it literally tears the people apart who make it. I think this is one of the reason true grind bands can never last. You are literally tearing yourself down and rebuilding yourself everytime you play those songs - practice or live. There's only so much of that you can endure as a creator, challenging yourself to raise the bar every day. Believe me it takes a toll...

If what I am describing sounds like the selection process for a special operations unit, it is. It takes a almost monsastic commitment to do this shit for real. And, with the exception of Mortalized and 324, I don't feel that any of today's so called grindcore bands are committed to the art with a dedication that commands my attention. Do I look down on them or dislike them, of course not, but my time is valuable and in an art form where concise expression is one of the benchmarks, if you haven't hooked me in 30 seconds I am out of there.

Now here's the catch. With Napalm, I take is very personally. If ND had any integrity they would drop the moniker and stand on their own 2 feet, but the reality is what they stand for is facade and stagnation. The facade of righteous glory days past and the stagnation of people who claim to be worldly but still are writing "political" music that is one-sided and naieve sold to teenagers who don't want to deal with the world on a level much deeper than war = bad/business = bad.

I was that person at one point in my life. I'm not anymore. Which is good. People should grow throughout their lives and their art should reflect that. ND's career reflects following the lead of what's popular and trendy...death metal, then post punk, then back to crust-metal, "grind" - all reflecting themes of the day, with about the depth of a FOX news headline.

Honestly, I have more respect for My Chemical Romance and Sting than someone who writes music like Napalm Death. At least those bands are good at their craft. They can play their songs.

You might be quick to point out,"But Chang you are the biggest Slayer junkie. You even like songs of Diabolus and God Hates Us All." To which I can only say, "It's fucking Slayer."

Happy holidays.

TheThirdChildren said...

Great comment Jon.

"Grind is the ultimate expression of emotion played with every fiber of the player's being straining until it literally tears the people apart who make it. I think this is one of the reason true grind bands can never last. You are literally tearing yourself down and rebuilding yourself everytime you play those songs - practice or live. There's only so much of that you can endure as a creator, challenging yourself to raise the bar every day. Believe me it takes a toll..."

Well, except for the Slayer part :D

ND are just playing it safe and lazy. I had high hopes after "Enemy ..." well that didn't go to well. They have the grind, but lack the core.

Andrew Childers said...

and that passion is why jon continues to kick my ass. so what's your dozen or so bands? i'm dying to know.

since i'm being nosy i'll start off.

1. gridlink (duh, the people have spoken)
2. wormrot (everything i loved about terrorizer and repulsion)
3. parlamentarisk sodomi (back in business and not afraid to name names)
4. kill the client (just fucking explosive)
5. blood i bleed (shantia just knows how to write a grind hook)
6. noisear (like dxax and asterisk, it's nice to hear someone take some chances)

that's probably the best working right now off the top of my head.

brutalex said...

Inspired post, Mr. Chang. I too would like to hear who makes up this dirty dozen of yours.

Andrew, I have no objections to that list besides the exclusion of Suffering Mind and The Kill.

Thank fuck the Sodomi is back.

Andrew Childers said...

that was just a quick list off the top of my head when i should be working instead. i'll happily accept amendments.

PatrickDM said...

this conversation goes back to what constitutes grind. If a band is blasting 90% of the time does that make them grind? A lot of tech death bands blast through most of an album, but the thing that makes a grind band(other than the drums)is the guitar work. I think grind bands should evolve, but I still wanna hear some punk influence on guitar. Isn't trem picking more of a death metal thing, as well as using a lot of individual notes? gridlink trems a whole lot. Grind songs shouldnt be longer than a minute, preferably less.

eva05 said...

This isn't a fav band list or anything but these are the bands I think of when I think of grind...

Anal Cunt (88 song ep - split w/ Meat Shits)
Napalm Death (Scum - Split with SOB)
SOB (Leave Me Alone - Split with Napalm)
Gore Beyond Necropsy
Enema Syringe (the grind core one - they have 1 EP)
Senseless Apocalypse

And the obligatory....
Discordance Axis


Andrew Childers said...

cool list but all dead and gone. so are you saying true grind is pretty much over?

GC said...

ND turned me onto Grind back in the mid 90's, when i was listening to alot of DM and 2nd & 3rd generation punk at that tender age. I wouldn't call myself a fan, i find most of their discography bland with serious lack of blastbeat and real aggression. On the question of are they are still to be considered grind? Sure they helped define the sound back in the late 80's, but the music nowadays falls short of what i believe grind should be.

Japanische Kampfhoerspiele isn't strictly a grind band but they sound great next to Suffering Mind and Cripple Bastards. Back in '95 ND sounded great next to Morbid Angel and Deicide. Still, i gotta certain respect for the old guys...

gamefaced said...

wait. what? mortalized is dead and gone?

Andrew Childers said...

ok *mostly* dead and gone. 324 and GBN are both still kicking, i believe. but that's largely a list of who's who of 1994, which is kinda depressing in a way.

Luke Oram said...

What strikes me as interesting about all this, is that I have seen many an awesome grind band play at a local level.
Perhaps the more death-oriented stuff comes to the fore because that style is more popular, and easier to market to labels?
Only a few times have I ever played at an all-grind gig: there are that few bands.

gamefaced said...

andrew you almost gave me a stroke on xmas. breathing slowly returning to normal...

eva05 said...

Mortalized still plays but Takafumi is writing very slowly LOL Repulsion still plays live as does GBN and 324, though I haven't heard their new vocalist.

Grind today? There's very little if anything that interests me. At this point I get really excited to hear anything new by Takafumi and that's about it. Though I love seeing GBN live and would never pass up an opportunity to do so. They are so thick and nasty hahaha

But there's always tomorrow. I had almost given up on anime for many years. Then I discovered Evangelion in 1997 and it was a whole new game.

The thing is, there are no game changers out there right now. When the Ramones came out they were punk and fast as shit. When bands today play music just like the Ramones, they are not punk. They are people who listened to the Ramones and decided to do the same thing.

It all goes back to what I said about raising the bar.

Though it's worth noting, I think most people listening to music don't want to be challenged, even if it is extreme music. You find a cozy place and stay there. And the labels that are built to last follow what little there is of the money these days. And while I empathize, the GridLink CD and the 2 HD CDs are all in the hole over $3k each, I can't condone shit like: "This Comp Kills Fascists" which probably should've been called "This Label Supports Mediocrity".


eva05 said...

Something worth considering...

While I was against this in a huge way when I was getting off the ground, many of today's bands have a lot of potential but what they need is producer/editor. Someone who can be honest with them and give them a push in one direction or another.

Every book I've read that I consider brilliant has an editor.

I will also say, from experience, most artists need thicker skin and some education in critical discourse. If you can't objectively look at your work and tear it down, you are doomed to mediocrity. Working in gaming, music and writing I've found about 50-80% of all my work ends up in the trash before I even work my way up to one of the "editors" I use LOL


Luke Oram said...

I agree with most of Mr Chang's comments about many bands just being boring and retreading over the same old ground, and that most band dudes lack any coherent approach to being *even slightly* critical about their work.

However anything that truly does just it's own thing without at least pertaining to some existing style/genre/etc is going to find it very, very hard to even function as an active band.

Also can we list our rubbish bands and have some kind of grind cabal rate (i.e. trash) them somewhere?

Andrew Childers said...

why luke perhaps we could have some sorta tournament and vote them off the island....

stop. don't even get me thinking in that direction.

as to mediocrity. i kinda hate that word. another word you could use just as easily is "average" and there's no shame in being average. pretty much everything in life adheres to the bell curve and i'll accept something that's average if it's an honest effort. shit, about 90 percent of of what i do right here i think of as merely average (and i'm mostly made my peace with that) though my vanity and ego keep pushing me to try for more.

orfee said...

Merry boxing day, Andrew!


Andrew Childers said...

and a happy festivus to you too.

eva05 said...

Andrew don't sell yourself short. Your blog is one of the better music blogs I've encountered.


PatrickDM said...

this is the only blog i find worth checking everyday.

Andrew Childers said...

you are all very kind.

Alex Layzell said...

Very late on the bandwagon, but it should be said. This blog is by far the best music blog that I have come across, and I read alot of them daily, this blog trumps them in both quality and character, and the community who read and respond are miles better, using a nice mix of intellect, opinion and humour just like the posts. Keep on Posting!

Christopher said...

I am surprised at how many of you find ND stagnant. I feel like they've been on an incredible resurgance. "Smear Campaign" obliterates just about every grind recording released in the past five years. It's got the grind elements down pat with just the right amount of experimentation to avoid sounding monochromatic. I actually think it might be their best record. "Time Waits..." is "Diatribes" with blasts and better production. Sure, they don't write sub-one minute songs anymore (excepting "Right You Are") but brevity needn't be the sole determining factor in grind.

Personally, I enjoy all their records. Even the worst ones ("Words From Exit"; "Order Of The Leech") are merely good rather than actively bad. Sure, they strayed all over the metal landscape but how else to you survive 20+ years and keep it interesting for yourselves and your fans?