September 24, 2009
The founders of grindcore just want you to take it easy
Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on September 2009
Formed in Birmingham in 1981, Napalm Death pioneered a sub-genre known as grindcore—best described as what happens when death metal and punk have a very noisy baby.
Grindcore is extremely fast and technical music with short, to-the-point tracks and growled lyrics. Depending on the band, the songs can just as often be about anti-capitalism, feminism and vegetarianism as they are about guts and gore. To the casual listener, the music may seem extremely angry, but according to Napalm Death vocalist Barney Greenway, there is more to it than that.
“Being pissed off only goes so far—you have to channel things positively,” he says by phone from England. To be certain, the ideas behind the band’s latest album, Time Waits for No Slave, strike a laidback contrast with the music. “We spend so much time seemingly working our lives away. We don’t take a step back—well, for one, for taking time for ourselves—but also for acknowledging the simple things in life… I think we don’t do enough of that and I think we literally work ourselves into the grave.”
While some of the themes of Time Waits for No Slave may be about taking a day off to relax in the park, Napalm Death has always been a band with strong opinions—and not afraid to make those opinions known.
“It’s been quite violent at times,” says Greenway. “America was a pretty bad place for getting attacked by white [supremacists], Nazi sympathizers or that sort of stuff. I got physically assaulted by one of these ultra-religious, pro-life people. One of them took a swing at me once when I didn’t see him coming and [I] got me a good one in the side of the head.”
Incidents like these seem to leave Greenway more puzzled than angry. “People make such a big deal sometimes out of what Napalm says, but when things [that we sing about], like peace, tolerance and equality, become such a big deal—I mean, what is this world coming to, you have to ask yourself,” he says.
The odds of being sucker-punched seem unlikely in Japan, but playing for local crowds is not without its challenges. For an English-speaking band, getting the message across can be tricky—especially when that message is about not working yourself to death, and your fans have a 15-hour work day ahead of them. Do situations like this bother the messenger? “It doesn’t, to be honest,” Greenway says. “If you let stuff like that get to you, then you’re not going to be in a band very long because you’re going to drive yourself nuts.”
Twenty-eight years on the road is a long time for even the most successful band to stick together, and for an underground group, being able to tough it out is doubly important.
“It’s perseverance,” Greenway offers. “Even when times are a bit testing—like a lot of other situations in life, you kind of think, ‘Aw, fuck this. I’ve had enough.’ But we just decided that we wanted to carry on and not let third parties—the industry at large or whatever—kill us.”
While they may have one of the most recognizable monikers in the heavy metal scene, Napalm Death has hardly been getting by on name recognition alone—many consider their past few albums to be among their best work. To what does Greenway attribute the upswing?
“We never really played to boost ourselves in the press. We just always did what we felt we were happy with,” he says. “That said, I think since [the 2000 release of] Enemy of the Music Business, when we stepped away from a situation where certain organizations the band was involved in really weren’t working right—I think we’ve just been on a roll from there. There was no great explosion of wonderment, we just made albums that people really seemed to like, and the label actually did something for them.”
“Loud Park 09”
Two-day metal festival featuring Napalm Death, Megadeth, Judas Priest and others. Oct 17 & 18, 11am, ¥13,500-¥16,000 (one day)/¥25,000 (two days). Makuhari Messe. Tel: 0180-993-040.