(Here’s DGR’s review of the eagerly anticipated new album by Napalm Death, which is set for release by Century Media on September 18th.)
Napalm Death have realized that they are one of those groups whose name and cultural brand makes it so they can do whatever the hell they want musically, and it’s been fun watching the group throw their weight around. The Napalm Death banner extends far beyond just music, as mentioning them raises the specter of grind as a whole genre, and so in one way or another the two have become inextricable. Yet as their career has proven, the band have long aimed past the idea of incredibly short musical tantrums and into realms both far heavier and more violent, and also worlds slower and much more atmospheric.
Apex Predator – Easy Meat was a good example of that sort of musical exploration. It existed like a condensed version of the band’s career and musical tastes in a head-on collision, resulting in a dense package that was all over the map musically but as heavy as a group with the name Napalm Death should be expected to make. Logic Ravaged By Brute Force, released earlier in the year, suggested something different. It contained both the punk-flavored title song and a noisier than hell Sonic Youth cover.
You could glean from that some sense of where the band might be aiming in the future, but their recent comments that they were really leaning in a noise-rock direction with their newest release Throes Of Joy In The Jaws Of Defeatism suggested that the album might be something very different for them. Which makes the release all the more fun because it is a very different exploration of music for the band.
Photo credit: Gobinder Jhitta
Clocking in at twelve songs and nearly forty-three minutes, it still just seems to fly by. It’s not as immediately abrasive as the group’s last full-length but it does have a whole lot more of something else instead — circle-pit riffs.
It seems like such a profoundly strange thing to point out, given the collective output of Napalm Death as a whole – there’s likely no riff under the sun that hasn’t been used and abused by the band at some point – even between its own lineup and their separate projects within the intervening years between Apex Predator and Throes Of Joy. Yet Grindcore is often pitched as the ultimate plug and play genre: hammer out a couple of guitar parts and have your drummer basically carpet bomb the kit behind you with blast beats and you’re good to go. Napalm Death themselves use this to ferocious effect, so it was surprising to hear the different multitude of approaches on Throes Of Joy.
Instead of the album being wall-to-wall blastbeats, the band give in to the aforementioned punk and noise-rock hybrid quite a bit, but they also aren’t afraid to plumb the depths of the hardcore scene for a veritable buffet of sections created to make the listener want to run in a circle with a bunch of other similar-minded folk… whenever we get to do that sort of thing again. If you view Throes Of Joy with all of that in mind, it’s fun to look at the album’s opening salvo – “Fuck The Factoid”, “Backlash Just Because”, and “The Curse Of Being In Thrall” – not just as a solid three-track collection of music but also as something of a mission statement for the disc as a whole. Napalm Death do get delightfully weird on Throes Of Joy, much as they did on Apex Predator, but in its opening songs the new album is much more focused on triggering the ‘run, you fucker!’ appeal to the flight part of the reptilian brain.
“Fuck The Factoid” and “Backlash Just Because” should feel very familiar to longtime fans, as the group whip through an entire arsenal of music – minus the industrial flair – in about five minutes between them. Barney Greenway sounds violent as all hell here and a lot more upfront this time, and a whole the band seem less buried in a sea of random distortion than before, so every part feels a little more purpose-built and surgical rather than the giant crushing onyx megalith of sound approach that the group have employed so well on previous releases. No matter where the Napalm Death crew may be looking musically as a whole for a disc, you’re usually guaranteed a couple of the classic ‘violence in audio form’ style songs that find their way into a Napalm Death, live set and “Fuck The Factoid” and “Backlash Just Because” are two early entrants in that contest.
Although if we’re being completely honest here, it wouldn’t be shocking to see at least one of those give way to their immediate follow-on – the aforementioned “The Curse Of Being In Thrall”, the first time Napalm Death really lean into the hardcore punk and circle-pit violence inspiration that seems to worm its way through their new album as a whole. “The Curse Of Being In Thrall” is easily one of the early album highlights. It still contains a ton of Napalm Death trappings but hearing the band play a song that enables you to imagine almost exactly how wild the crowd is going to be live is a great experience. It’s one of the first times on Throes Of Joy when you reflexively start wanting to wreck shit.
It’s a good thing, then, that “The Curse Of Being In Thrall” seems to have a couple of siblings throughout Throes Of Joy. “Zero Gravitas Chamber” is another highlight on an album that as a whole could translate fantastically live and it merges so well into the following songs that it becomes a movement of its own that seems to bookend at the album’s title track.
While the track lengths can appear long for what people expect of Napalm Death as they’ve been codified culturally, the disc still seems to fly by as the band keep the tempo high and the drums shifting between a multitude of punk and grind beats, interspersed with the classic blast that has long since become a backbone of the genre. You still get fun moments spread throughout the album just to keep you on your toes, like the rhythmic clusterfuck that opens up “Joie de ne pas vivre” where the drums and bass guitar seem to be at war with each other for the song’s intro, but Throes Of Joy is a surprisingly mosh-metal-driven disc this time around.
Photo credit: Gobinder Jhitta
But since it was mentioned way earlier on, where exactly do Napalm Death get delightfully weird on this album? Instead of interspersing the weirdness throughout, this time they bank their more experimental aspirations for the very last song. After assaulting you for the better part of forty minutes, they close things out with an industrial grinder in “A Bellyfull Of Salt And Spleen”. They spend much of the album gleefully straddling the line between its grind and core genre descriptors and then on this very last song perform a very loud and pronounced ‘fuck all of that’, toss it out the window, and create an aural horrorshow built around a slow, hammering groove that seems to reach its tendrils around the otherwise quick-moving creature that is an album as a whole and drag it down into the sewers.
Instead of being an opening tone piece, “A Bellyful Of Salt And Spleen” is more of a sarcastic and sneering send-off to the idea of the ‘well, did you have a good time?’ question that you can almost imagine the band asking of their crowd after throwing all of Throes Of Joy‘s mosh-heavy songwriting at them. They close the album by cashing in all of their artistic chips and making sure people know that they do in fact have grander aspirations to add to the ugly mosaic of music they’ve been crafted over the course of their career. Not as wall-to-wall crazy as Apex Predator – Easy Meat got, but still a surprising tonal shift in comparison to the rest of the album.
Listening to Throes Of Joy In The Jaws Of Defeatism reminds you why Napalm Death releases are something of a metal cultural event. The group have been going long enough that their career has been able to split into eras. They’ve got their heavy grind foundation era, their weird death metal era, their return to grind and becoming the crushing force for the modern era, and now we’ve settled into something of a ‘we don’t know what the fuck to expect’ era for the band. They don’t quite as cleanly slot into genre descriptors as they used to, they’ve become very experimental in between the classic grind-tantrums, and so long as they can make it heavy and crushing as hell, it starts to seem like Napalm Death are all for it.
Throes Of Joy In The Jaws Of Defeatism is a surprisingly ‘live’ album for the band — as mentioned before, it’s very high-energy and you can easily imagine how nearly every song here would translate to a live setting; indeed it seems purpose-built and surgical in that sort of way. They deliver another aural assault and this time they want you to move around in the crowd – no matter what – as much as Barney seems to run back and forth on stage. It’s going to be fun to see how people approach this disc as it lands in their collections and seeing which songs stick out to them the most, because it’s hard not to just mosh along to the whole damned thing – until the band broadside you with its closing song, anyway.