Having followed Napalm Death, by chance more than anything, since the bands very early days they are unquestionably a unique band.
Although the band formed in 1981 they really began to come to the fore of extreme hardcore crossover music when I regularly attended practically any gig at The Mermaid in Birmingham.
Napalm Death seemed to play live at The Mermaid at least twice a week circa 1986. The first time I saw them live there was a very small crowd. They would have been a support band back then.
This did not stop jaws, genuinely, dropping wide open. The band had a dirgy sound you had to hear to believe. When the music was not a slow doom laden grind it would be a breathtaking speed burst. Either the slow grind or the olympic speed would stun you.
When Napalm Death released “Scum” on Earache it really gave inspiration to make your own music and succeed. Anything seemed possible. The album cover, in record shops, quickly looked faded (as in its colour). My take on this was Earcahe were shifting some serious numbers of the bands debut LP.
I bought “Scum” as soon as I saw it in the record shop in Oasis (Birmingham). This would have been a few days after it was released. With a £3:99 price tag it was a no brainer of a purchase.
Quickly scanning the back sleeve of the LP – there were a LOT of tracks. It was becoming a bit of an underground trend to have very short tracks. This album however was about as far removed from the musically excellent but lyrically dubious Stormtroopers Of Death debut album as possible.
It seemed every hardcore / crossover band had their own track that would be under 5 seconds or so.
Napalm Death had arguably the ultimate “short” song in “You Suffer”.
When I first put “Scum”on my turntable I honestly thought to myself “have I put this on at the right speed?” Despite listening to very fast albums for years before (Dead Kennedys, The Exploited, etc), i’d never heard anything like this.
That said the album is a difficult listen. It is a classic record – but you just would not listen to it for fun. As the band established a regular line-up they quickly began to attract much larger audiences.
Despite The Mermaid gigs having an awful lot going for them, and despite the fact key members like Justin Broadrick had long left to do his own thing with Godflesh – the band came into their own at the dawning of their 2nd album. The live shows at Kaleidoscope in Birmingham were arguably more essential than the legendary Mermaid shows.
With consideration the bands 1st album “Scum” is not punk, metal, hardcore, grindcore – or whatever. It pretty much forges its own genre. You could argue that it’s extreme jazz of the most experimental order.
So before the 2nd album “From Enslavement To Obliteration” came out you wondered “where will they take their sound?” – Well, I did anyway.
Knowing the make-up of the band. Where their sound had come from and what they were about, it was a tough call to predict.
With the 1st track “Evolved As One” – the band finally, really deliver. to me it is by far the bands best ever track, even if it is not acknowledged as such by anyone else. “Evolved As One” pushes and maintains the dirge from “Scum” but takes it in a new direction. You can hear Swans influence massively. The band have come of age. Call it what you want; art, metal, punk, hardcore, whatever – it’s a unique sound.
Tragically the band leave it at this. The rest of the 2nd LP treads a “Scum” by numbers route. It’s all too safe. Extreme and more robust than their debut, but safe and dare I say it – predictable.
After the first 2 albums, for me, you can forget the band. I’m not knocking them, they’re a legendary band and a band that Birmingham should be very proud of. If only they’d made more of exploring the experimental side they so clearly had…