Napalm Death

Mass Appeal Madness

By Justin Donnelly

29 August 2007

Words by Justin Donnelly

In vocalist Mark 'Barney' Greenway's own words, following up 2005's highly acclaimed The Code Is Red... Long Live The Code was always going to be a daunting challenge for legendary extreme metal act Napalm Death.

But with the release of Smear Campaign (The band's twelfth full length release) in 2006, the four-piece act (Who, since 2002, have comprised of vocalist Greenway, guitarist Mitch Harris, bassist Shane Embury and drummer Danny Herrera) not only managed to surpass the high standards set by The Code Is Red... Long Live The Code, but they also created what is undoubtedly yet another modern day extreme/death metal classic for themselves.

In the eleven months since the release of Smear Campaign, Napalm Death has kept up a relentless tour schedule, which has seen the band tour throughout the U.S. and Europe, along with a host of dates in their native U.K. But even though the touring cycle for Smear Campaign is drawing to a close, Napalm Death have managed to squeeze in a long overdue return to Australian shores in eleven long years! (In support of Diatribes)

Prior to packing their band for the long flight, I caught up with guitarist Mitch Harris at home in Birmingham (U.K.) to discuss life on the road, the band's tentative plans to enter the studio for their next full-length album and how the success of Smear Campaign continues to build momentum after a year since hitting the shelves.

Napalm Death

“Smear Campaign did surprisingly well. I think a lot of that had to do with the fact that straight off the bat, it was a highly anticipated album, especially after The Code Is Red... Long Live The Code did really well. Because a lot of people liked that album, they were eager to see what the next step for the band was. So straight away, people were satisfied with the album. I know that we were really happy with the way it turned out. Everything from the production, the writing process, the songs and the whole vibe of the thing came really naturally, not to mention rather quickly.”

In a conversation I had with Greenway on the release of Smear Campaign, he was quoted as saying, “I've always kind of spread myself in terms of claiming our new album were the best, especially The Code Is Red... Long Live The Code and Utopia Banished (1992). But definitively, I think this one is the best album that we've ever done.” It's a sentiment that Harris seems totally wholeheartedly agree with too.

Napalm Death“I totally agree. I've liked all of the albums we've done. Personally, as a whole, I think the album is very strong. Not that any of our previous albums were anything less than what we originally set out to achieve, but I think Smear Campaign is something more than simply sounding one-dimensional. It shows signs of progression from other things that we've achieved over the years, and it rounds all those ideas into one powerful package.”

As mentioned earlier, Napalm Death has been likened to road warriors since the release of Smear Campaign, and according to Harris, life on the road has been a positive experience.

“Everything's been really well actually. We were waiting for Century Media Records to officially release Smear Campaign, so we actually decided to go out on the road well before its release. So really, we've been out on the road for around the last eighteen months, with only a couple of months off within that time. In that time, everything's been really positive. We've been out with a few interesting bands this time around too, such as The Black Dahlia Murder, Hatebreed, Kreator, Obituary, Moonspell, Behemoth, Vader and Finntroll. There's been lots of interesting packages, so we've been playing to lots of interesting crowds of people. We have a lot of good friends out there, both in the bands and in the crowds, so everything's been really cool.”

The band's almost U.K. is somewhat of a change of pace for the band, with the band enjoying the opportunity to find time for themselves at home, especially for Harris.

“Right now we're kind of on tour here in the U.K. We've been playing for a week, and then we've been having a week off. It doesn't feel like the end of the tour, because you get to go home every night. You arrive at the venue in the early afternoon, load in, do a sound-check, play the show and go home for the night. That's quite a change for us. We did have a few months off, because my wife (Veronika Harris) had our baby boy Everest (Harris) earlier in the year. It has sort of mellowed out since December 2006, and we've been home back and forth since then, so that's been O.K.”

Napalm Death's Smear CampaignIt's been eleven years since Napalm Death have played in Australia, but according to Harris, the band will more than make up for their lengthy absence, with a set list that will encompass quite a bit of their vast twenty five year history.

“We're really looking forward to making it to Australia again. It's been a long awaited trip, and a place we've been trying to get to for something like the last ten years. Hopefully it's a little closer to summer when we get there, but either way, I'll be just happy to play for the fans. At this point, Napalm Death plays with more energy that they've ever had in the past. The fans can expect a varied set that will feature most of the albums that we've made in our career, which will include lots of classics and short blasters that will totally be in your face. Basically we'll play the tracks that are our own favourites to play. We'll also play around five songs off the new album, so it'll be a friendly, happy and good night out really for everyone. And I mean everyone, because if you're hesitant, it's because you're either be A) Afraid of what might happen to you at the show, or B) You don't like that kind of music, or C) You've never heard this kind of music. I would say that if you've never heard us before, then I would say that Napalm Death is one of those bands where the first time you see us, it's probably going to be one of the best times you'll ever have. Of course, it does get better when you become mare familiar with the songs, but there's some kind of natural energy that happens between the crowd and the band. I think it would be of interest anyone with an open mind. As far as getting hurt at the show, I think you'll be fine if you hang over to the side of the stage, or by the bar or the sound desk. You don't have to get involved in the crowd participation bit. But getting involved doesn't mean you're going to get hurt either! (Laughs) Most of the people that come to a Napalm Death show are very open-minded easy-going people. If you're not into this style of music, it's worth seeing anyway because Napalm Death is a band that kind of influenced a lot of other bands that all play different kind of genres of music today. So by checking that out live, you might find some something in common with something you're heard somewhere else. It's just going to be a good night out. Hopefully you'll be fine the morning after! (Laughs)”

Although Napalm Death have released several albums since their last visit, I mentioned to Harris that I would be more happy to hear them perform Smear Campaign in its entirety live, along with a few classics. As silly as the idea sounds, it's something the band has already done before, and something they are unlikely to do again anytime soon.

“We actually did that at the The Code Is Red... Long Live The Code pre-release party for Century Media Records. That was really tempting, because you got to see if there were other songs that you really liked apart from the obvious ones. But unfortunately, you can't do that on tour because people get fed up hearing all the new stuff all the time. Their attention span isn't all that great really, or in some cases they don't have the new album, so really it's not fair on the fans. But having said that, it would be a great way of promoting the album. Unfortunately, we only play around five or six of the new songs, and some of them have only been played a couple of times since recording them in the studio. So in all honesty, some of them tend to sound a little ropey! (Laughs) It only takes a couple of rehearsals to brush up the performance. Having said that, it's easily overdone though. I've witnessed that myself.”

Napalm Death Australian Tour 2007

One of the more interesting destinations Napalm Death are heading to following their Australian tour is to China, where the band is scheduled to play four dates (Hong Kong, Shen Zhen, Shanghai and Peking).

“That should be really interesting. That's real unchartered territory. I know that our stuff has been released there on cassette for years, so there should be some sort of fan base there definitely. But really, ho knows what it's going to be like? It might be like when we went to Russia for the first time in the early '90's. China is still a communist country, with a huge population, so I'm sure there's a metal scene there. It should be really interesting, so I'm looking forward to that. There are a whole lot of political aspects about playing there as well that I find interesting. The differences between our cultures, the way of life we both lead and everything associated with that is totally different. Lyrically, Napalm Death is a band that should interest them I think. We'll see what happens. I'm expecting anywhere between four hundred and four thousand people at the shows. Who knows? (Laughs) And the tickets are probably like fifty cents to get in. The more the merrier I say.”

Following China, the band turns their sights towards a South American tour. At least as far as their website is concerned.

“Yeah. A lot of that has still to be confirmed on the website, and most people know as much as I do about it! (Laughs) Sometimes looking on the website is the easiest way for us to know where we go next, because it's nearly always the most up to date list of upcoming gigs we have. But you know, things change and don't pan out, and sometimes you have other things that you need to plan around. Instead of bugging the agency all the time, sometimes it's easier to look on the website because it's quicker. It sounds silly, but it's true! (Laughs)”

With all the touring that Napalm Death have up their sleeves, it would seem that Harris won't have much time for his other musical endeavours, let alone contributing to ex-Sepultura brothers Igor and Max Cavalera's new act The Cavalera Conspiracy, regardless of what the brothers have mentioned in recent times.

“I don't think that's happening. There was talk about it, but I seriously can't see that happening. It's something that dates wise probably wouldn't work out anyway. I've been speaking to Max (Cavalera) for some time about working together. I just didn't work out this summer, and I don't know if it will ever happen. We're still talking about working together, but with the brothers are working together now, and I don't know if it will happen at this point. There are lots of songs sitting there ready to go, but it's just a question of whether we'll ever be able to find the time. I'm working with three different bands at the moment, and trying to coordinate three different schedules is not easy. And with Napalm Death booked months in advance, I really can's see taking off and helping Max make an album in a week. I think we'll need at least two weeks! (Laughs)”

Napalm Death

Given the short amount of time between releases, I had to ask Harris whether Napalm Death had started thinking about a follow-up to Smear Campaign. While the answer was anything but definitive, it would seem that fans won't have to wait too long for something new from the band.

“Well we're talking about working on new material around October/November, and there's still quite a few songs floating around from the last album. I don't know, but we had a real splurge of material while making the last album. The only reason they weren't used is because there wasn't enough room on the last album. There's some really good stuff there. It's a shame they weren't used, but they will show their face at some point. A lot of people were surprised by the short amount of times between albums, and it's frowned upon by the industry to release albums too close together. To us, that's pretty ridiculous. We're a band that's always put out an album every year. But it's the press and the industry that moan that we just put out an album last year, and that they've already had a feature on us in the last twelve months, so they are quick to say that we shouldn't rush the new album out. The funny thing is that we're not rushing anything out. It's just the rest of the world that can't keep up with us! (Laughs) So, we're going to take it easy this time around and make a good strong album. Who knows when it's going to be recorded? Maybe we'll try a different process. On the last album, we rehearsed for three weeks, and we were all ready to head in the studio, so it all came out naturally. We don't want to drag things out if it's all ready to go. We just do what we want. But really, to be honest, there is so many tour dates coming up, we're just content to stay touring for a while. There's no rush to get back into the studio. It's not like we're going to be sitting around doing nothing. If we're ready to record, we're going into the studio whether anyone likes it or not. It's just one of those things. We'll just have to see how it goes. We've been so busy of late that we haven't had time to focus on a new album just yet. But rest assured, we'll be out with a new album sooner rather than later.”

Napalm Death's latest album, Smear Campaign is out now on Century Media Records through Stomp Distribution. Napalm Death are touring Australia in September 2007 supported by Blood Duster. Catch Napalm Death playing Sept 4 Amplifer Bar Perth; Sept 5 Fowlers Live, Adelaide; Sept 6 Corner Hotel Melbourne; Sept 7 Manning Bar Sydney; Sept 8 The Arena Brisbane. For more information on Napalm Death, check out www.napalmdeath.org.

More from Napalm Death