Napalm Death

Think for a Minute

By Simon Milburn

13 April 2015

Napalm Death has been pushing the boundaries of metal for almost three and a half decades. They’ve undergone line-up changes over the years, more so during their formative years than any other period. Along the way, they’ve release fifteen studio albums, four live albums, two covers compilation albums, and over two dozen singles and EPs. Their work output and ethic is as intense as the music contained within.

Whilst no original members are a part of the band’s lineup these days, the band’s longest serving member is bassist Shane Embury, who has been a part of Napalm Death now for almost three decades. “Um, [it's] a little strange,” begins Embury as I ask him what it’s like to think of it in those terms. “I mean, you don’t think about it all the time. It’s just that every so often you’ll go…. ‘Woah! It’s been a long time.’ In your head you’re fifteen. In your head, you feel or I still feel as an eighteen or nineteen year old y’know … I think I’m enthusiastic about everything just as much as I ever was. I think we all are, in the band,” Embury continues. I caught up with the gentle giant of all things low frequency grind for a bit of a chat about a few things including politics, John Peel, and time.

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“Time just has a way of just kicking on doesn’t it? It goes by quick, y’know. It’s sort of hard to think that we signed with Century Media in 2004. That’s already eleven years ago! Time ticks by quick. It’s crazy when you think about it. I have a pretty good memory for dates and certain things to do with the band. It’s kinda surreal. You never expect it I suppose really. That’s the main thing I suppose. I always wanted to be in a band, and when I did join Napalm – who were my favourite band – I thought it’d last for a few years even though you were enthusiastic about it but obviously, 27 years on and you go, ‘Shit!’”

It’s one thing to be a career musician but it’s something else to do so playing in such an extreme metal band as Napalm Death.

“I had this conversation last week to some degree with ... I got invited down to English DJ John Peel – who passed away a few years ago – I got invited down to his house to see his record collection ... insanely vast with over 30000 LPs ... to put together a bunch of songs to explain how I got to where I am now. I always wanted to be in a band. It’s only after a while of doing what you do that do look at it as a kind of a career but not in that kind of way. I play music and I’m very lucky to get where I am I guess.”

Napalm Death’s relationship with the legendary U.K. D.J. John Peel goes way back to their formative years. But back in a more conservative era, the likes of BBC Radio One is not the kind of radio station you’d expect to broadcast the brutal tones of Napalm Death.

“Well, he’s always been someone who listens to different forms of music. From the early ‘70s onwards, he loved punk rock, at the same time he loved jazz, and he would love country and western … he was so varied in his taste. He believed that if he played a record and at first he didn’t like it, it wasn’t that the band was wrong. It was something wrong with him. He felt that if the band had taken the time to record it then he had to listen to it again. It was his fault if he didn’t like it. It’s a kind of strange way to look at it but it’s also interesting. I think that’s a big reason as to why he liked so many eclectic styles of music. But Napalm he loved and he pushed it forward. In hindsight, it’s no surprise. But at the time, it was a real big deal to us. It helped Napalm transcend from just being a grindcore/hardcore band. People into alternative/indie/noise music were taking note of the band and finding things about it. So that was cool for me because it made the fan base more varied. It was very flattering to us but I think he liked the fact that it was different.”

It wasn’t long until the group was invited down to perform their own Peel Sessions.

“Er, that was through Radio One. Actually, I think it came through Earache Records. It was like, ‘Would you like to do a Peel Session?’ and we said ‘Yeah sure!’ It was that simple. We never got to meet the guy until a couple of years later at one of the shows. The invite came to the record label and then we went down and spent the day down there recording. It was kind of straight forward. We were very young at the time so it was a big adventure.”

Almost thirty years on and the band were invited to visit Peel Acres – the name given to his family home by the late D.J. himself and from Napalm Death’s posts on Facebook, it certainly seemed as though Shane was like a kid in a candy store as he sifted through the vast library of vinyl gems.

“I think what they’ve decided to do is to attempt to archive John’s record collection. Through Peel Archives, and also just to get different people that have taken part in Peel Sessions or were involved in bands that John really liked, and one of the guys that was working for Peel Archives, I think he got my email address from Bill (Steer, Carcass guitarist and former guitarist for Napalm Death). He obviously wanted to speak to someone from Napalm and they gave me a call and asked me if I’d like to do it. I was a little nervous at first. It’s an amazing opportunity to look through some of the man’s records and it was a very touching experience really. We all grew up listening to John. After Napalm’s shows, we always have the radio on. It was great. I met his wife again. I met her many, many years ago and she was a lovely lady. My wife and my little daughter went down and they were hanging out together. It was a really surreal experience being there y’know? It’s a lovely house in the countryside and heaps of albums of the most diverse music you can ever imagine. It was a great experience – all of it!”

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Just as John Peel has always been a voice for others that would normally be overlooked, Napalm Death has tried to do the same lyrically throughout their career by addressing corporate wrong doings and humanity issues amongst others in their songs. In today’s world, sadly there’s no end of inspiration.

“I don’t think you have to look very far. The new album deals with aspects of disposable technology, the people who put that stuff together and get paid nothing for it, the downtrodden, really ... the idea that slavery is gone is not real. It’s still prevalent. It’s still around in different disguises. The world is quite a horrible place. There’s good parts about it and good things about it. But as far as lyrical inspiration, I think there’s plenty for many years to come. We’ve always felt that lyrics are important. It’s always been a part of Napalm’s ideology back from when the band first formed. It’s not that we’re trying to convert people on to what we’re thinking. It’s more of a case of exposing scenarios that are out there and asking questions I think. There’s an awful lot of inspiration for that.”

Most recently, vocalist Mark “Barney” Greenway addressed the fate of the Australians on death row in Bali in a letter to Indonesian President Joko Widodo.

“The whole death penalty thing … they are touchy subjects. I mean, for me, I would never see that as an option to take someone’s life in this particular instance. It also raises the question as to where do you draw the line and for what and for which. So you’re opening up a whole can of worms. I back Barney on this for sure,” says Embury without hestitation. “It is touchy subjects. The debate is always tricky but you have to have debate. But I think in this situation where Barney felt that the president of Indonesia being a metal head and being a fan of Napalm, well here’s a chance to appeal to someone who you hope has the power to change, I’m not going to say change the law but to look at this whole thing from a different view point as opposed to what’s been there for God knows how long really.”

Whilst there are a number of places around the world that still utilise capital punishment, this case in particular caught the band’s attention.

“I think it appealed to Barn originally from who was involved, to raise the issue and I think Barn just felt it was important to do what he could. I think it was probably because the president of the country involved happens to be, or is supposedly a fan of music, a fan of Napalm Death. Barn saw it as an opportunity to try and see if he can appeal to them but there’s more power at play than just him I guess. It was the first of this kind of scenario. I think he felt that if he turned a blind eye to this and not get involved, then that would be the wrong thing to do really. So I agree with him on that. ”

It’s issues like this keeps Napalm Death motivated.

“Well, Barn’s very strong minded about his politics. The guy’s a politically spoken guy in Napalm but at the same time, I admire that about him. He’s not shy to fuckin’ go for it and I think that’s important. There’s a lot of stuff going on really around the world. There’s just so much going on that it just fuels the anger really. Therefore it kinda goes hand in hand with what we do musically I suppose. It’s a bit of a release, musically. It’s a release of aggression. It’s a release of emotions even lyrically as well. Things that are said, these thoughts expressed, it’s all important equally.”

The Australian New Zealand Deathcrusher Tour featuring Carcass and Napalm Death kicks off in April 2015. Extortion are also on the bill for all Australian shows. Catch these two gods of grind at one of the following dates: April 16th – Perth, Capitol, 18+; April 17th – Melbourne, Prince Bandroom, 18+; April 18th – Sydney, The Factory Theatre, 18+; April 19th – Brisbane, The Hifi, 18+; April 21st - Valhalla, Wellington, 18+; April 22nd - Valhalla, Wellington, 18+; April 23rd - The Kings Arms, Auckland, 18+. For more information on Napalm Death, check out www.napalmdeath.org.

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