From Enslavement To Obliteration
09 November 2006
Words by Justin Donnelly
There's no denying that with the release of Scum back in 1987, U.K. act Napalm Death earned themselves a place in metal history as one of the forefathers of the grindcore scene.
Almost twenty-five years on, the highly influential grindcore/death metal legends still continue to redefine their own existence within the scene with every new release.
Eighteen months after the release of their highly acclaimed comeback release The Code Is Red... Long Live The Code, Napalm Death (Who, since 2002, have comprised of vocalist Mark 'Barney' Greenway, guitarist Mitch Harris, bassist Shane Embury and drummer Danny Herrera) have managed the unthinkable, and returned with an even stronger follow up in Smear Campaign (Their twelfth full length release), which critics have already been hailed as a modern day extreme/death metal classic.
During a brief stop over in Dortmund (Germany, where the band were playing a show in support of Disturbed), I managed to catch up with the down to earth Mark 'Barney' Greenway, who was more than happy to chat about their new albums unusual and unlikely guest appearance, his reluctance too spend too much time in the past, his rediscovered love of touring, the band self imposed pressure to better The Code Is Red... Long Live The Code and ultimately reaching that personal goal with the stunning Smear Campaign.
“The Code Is Red... Long Live The Code was so well received, and we fucking loved that album when we completed it, but I have to be honest when I say that I think Smear Campaign surpasses it in many ways. That's a personal achievement, if nothing else.”
It's a bold claim from Greenway, especially given that when I spoke to Mitch Harris last year, he claimed that The Code Is Red... Long Live The Code was their strongest release to date.
“I think this one is. 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. I know people are going to say that musicians always say that, but if you go back to some of the interviews I've done in the past, I've always been honest about how our albums turned out in my own opinion. I think this one is definitely the best all round album we've done. And there are a number of reasons why. First, I think this album has the songs. We're never going to write commercial hooks or things like that, but in the context of extremity, I think these songs are really catchy. Or at least I think they are. Two, I think the music and lyrics really came together this time around, as in where they sit together. Thirdly, I think the sound production is fantastic, and last but not least there's the artwork. I think the artwork is fucking great. So everything all round makes Smear Campaign fucking great.”
According to Greenway, placing themselves under pressure is necessary when making a Napalm Death album, as it only helps add to the band's aggressive sound.
“We try not to be too relaxed when we're writing songs, because we feel that urgency and that on the edge sort of feeling can be helped by not giving ourselves too much time to come up with the material. I wouldn't want that kind of loose vibe that some other bands have. I would think that we would kind of get bored if we had to write an album that way. The momentum would be a little lacking I think. We like that pressure. At times I'll find myself at my computer tapping out lyrics with absolute ease, and other days I can have a complete mental block and find myself screaming the place down. But at the end of the day, that pressure to come up with stuff really works. I don't know why, but it just does. I guess we've just found our little way of making things work for us. This time around, we put ourselves under a little bit of pressure, as we always do, went in there and came up with whatever we came up with. There was no great master plan. We just came up with some songs, and recorded what we felt was good at the time. It was the same deal as always when it comes to making Napalm Death albums. Only this time, I think everything came together perfectly.”
It's no secret that Napalm Death are quite prolific when it comes to their studio work (Especially given there's only eighteen months between The Code Is Red... Long Live The Code and Smear Campaign), but it does make you wonder if sometimes all four members are all prepared in terms of having material ready prior to entering the studio.
“Well obviously we schedule studio time when we're due to start rehearsing, but I would say there are times when some of us are on slightly different pages compared to others in terms of writing new material, or being prepared beforehand. But it all works out because one really does compliment the other. Embury compliments Harris in terms of bouncing ideas off each other and writing material, while I compliment the song framework with the lyrics. It just goes from there. I mean Embury and Harris are the principal riff writers. I will sometimes help them with that, but because I don't generally play guitar, my job is centred more on the general arrangements. That's about the level of involvement in regards to the riffing that I have. But yes, I do get involved with the arrangements. But you know, Embury has his way of writing, and Harris has his, and when the pair of them come together, it really works, regardless of how prepared they are before entering in rehearsals. Or at least I think so! (Laughs)”
One person that really deserves a mention outside of the band is Russ Russell, who has moved from behind the scenes to engineer, record, mix and co-produce (With Napalm Death themselves) Smear Campaign.
“We've actually worked with Russell on four prior releases (2000's Enemy Of The Music Business, 2002's Order Of The Leech, 2004's Leaders Not Followers: Part 2 and 2005's The Code Is Red... Long Live The Code), but he was just a co-producer or straight engineer for us at the time. We really wanted to use Russell's own abilities, because we just felt that Russell could be a whole lot than just a co-producer or engineer. Russell totally understands the band. He understands the need for rawness and looseness, as well as the need to have a big sound within that context. I think he totally succeeded in getting that for us. Russ blows me away in terms of what production he's done for Napalm Death. I don't think those other albums would be half the albums they are without his assistance there. He's just amazing. Nothing really changed in regards to the songs themselves, but he did manage to give us that sound we were really after.”
Another unsung hero is artist Mick Kenney (Who is also drummer for Mistress, Annal Nathrakh and Frost), who has given Napalm Death's latest album a distinctly detailed old school look.
“I totally agree. What we did there was skewer the concept of the terrorist image a little bit to include the fish logo on the forehead, which is a symbol used for Christians. The reason behind this is to suggest that sinister forces are at work where you may not think, and on an everyday basis. That's what the meaning is behind the centrepiece there. And of course, the surrounding imagery is religiously related stuff as well. The theme of the album is obviously religion, and while I know a lot of bands have tackled that issue in many different ways in the past, I wanted to hopefully go a little deeper than most. I actually wanted to the lyrics to address a wide range of issues, with the hope to bring to the forefront some things that even irreligious people could even absorb. Morality is the main issue really. Even people that are really into freethinking don't want to have anything to do with religion. We still want to get back to this thing that has been ingrained into us, which is morality. And my whole point is to say, 'We don't need morality or judgement to live in harmony'. The better way forward is not to have these divisions and judgements that make other people seem irrelevant or inappropriate. It's better that we do what's right for ourselves, and in turn we will begin to understand other people a little more by our own happiness. I think that morality makes judgements on people, and that just creates divisions and just perpetuates conflict. The whole lyrical concept on Smear Campaign is mine, but I think it's something that everyone in the band agrees on. I think it might be better to say that the other guys might not think too much about this kind of stuff deeply, but then there aren't too many people that do! (Laughs) That's why we're still in servitude to morality and the moral guardians. But it was my concept. The other guys in the band don't talk about it much, and I'm sure they have some slightly different perspectives on the subject matter, but we all pretty much think along the same lines. I mean, when are you ever going to get a band in this world where all the members truly believe the same thing? We're all people at the end of the day.”
With an outspoken front man on a whole host of issues throughout the years, I had to ask if there were moments where a certain member of the band had ever directly opposed the lyrical statement presented in a song.
“That's a really good question. I don't really get asked about my lyrics from the band all that often, and I can really honestly say that's it's never been an issue with any other members of the band. Embury and Harris have written lyrics in the past, and Embury wrote some to two songs on Smear Campaign (When All Is Said And Done and Shattered Existence), but there's never been an issue about lyrics in the past. Most of the differing opinions that Embury and I have are about how the band might work in certain ways. We're both into free thought and things like that. We're free thinkers, or at least we try to be. We also have that experience in life, and that gives us the ability to accept others opinions on matter.”
Unlike The Code Is Red... Long Live The Code, Smear Campaign features only one guest appearance, who interesting enough is Anneke Van Giersbergen from Dutch progressive act The Gathering, who appears on the opening instrumental piece Weltschmerz and In Deference.
“Some bands might drag guests in for their album purely for the sake of having that someone sing on their album. But for us, we always do things in context. Jello Biafra (Who appeared on The Great And The Good) was totally right for that track that he did. In fact, when you listen to the original guide vocal I did before Biafra did his thing, you can tell that he took the track to a whole other place. That's the whole point. If you're going to bring in another guest, they have to compliment the song, or add to the song rather than just sound the same. And for this album, Giersbergen's contributions to both Weltschmerz and In Deference were totally in context. Some people might say it's a bit fucking weird, but it's in context with what the song is actually about. You have to hear the song, because without hearing it, it does sound a little strange having someone like Giersbergen singing on a Napalm Death track. I think both tracks sound very much like Celtic Frost around the Morbid Tales (1984) era. But then when you think of other bands in the past, like Crass and Conflict, who always added female vocalists, it's not that strange. I always loved that, because it was in complete contrast to what the male vocalists were doing. I think it worked, because they complimented the songs really well. I've read what some people have already posted on some forums, but stuff like that is inevitable! (Laughs) They're saying things like, 'Ah! Operatic metal vocals! What are they doing?' Those people haven't heard that song yet. Once they hear it in context, they'll understand.”
Taking into account that Greenway has already stated that Smear Campaign is the strongest Napalm Death album so far, I had to ask if there was a certain amount of fear in regards to following up Smear Campaign the next time they head into the studio.
“The Code Is Red... Long Live The Code was a fantastic album, and it's still a great album, but this one is just that little bit stronger. I honestly had my doubts from the start of recording this album about how the fuck we were going to top that album. But I think we did. I don't want to sound arrogant at all, but I really have the vibe that we topped the last album. But having said that, I don't really have any negative to say about The Code Is Red... Long Live The Code. It's still a great album for me. But yes, there's a certain amount of fear and expectation about following up Smear Campaign! (Laughs) The only way we're going to achieve that is to not worry about it and just go with whatever feels right at the time. That's all we can do. It goes back to that thing where some bands start to believe their own hype, and all the bands that have ever done that in the past have made great albums, and then followed them up with some shitty albums. At least that's what I think. I don't want to believe our own hype. I don't really take the 'Legendary Band' hype seriously. It's very nice of people to say those sorts of things, but we're only as good as our next album. So we're just going to have to do what feel right next time around.”
In a sense, Greenway's philosophy about the Napalm Death's past is very similar to that of vocalist/guitarist/founder Miland 'Mille' Petrozza and his band Kreator, which is very much based around looking ahead rather than behind.
“That's right. You can spend too much time on nostalgia, and forget where you're actually meant to be going. In a sense, Napalm Death has a history, but it doesn't really matter. We just have to keep going forward. We can't live in the past. There are a certain component of fans out there that want us to continually making copies of From Enslavement To Obliteration (1988), but I have to ask myself why? It's not doing ourselves any justice, and it wouldn't do most of the fans listening to us any justice. It would be cheating. It's like trying to recapture a moment in time. It's not going to have any substance to it. Yes, it would have really fast songs, and perhaps some really good songs, but it just would be the same.”
With Smear Campaign now on the shelves, Napalm Death are ready to hit the road, with their first leg of dates covering the U.S. (Alongside Hatebreed, The Black Dahlia Murder and Exodus under the banner of Monsters Of Mayhem), and it's something that Greenway is genuinely looking forward to.
“We're just about to dive in at the deep end, but it'll be fucking great. I'm dying to get out there and play some more shows. I love touring! (Laughs) Touring very much depends on your own feelings about yourself. Contrary to some romantic visions some have about touring or being in a band, it's a hard fucking slog. It really can be sometimes. You have to be ready to deal with that. Some people just aren't built to tour. When I say that, I don't mean the hedonistic side or the excessive side, because that's not Napalm Death's about anyway. It's hard in the sense that you're away from home, there's no grounding and there's no personal touch about that nomadic life. You're either in a van or sharing a bus with a bunch of people just heading from place to place. You have to be equipped to deal with that. I am now, but I wasn't equipped for that for some time. Now, I'm really positive about life on the road. I like to make a positive out of anything. I'm looking forward to it, because I know that in the live sense, we're honed to a point now where we really fucking go for it. We're finding that we're really enjoying it now. It's great. We're even hoping to tour Australia this time around. It just hasn't worked out in the past, but hopefully that won't be a problem from this point on. We fucking need to be down there. It's been some ten years since we were last down there! (Laughs) We definitely make conscious efforts to make a tour work down there with our other tours (Regions such as Japan and Asia), so hopefully it'll be sooner rather than later.”
From a greater personal perspective, Greenway seems to have made the transition from being a musician on the road to a nomadic traveller who soaks in the sights and sounds that surround him on a daily basis, with Napalm Death's show only taking a small part of his day as a roving musician/tourist.
“These days, I'm just brimming with positives. Sometimes people tend to miss the simple things in life. It's very easy to sweep them under the carpet. I sometimes take a very simple and logical point of view on things, so I try not to overcomplicate things too much. There's no need to overcomplicate what is a simple issue. Some people might say I'm simply after an easy life, but I say why not? It's a philosophy I try to use on the road as well. I try and stimulate myself! (Laughs) I read. I know that's something anyone can do, but I try and open my eyes and get out there and look around and just take in wherever I am. I do a variety of things, so I always manage to keep myself busy. Even the simple art of conversation is a very helpful thing, whether that is with your band mates, or some fan that's come down to the gig. It's great to see them, and sometimes you'll find yourself chatting away for three hours conversing on a whole range of subjects. Again, it might be nostalgic to a point, but it's more about getting off on the art of conversation. In many ways, it's a sadly forgotten art.”
Napalm Death's latest album, Smear Campaign, is out now on Century Media Records through Stomp Distribution. For more information on Napalm Death, check out www.napalmdeath.org.
More from Napalm Death
- Staff Picks of 2015 - Simon Milburn [editorial]
- Staff Picks of 2015 - Simon Crawley [editorial]
- Staff Picks of 2015 - Eden Howard [editorial]
- Napalm Death, Carcass and Extortion - The Hifi Bar, Brisbane, AUS, 19 Apr 2015 [live]
- Napalm Death - Think for a Minute [interview]
- Napalm Death and Carcass with Guests Extortion - April 2015 Australian Deathcrusher Tour Announced [news]
- Napalm Death/Dying Fetus - Brisbane, Aus, 3 Sep, 2010 [live]
- Napalm Death - Work to Rule [interview]
- Napalm Death With Guests Dying Fetus - 2010 Australian Tour Supports Announced [news]
- Napalm Death With Guests Dying Fetus - Announce September 2010 Australian Tour [news]
- Metal Forge, The - Staff Picks of 2009 [editorial]
- Napalm Death - Leaders Not Followers [interview]
- Napalm Death - Australian Tour Diary 2007 [live]
- Napalm Death - Mass Appeal Madness [interview]
- Napalm Death - Australian Tour 2007 Announced [news]
- Napalm Death - New Video Clip Online [news]
- Napalm Death - New Album Update [news]
- Napalm Death - Stronger Than All [interview]
- Napalm Death - More details on new album [news]