Napalm Death are a British extreme metal band formed in Meriden, West Midlands, England, in 1981 by Nic Bullen and Miles Ratledge while the duo were still in their early teenage years. The duo had been playing in amateur bands since 1980 as an extension of their fanzine writing, and went through a number of names (including “Civil Defence”, “The Mess”, “Evasion”, and “Undead Hatred”) before choosing Napalm Death in mid 1981. The band were initially inspired by the early wave of punk bands, particularly the anarcho-punk movement (a subgenre of punk music focused on anarchist politics), and associated groups such as Crass. While none of its original members remain in the group, the lineup of vocalist Mark “Barney” Greenway, bassist Shane Embury, guitarist Mitch Harris and drummer Danny Herrera has remained consistent for most of the band’s career.
Napalm Death are credited as pioneers of the grindcore genre by incorporating elements of crust punk and death metal, using a noise-filled sound that uses heavily distorted, down-tuned guitars, grinding overdrive bass, high speed tempo, blast beats and vocals which consist of incomprehensible growls or high-pitched shrieks, extremely short songs, fast tempos and sociopolitical lyrics.
The band’s debut album Scum, released in 1987 by Earache Records, proved substantially influential throughout the global metal community. In 2005, Scum was voted the 50th best British album of all time by Kerrang! readers, and in 2009 was ranked number 5 in Terrorizer’s list of essential European grindcore albums. Scum is listed in Robert Dimery’s book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, their song “You Suffer” is the shortest song in the world, at only 1.316 seconds long. Bill Steer was placed third on Decibel Magazine’s “Top 20 Death Metal guitarists of all time.”
The band returned to Rich Bitch studio once more and recorded their second album: From Enslavement to Obliteration (1988). A follow-up release to “Enslavement…” came in the form of the six songs 12″ EP “Mentally Murdered”, which was to be the last recording with the Harris/Steer/Dorian/Embury line-up. This EP was recorded at the Slaughterhouse Studios and took on a slightly different sound, blending grindcore with death metal.
Death Metal-era and rise to success (1990–1994)
In Florida, they started working on their next album, Harmony Corruption (1990). While writing Harmony Corruption they changed their style a little, from grindcore, to a mix of blast beats and some slower, more rhythmic parts. In addition, death metal was a major influence on Harmony Corruption, more so than their previous records. After releasing the new record, they went on touring around the world and from the material filmed at those concerts they released a home-video ‘Live Corruption’, directed by noted metal director Steve Payne.
The band caught considerable flak from longtime fans in respect to the “death metal” sound and production of Harmony Corruption. Smarting from the accusations of selling-out by the British underground “elites”, Napalm entered Eddie Van Dale’s Violent Noise Experience Club in March 1991 to record six new tracks. These new songs, the “Mass Appeal Madness” 12″ LP, had a much more raw grind quality to them, finding instant favour with fans. This recording, along with the “Mentally Murdered” 12″, the split 7″ with S.O.B. and live tracks from Live Corruption, found a home on the Death by Manipulation CD.
Napalm Death released a new record, Utopia Banished (1992). Now working with producer Colin Richardson. This release was a kind of “return to the roots” – Grindcore.
The band remixed the track “Mind Of A Razor” by London-based hip hop crew Gunshot. The remixed version of the track appeared on the EP of the same name in 1992. Thereafter, they went to the studio and recorded Fear, Emptiness, Despair (1994). Although it was still as heavy and aggressive as previous releases, the new record took a different direction and sounded more experimental; they added more rhythmic riffs, a groove-like structure, and then added grindcore blast beats. Live concerts with Entombed, Obituary and Machine Head showed the audience how violent and aggressive the new Napalm Death sound was. They continued with the experimentation through the rest of the 1990s.
Later years and split with Earache (1995–2003)
The Greed Killing EP was the next release from the band, through Earache. After the preview with the EP, Diatribes (1996), a full-length album was released. Although things seemed to be going smoothly from outside, they were going through problems. Misunderstanding rose between the members and singer Greenway was expelled from the band in late/mid 1996 and ENT’s main singer Phil Vane went to fill vocals slot in Napalm Death. Things did not go as well as they were supposed to, and Vane was kicked out of the band just before they got into the studio to record the new album. And so Greenway returned to Napalm Death.
The next albums Inside the Torn Apart (1997) and Words from the Exit Wound (1998) continued with the experimentation but displayed more signs of grindcore, notably faster tempos than the last two albums. This return was completed with the release of Enemy of the Music Business (2000). It shows their anger with the music industry and especially with Earache. Order of the Leech (2002) continued where their previous album ended and can be seen as even more faster and aggressive.
Departure and death of Jesse Pintado
In 2004, they recorded a covers album called Leaders Not Followers: Part 2, the sequel to their earlier covers EP. It contains covers of old hardcore punk and heavy metal bands, including Cryptic Slaughter, Massacre, Kreator, Sepultura, Siege and Discharge. Due to personal problems, Jesse Pintado did not play on either Order of the Leech or Leaders Not Followers: Part 2, and left the band in early 2004. Nevertheless, Pintado stated that he left because he grew tired of Napalm Death and wanted to start something new. The two guitars that you hear is Mitch over-dubbing.
In April 2005, their next album The Code Is Red…Long Live the Code was released. It features guest appearances from Jeffrey Walker (Carcass), Jamey Jasta (Hatebreed vocalist) and Jello Biafra (formerly of Dead Kennedys, and Lard among many other bands). The album continued the band’s progressive approach to their brutal brand of extreme metal, with their trademark grindcore sound retained.
Napalm Death finished recording their follow-up album titled Smear Campaign in June 2006, and it was released on 15 September 2006 to strong reviews from fans and critics alike. The main lyrical focus is criticism of the United States Government and other governments who are strongly religious. The album features a guest appearance by Anneke van Giersbergen, vocalist for the Dutch rock band The Gathering.
On 27 August 2006, Jesse Pintado died in a hospital in the Netherlands due to liver failure, prompting Mitch Harris to express his sadness at the loss of someone he thought of as “a brother” on the band’s official website. In November 2008, Napalm Death’s fourteenth studio album, entitled Time Waits for No Slave, leaked onto the internet; it was officially released on 23 January 2009.
Napalm Death released their fifteenth studio album, Utilitarian, on 27 February 2012 in Europe and 28 February in North America via Century Media. In March 2012, Napalm Death headlined the Metal Mayhem IV festival organized by “Defenders of Metal” in Nepal. This was the first time Napalm Death played in Nepal. Napalm Death’s sixteenth studio album, Apex Predator – Easy Meat, was released on 26 January 2015.
Napalm Death have released sixteen studio albums till date and are listed by Nielsen SoundScan as the seventh best-selling death metal band in the United States.