Napalm Death New Album Update: Shane Embury Tells (Almost) All

This is a borderline case of premature ejaculation in the press/hype sense that the Deciblog maintained an unblinking vigil on Birmingham, England grind progenitors Napalm Death for news of the long-awaited follow-up to 2009’s Time Waits for No Slave, and ran like a fucking gazelle with a hot poker in its ass, straight to the Internet as soon as we got off the phone to Napalm HQ. But y’know, when that musketeer of the mixing board, producer Russ Russell let slip over a few glasses of hoppy fizz that said album is all but completed we had to call up bassist Shane Embury, reset our mood status to Officially Excited and tell you what was going down. It’d be a dereliction of duty to sit on this sort of news.
To be honest, there’s probably no better time for Napalm Death to drop some teethgrinding ferocity given that our embattled society is growing ever more bankrupt, morally and otherwise ripe for a full-on deluxe grindcore dressing down. Just don’t count on Shane Embury’s geniality at being called to talk about this forthcoming brute to transfer onto record. He, guitarist Mitch Harris, blast-engine Danny Herrera and the jet turbine-throated Barney Greenway might make a decent fist of sounding like they’re all zen in each other’s company, creatively and so forth, but when it comes to articulating politically agitated fury on wax, they’re pretty much peerless. No album title was forthcoming—but hey that’s standard. Just cross fingers and toes that it’s out sooner than later.

How much of the record is done?
Shane Embury: It’s pretty much done—it’s mastered. Barney’s returned today; he was on holiday in Japan. We got to the situation where we’d recorded 19 songs and thought, ‘Right, this is enough now,’ and basically, we’re just trying to work out the tracklisting.

Do you still get that same buzz when going into the studio?
SE: I think for us, in the past few years with Russ, we just go about and do our thing. We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel, but at the same time we’re still conscious of going forward with Napalm while staying true to what the band’s about. We get a kick out of the studio still. Primarily, late at night, it’s just me, Mitch and Russ going through the mixes, the guitar parts to see if we could add any different feel to it. But it’s always quite exciting being in the studio together because we’re all good friends and we’re all quite creative in the process. It’s nice to get together in the studio with Napalm—we still get a kick out of it. At least I do.

Grindcore is such an impulsive art form. Do the songs evolve when it comes to recording them?
SE: I think they do for us in a way, because when we practice we do it quite basically. Some bands—I’ve been to practices where everything’s sounding all very professional. We tend to practice quite basically; sometimes it’s just me and Danny working together because Mitch might not turn up, or maybe we don’t need to work on the songs together. Once we’ve finalized it, we’ll jam together. It’s always quite rough and ready in the rehearsal. It isn’t until you start recording that you hear all the drums mic’d up, the guitar tracks, the bass, and you start spending time on the guitar tones; the songs keep on changing, keep on evolving just by the nature of the songs coming together. Sometimes, with us all being so busy, I won’t have heard Barney’s vocal parts until I’m in the studio. I’ll be hearing Barney’s vocal parts [for the first time] and that’s quite exciting. The way we do it, we don’t hear everything before we go in. It’s weird. We’re completely confident that we know that everything’s going to be fine, we just keep on building these layers and layers, so by the time you’re about to mix the album you hear the songs and think, ‘God, I’m completely happy here; it sounds really fresh.’ It’s always a surprise at the end of the day.

It keeps you on your toes.
SE: The nature of the band—slow, fast, heavy—all that’s in there, everything starts to develop, like a part might be strangely melodic and you don’t think about it, it’s just taken that particular course. You’re in the studio having fun, you can be as experimental as you want to be, but we all know what we want in your heads. Russ is our best mate, we’re like brothers. Like, I’ll say something to him and he’s probably already been thinking about it for 20 minutes—“Yeah, I knew you were going to say that.” It’s really nice working with him. I wouldn’t want to change it for the world. I’m at this stage now when I listen to a record, every time we do a record, always, when we finish it—and I don’t mean this in a big-headed way—I’ll end up playing it 60, 70 times. I’m genuinely happy. It’s like, ‘Wow!’ I feel we’ve managed to do something that’s interesting and heavy and exciting and it’s still hopefully moved on from what we’ve done, and hopefully people will like it.

You have such a unique sound; when it comes to influences now, is it more a case of taking inspiration rather than influences? Say politics would have as much an influence as a band you’ve just heard?
SE: I don’t know… Musically, I can’t single out bands for the songs I’ve wrote. I’ve tried to bring—dare I say it—a bit more of a noise element to it; we’ve gone for a catchy element, but it still emits a lot of frenzied tempos and noise. As a concept, lyrically, Barney’s moving forward: politics are everywhere, and obviously they are a big part of Napalm, but amongst it all he’s thinking, ‘Well, you fight your fight and you say your piece and your thoughts about what’s going on in the world, but sometimes you just sit back and ask who are you fighting?’ As soon as you achieve something, there’s something to take its place, to oppressively dog you down, there’s always something to battle and at the end of the day you wonder whether it’s all worth it, for yourself. You try to fight the good fight, but there’s so much hate in the world. At the same time, you’re looking around, looking at yourself pushing against the system, but how much more can you fight? The theme of the cover is the Thinker [Auguste Rodin’s sculpture], pondering the eternal thoughts of where we are in this world and what we have to achieve, personally and collectively. Lyrically, I suppose that’s a theme that’s going through the album. Musically, we listen to bands from all over the place, still, but I think sometimes we pick it up subconsciously. I know, for me, I’ve listened to a lot of noisecore since the last album, and I’m sure it’s just embedded itself in there somewhere. When we’re traveling to gigs, I sit in the back of the van thinking about what I’m going to do on the next record, then you pick up a guitar and then you try to transcribe it. I wanted to make it very chaotic this time around. There’s a lot of catchy, heavy slow riffs, but there’s a lot of crazy noise stuff going on and a few weird surprises, too.

It’s been quite a long time since you put out Time Waits for No Slave; has there been much change in the band as people/musicians since then?
SE: I think we’ve always wanted to do that; personally, you have your ups and downs through the years as people, but in a vision sort of way we are all on the same page. Occasionally, we might listen to the odd riff and think, ‘That’s a little bit strange,’ but it always tends to work out; when you’re all looking in the same direction you’re not afraid to try things. I think we know each other so well, in our musical backgrounds as well, it’s not a surprise if Mitch comes up with something and I don’t really question it because I’ve known him so long as a person. He’s been my friend for like 22 years or something; he’s not going to throw a real mad curveball at me. It’s more a question of ‘Let’s try it’. It always works out. Even if I think it’s a bit strange, it will work because, collectively, we’ll start practicing, just the two, three of us, and when it all comes together with Barney’s voice on top it just becomes Napalm Death.

Does Barney come to you with the lyrics before they’re tracked?
SE: He’ll bring something to me and say, ‘Read that. What do you think?’ And I take a look at it and say that it’s fine. Mitch has written a couple of songs on this album, I’ve wrote a couple—I usually write two sets of lyrics per record, that’s the most, I don’t want to push it. But Mitch has written a couple and has done vocals on a couple of songs; Mitch and Barney doing verses/choruses, and it’s pretty interesting because it’s got this kind of old-school Cryptic Slaughter vibe to it. Sometimes Barney will come to me with the lyrics and I’ll have to ask them what it’s about—sometimes I’ll get asked a question and I want to make sure [I know the answer]

So it’s a collaborative effort on the lyrics?
SE: A little bit. Mitch just had a vision for a couple of tracks; with his style of voice it did have that Cryptic Slaughter vibe and it was good, it’s interesting because it’s a nice mix to break it up. Barney was totally into the idea, which is good because you don’t want to step on anyone’s toes. We’re in that process now of having so many songs we’re just trying to work out the general order of them—sometimes you want to attack from the very beginning. We’ve got a lot of songs to play with this time.

19 songs is a lot to take in.
SE: I think the main release will have 15 or 16. We’ll probably put a different track on the vinyl, maybe an exclusive download track, and we have that thing where we license the album to Japan and we’ll probably give them a couple of tracks for the imports. We’ve actually got a few more songs that we didn’t finish that we’re gonna use for splits, because I’ve been trying to work on a split with the Melvins for a while. That’s in the pipeline at some point.

Amazing, is that a definite? When is this likely to come out?
SE: I don’t know when it’s going to be out, but I’ve been talking to Buzz [Osborne] about it for two or three years, and y’know, Buzz is really busy, same with me, and we’ll say hey to each other and all of a sudden we realize we haven’t spoken to each other in months. It’s definitely on the cards, though; it’s definitely something that we want to try to do. Once we release this next album, we want to do a few splits with bands we like because we feel that… we’ve not intentionally neglected it, but we want to connect more with bands we love in the underground. It’s still very much a big part of us and we try to keep our ear to the ground as much as possible. Some bands just come along and kick you in the ass and make you want to step up a gear. I love hearing a band that makes me think, ‘God, I’d wish we’d do something like that.’ It just fires you up.

The split is a beautiful thing.
SE: It’s a lot of fun. We’ve been talking about it for such a long time. We’ve also talked about trying to do something together at some point. Obviously, we are at quite different extremes, but I love Buzz’s attitude, the way he is; he’s been a mentor to me over the years in the way he talks about the industry. We’re trying to work this split, and it’s just a matter of time. We have the songs now that we can use on that now. It’s a childhood thing, lovely 7-inch, clear vinyl… I love that sort of thing.
Do you have a name for the record yet (you’re not going to tell me)?
SE: I’ve been told by the powers that be that I’ve got to keep it under wraps for the time being. I think Barney wants to keep it quiet—song titles, though, we have songs like “Quarantine,” “The Wolf I Feed,” “Collision Course,” “Analysis Paralysis,” “Leper Colony”: those are some of the song titles we have at the moment. It will be interesting to hear what people think. I think it’s a good continuation from the last record. One of the songs, “Fall on Their Swords,” the first couple of riffs on that I wrote 20 years ago and I’ve finally finished it. It’s kind of a strange track, it starts of sort of in the vein of Utopia Banished, with a really atmospheric Swans, doomy black metal bit in the middle—not black metal, but that sort of weird chord. Strangely enough, the first two riffs on that, I have been playing about with for years. For me it’s a good step on from the last record. I’ve played them back-to-back and, I dunno, it’s just evolved in its own course. In the time between albums you are always conscious about making another album and not wanting to repeat yourself. And you’re always scared that you might.

You can experiment and evolve all you like, but you can never really disguise Napalm Death’s sound.
SE: You’ll still know it’s us. It’s pretty ferocious in place, which I’m pretty happy about. I really wanted the crazy parts to be even crazier, and there’s a great song where it just goes in a mad noise chord with a wah pedal on it and just blasting like crazy—I’m pretty happy about that. There’s a few chunky, mid-paced riffs, some ‘80s style thrown in there too. You’ll hear Mitch screaming in his Cryptic Slaughter voice and it sounds like the Convicted album, so it’s pretty good.

When will it be out?
SE: I’m hoping it will be out before the end of this year, but I don’t know if it will. We were talking about November-ish, but I don’t know, it’s a bit of a weird time. That’s when I imagine it’s going to come out, but it might even be held on ‘til next year. Hopefully, though, it will be October/November. I originally wanted to do 14 or 15 songs and we ended up doing 19 and I thought, ‘Fuck, what do we do?’ And Mitch had a lot of stuff and we were coming up with stuff—we could have probably have done a double album, but that would have been crazy. No, it’s encouraging that we’re confident that we’re doing this record and we’ve already got ideas for another album. That’s obviously encouraging because, obviously, we’ve been about for a number of years and ideas still seem to be flowing. It’s positive.

God help you putting together a setlist.
SE: That’s a nightmare as well, but there you go.

You could do worse than finishing with this…