Napalm Death – “From Enslavement to Obliteration”

dB HoF No. 129

Label: Earache
Release date: Steptember, 1988

This particular iteration of Napalm Death was notably short-lived, but the sheer amount the quartet was able to accomplish in a two-year run between the summer of ’87 and summer of  ’89 is absolutely mental. Napalm Death’s recorded output in the interval—1988’s From Enslavement to Obliteration, two manic sessions recorded for Radio One DJ John Peel, and 1989’s Mentally Murdered EP—showcases a band that was light years ahead of its peers in terms of its ability to move forward and innovate, even with shoddy equipment, technical handicaps and dismal environs.

By the time From Enslavement to Obliteration came out in September 1988, Napalm Death were very much at the vanguard of punk and metal, particularly because the band members themselves came from different scenes. Drummer (and sometimes vocalist) Mick Harris and vocalist Lee Dorrian were steeped in the world of punk rock and hardcore, while bassist Shane Embury and guitarist Bill Steer were the band’s most aggressive metal tape-traders/demo hounds. FETO represents a violent collision of everything that was bubbling up in the underground in the mid-’80s, offering the same sort of smart, dizzying connections that mutual band hero Peel typically made with the playlists for his free-associative program.

The virtuosic Dorrian/Embury/Harris/Steer lineup only had a handful of formal rehearsals before entering the studio to charge through the 22 songs on From Enslavement to Obliteration—and they knocked out a stone-cold classic as teenagers, to boot! As for the varied musical backgrounds that informed this era of Napalm Death: That tension is certainly palpable on a record that is ultimately neither punk nor metal, but a sometimes very uncomfortable split between the two. Mick Harris describes the band’s converged sound on FETO in the liner notes as “whirlwind screaming avalanche tornado sandstorm earthquake tyfoon [sic] tidal wave volcanic eruption brain explosion holocaust rockfall thrash grindcore.” Don’t even try to parse it; that’s just what it is.

In hindsight, this version of Napalm Death seemed destined to have a brief, but blinding impact, like a supernova. Youthful arrogance, miscommunication and irreconcilable personality differences prompted another radical reorganization after the July ’89 Japanese tour. Needless to say, FETO is an amazing time capsule of Napalm Death’s salad days and the formative years of Earache Records, but is also remarkable for its crazy riffs, piercing lyrics and megaton blast beats. Modern grindcore owes everything to what Napalm Death was able to accomplish here, and Decibel is chuffed (and not at all weakened) to finally welcome From Enslavement to Obliteration to our Hall of Fame.

– Nick Green
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