Instinct of Survival
Our current global malaise makes approaching a new Napalm Death album a confounding proposition. From the days of Scum and FETO to their last album, 2015’s Apex Predator – Easy Meat, Napalm have offered warnings via polemic. Change course, they suggested broadly, or face the inevitable blowback that comes from an unjust economic system, climate change and a host of other social ills. Here we are in the age of COVID-19 and the proverbial chickens have come to roost—or run amok if you happen to be an American. The disease marches throughout countries that now openly embrace autocracy, disproportionately affecting the poorest among us. But even the wealthy can’t escape the haunting specter of death and social collapse; they can just postpone it a bit.
That we have Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism, Napalm Death’s 16th album, is one of the rare things to celebrate during this pandemic summer. Throes might be Napalm’s most unrepentantly fast album since the band shook off the mid-paced metal trappings and embraced grind with Enemy of the Music Business a shocking two decades ago. Napalm must have had an inkling that things were about to get a lot worse for everyone because Throes is a single-mindedly furious album that, like Cro-Mags’ The Age of Quarrel, Suicidal Tendencies’ debut and Black Flag’s My War, leaves scorched earth after each listen. While it has little in common musically with those hardcore masterpieces, what it does share is an unwavering commitment to purification via rage.
It’s no surprise that Napalm have broadened their sonic palette in the past decade, but Throes is where these experiments are best integrated into their music. On Apex, the “noise” element was an ambient introduction; on Throes, it’s “Joie De Ne Pas Vivre,” a bastard amalgamation of Big Black, Author & Punisher and Napalm with vocals that croak a bit like black metal. “Amoral” has a Killing Joke swing and swagger. There are also straight-ahead ragers like “Fuck the Factoid” that adhere to the winning Napalm formula. They are by no means paint-by-numbers songs, but rather the sharpening of an already deadly spear.
While Napalm have always worked as a collective, you have to salute the phenomenal individual efforts from each performer here. Barney Greenway continues to diversify his vocal approach while never losing sight of his Bamm-Bamm side. Shane Embury’s bass is uncannily fluid and, Christ, it’s so good to hear Mitch Harris raging, even if he might be finished touring. But in some ways, this album belongs to drummer Danny Herrera—the unsung hero of Napalm Death. Whether he’s playing in the pocket on “Invigorating Clutch” or blasting like an alien metronome on “Zero Gravitas Chamber,” his work breathes life and propulsion into the otherworldly textures laid down here.
Listen, life is full of uncertainties lately, and waking up to the worst news in our lifetimes can feel like being tossed in the ocean with an anchor tied to your leg. While it was in no way recorded to help us get through this historical low, there is a topical lesson to Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism: Find something that brings you happiness and push forward, even in the face of overwhelming odds. We’re alive. We still have electricity. And there is a spectacular new Napalm Death album out. Perhaps that’s enough.
Review taken from the October 2020 issue of Decibel, which is available here