Originating in 1981, and evolving into what many call the “Barney” era from 1992, England’s Napalm Death have helped form the subgenre of grindcore, and with that, have released some highly influential records. The band have become a household name in heavy music, and you’ve probably seen their logo on denim jackets at a music festival or two, over the years.
Napalm Death have just released their studio album Throes Of Joy In The Jaws Of Defeatism, packed with politicised fury and protestable messaging – as always. We grabbed vocalist Mark “Barney” Greenway for a chin-wag about the new record, and how the world we currently live in, helped shame the album.
It’s been quite a few years since the band’s last LP, did you spend a lot of time writing and recording?
“We’re a very spontaneous band actually, so we don’t tend to go back and overdo stuff – only in the initial stages of writing because that’s a natural process, but once we got the stuff written and we were happy with it we ran with it,”
What can you share about the album in terms of it’s themes – what would you say it’s about?
“Napalm Death is always responsive and reactive to the times at hand, so what I thought was particularly important and quite urgent in some ways to address, was this situation where we’ve got demonisation and marginalisation of people (which is nothing new), but governments are now employing those kind of tactics to enhance their reputation with their populations and this is a very dangerous thing.”
What are some other examples of modern dehumanisation they’re you’re passionate about rallying against?
“Refugees for one thing, they have been so dehumanised and so reduced to almost trash like status, and these are fellow human beings who are just trying to achieve a bit of dignity, and a better a life – a life free of violence and subjugation in many respects. There’s also the LGBTQ+ community, and you sure enough, there’s been a lot of progress in that respect but we still have governments particularly in Europe who are definitely trying to keep them marginalised, with one country whose government is quite proudly sating ‘we have places in our country that are gay free zones’. Think of this stuff – it’s insane, almost comedy-like in some respects.
“Similar tactics were used by very charismatic people in the 1930s to establish dictatorships and through this, if you can marginalise parts of the population, that means that enhances your reputation with the rest of the population and what that leads to is, you know, exclusion, violence and sometimes mass murder.”
Politicised views like this in your music, has taken the band to great heights of popularity, and has led Napalm Death to be highly influential in the heavy music community, what are your thoughts on that?
“I mean, I definitely appreciate the kind sentiments a hundred percent, and I feel quite honoured by it, but I will say this – you shouldn’t believe your own hype. If you’re going to do creative stuff that’s really going to have an impact, you’ve got to keep doing your bit. There is sometimes a for bands to rest on their laurels a little bit and ‘whatever we do now is always going to be looked up on, and is really great and pivotal’. I just don’t think this is the case, you’ve got to do your part, so I do appreciate the kind words, but I don’t consider us to be elevated to that status.
“We are an ongoing project, and for as long as we are around I want us to be able to do some impactful stuff, so I have to keep my mind in that direction.”
That’s very humble of you Barney, and I think you have kept that momentum going. With the reputation you guys have built, Napalm Death featured on an episode of British TV drama series Skins in 2011 – an allusion to that household name I was talking about earlier. Was it great to blend a peripheral musical genre with television, like that?
“Oh I like that series, I thought it was really quirky, really interesting the way they did it. I’ve got a bit of a complex about seeing myself [on television] or in any situation (he laughs), The episode that we were in was fun. I was actually going to have more of a part in that, but they ended up reducing the script, which you know wasn’t a problem, it was just one of those things.”
I wanted to ask you more about when you very publicly wrote to Indonesian President Joko Widodo (a metal fan who has worn Napalm Death t-shirts) to convey your advocacy against against capital punishment, during the peak of the Bali Nine situation?
“Well, it’s not even 100% confirmed that he’s a fan of us. He wore our t-shirt but that’s not necessarily an indicator. I mean – bloody hell, David Beckham wears Exodus t-shirts. But on a serious level, I am against capital punishment because I think it’s a revenge tactic, and it doesn’t actually really achieve anything. The war on drugs has been an absolute disaster, in terms of human rights abuse. A lot of people do cocaine, but it has some major issues with slavery subjugation in the countries where it’s cultivated, but that being said – the Bali Nine are just scapegoats, but the people who are truly capitalising, are part of very serious gangsterist organisations. So you could say [the Bali Nine] were opportunist in their approach, but do they deserve death because of that? – I would suggest not.”
Given the peak of the ‘Bali Nine’ coverage was between albums, I was wondering if any of those themes appear on Throes Of Joy In The Jaws of Defeatism at all?
“Not specifically, but we’ve always had lyrics like that through the ages (anti-capital punishment stuff) – it has to be addressed at some point.”
Did you ever get a response from President Widodo?
“No it didn’t get anything to be honest only some stuff in a general release from (I think it was) the Justice Minister in Indonesia. We tried our best – but it’s not about me, I wasn’t overly optimistic because obviously wheels of power would cross somebody like me and the other people that were also helping out completely underfoot, but it was always gonna be an uphill struggle. If I had to do it again, then I would. I tried, and I would try again if called upon.”
Interview by Ricky Aarons @rickysaul90
Napalm Death – Throes Of Joy In The Jaws Of Defeatism tracklisting
1. Fuck the Factoid
2. Backlash Just Because
3. That Curse of Being in Thrall
5. Joie De Ne Pas Vivre
6. Invigorating Clutch
7. Zero Gravitas Chamber
8. Fluxing of the Muscle
10. Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism
11. Acting in Gouged Faith
12. A Bellyful of Salt and Spleen