As the longest-serving member of Napalm Death and one of its chief songwriters – including on 2020’s superb Throes Of Joy In The Jaws Of Defeatism (opens in new tab) – Shane Embury has often proved to be the mastermind behind the godfathers of grindcore (opens in new tab). Outside his main gig, though, Embury has teamed up with a litany of stellar stars and local legends to explore everything from psychedelic post-metal to industrial noise, lending an inimitable sense of expansive extremity to his many projects. We spoke to the Midlands maverick to nail down 10 that stand out as personal highlights in a three-decade plus career.
Napalm Death – Lucid Fairytale (The Peel Sessions, 1988)
“I saw Napalm in March ’86 and was there when they recorded the A-side [for Scum]. Justin [Broadrick] left to join Head Of David, so Nik [Bullen, original Napalm vocalist] asked me to join and I said yes… but then chickened out! Even so, when Jim [Whitley] came in [to record the Scum b-side] I was asked to show him the riffs. Even at that point, they already had Lucid Fairytale and Practice What You Preach, with Lucid Fairytale heavily inspired by Repulsion’s Acid Bath.
“Obviously, further down the line I actually did join on bass and my first time playing with the band was on a Peel Session, as opposed to a gig, which was strange come to think of it! We played it in the BBC studio and [Mott The Hoople drummer] Dale Griffin freaked out – he couldn’t understand how we’d got 12 songs in five minutes. I still think about it now, being so young but being able to do that radio session amongst all the other bands that were well known at the time.”
Napalm Death – Nazi Punks Fuck Off (Nazi Punks Fuck Off, 1993)
“We originally covered Nazi Punks Fuck Off [by Dead Kennedys (opens in new tab)] because it was something like Alternative Tentacles’ 100th release and we were asked to pick a track to cover. It’s become such a show classic that we always play it now of course and in ’93 we released it as an EP for an anti-fascist charity. A little while later Jello Biafra came down to sing it with us. Back in my old Shropshire days, my stepbrother was blasting that very same song as I was crossing over from metal to punk. I come from this tiny little village [Broseley] and it was mad to think a year after being there listening to that song I was on-stage with Jello Biafra himself in Oakland. Fucking trippy.
“By and large we didn’t get too many skinheads at gigs, but there was a time in Pennsylvania where we were playing with Sheer Terror in ’96 and there were maybe 300 or 400 people there, about 40 of them skinheads. We started the set with Nazi Punks Fuck Off and four songs in they rushed us – we had to retreat backstage. The doors looked like they were going to come down. Danny [Herrera, drums] thought he was going to be killed!”
Gunshot – Mind Of A Razor (The Beat, 1994)
“Gunshot were a London-based hip hop band and I liked them a lot. I’m not into rap much anymore but back then I loved N.W.A and Public Enemy (opens in new tab) – the more hyper-tempo hip hop – and Gunshot fit in with that, they even toured with Sick Of It All (opens in new tab) at one point. They were signed to Vinyl Solution Records and I don’t know how it came about, but they got in touch with me to ask if I wanted to collaborate with them. I came up with the guitar parts on their DJ’s laptop in their manager’s office and didn’t quite know what was going to come out of it, but if anything they seemed more nervous of me!
“I got to play it live with them a few times, like when they went on the ITV show The Beat. We also met up when I was doing press for Fear, Emptiness, Despair in Berlin, as they were playing a show on the night, so I got up and totally destroyed the support band’s guitar, ha ha!. Things like that turn you on to different things other than Napalm, while still being every bit as intense as even what we would do.”
Brujeria – El Patron (Raza Odiada, 1995)
“I was in LA just before Brujeria recorded their second record and decided to go on the drums for El Patron for god-knows what reason, as I hadn’t played a drum set in forever. Billy [Gould] of Faith No More (opens in new tab) jumped onto guitar as he was really into Godflesh and that was the vibe; it was a spontaneous thing that came together. Around that time a Colombian drug lord had just been shot, which this being Brujeria and having that gangster image, we thought it would make a fitting tribute to do.
“It was fun playing drums with Bill as he’s not just a good friend of mine, but I was also a massive fan of Faith No More before I even met them. That’s one of the great things about being in Napalm Death: meeting some of our heroes and even becoming friends with some of them. Those mad Los Angeles times stick in my mind – the burritos, beers and god knows what else we got our hands on.”
Macabre – Ed Gein (Live, 2010)
“I’m a massive Macabre fan – I loved the Grim Reality mini-album and had it on tape from the tape-trading circuit before I officially got it. I’ve got great memories of [ex-Napalm drummer] Mick Harris running around the house with his two-string bass shrieking ‘Ed Gein! Ed Gein!’ so when we toured with them later [in 2010] I said, ‘Go on lads, let me have a go at singing’ and they did.
“I was pretty chuffed about it – there was nothing more to it than that really, just me being a massive Macabre fan! When I got up there were a few bemused German fans thinking ‘who’s this guy’ I’m sure, but Lance [Corporate Death, Macabre vocalist/guitarist] has a way with words that is very Frank Zappa-ish and so his introductions were great.”
Napalm Death – To Go Off And Things (Sugar Daddy Live Vol. 9/Coded Smears And More Uncommon Slurs, 2011)
“Cardiacs (opens in new tab) are my favourite band – I’ve loved them forever and we even shared managers at one point, so I always wanted to cover one of their songs. To Go Off And Things was probably the easiest one we could play! We became friends with Tim [Smith, vocals/guitar/keys] and Jim [Smith, bass/vocals]. Tim suffered a stroke and became very ill, so the song was initially done as part of a benefit for him, but it meant a lot to me. I believe I actually played both bass and guitar on the track, as Mitch [Harris, guitar] was out the country.
“I also played with [Cardiacs guitarist/keyboard player] Jon Poole later in Mutation, along with Ginger Wildheart (opens in new tab). I pestered him to play all the Cardiacs piano pieces! Mutation was great, so many talented people involved. For me, Napalm had a particular way of working and it wasn’t until I did Mutation that changed. We had all these strange ideas and everybody got to put in to the point where we didn’t know how it would all come out. It made me rethink how to write albums, which is perhaps why with the last Napalm record I wanted it to feel more spontaneous and not have fixed ideas of how it would come out. It was fun – we had Mark E Smith come down and scare the hell out of Ginger.”
Hicks Kinison – Night Goat (Devour Their Hearts, 2016)
“We first met Melvins (opens in new tab) when Napalm played a few shows with them in the 90s, but I’ve been a massive fan of them for ages. One of my favourites was Night Goat, though the version I loved was the one they released as a stand-alone single. Anyway, I only met Buzz [Osbourne, vocals] properly when we did the first Venomous Concept album. I was spending a lot of time in LA at the time playing shows with Brujeria and he was just a really funny guy who’d take us on tours
“We’d always talked about Napalm and Melvins touring together, it just took a few years to happen. Melt-Banana opened and it was one of the best tours of the USA I think we’ve done, particularly with how mixed the audience was. On that tour I’d mentioned to Buzz that I really loved Night Goat and him being him, he offered me to play it with them the next night. I didn’t realise that meant I was then expected to play it on the next 40 shows with them! Later that year we also covered it in Hicks Kinison – one of my other projects I had with (Brujeria guitarist) AK – on our album, which brought things full circle.”
Tronos – Premonition (Celestial Mechanics, 2019)
“Tronos was a project I came up with alongside Russ [Russell, vocals/guitar/synth, and producer extraordinaire]. We talked for years about doing something heavy but psychedelic and lyrically going into things about space, consciousness and the afterlife. It took a while to put together, but again through the acquaintances I’ve made over the years we managed to get Billy [Gould] on bass and [Voivod vocalist] Snake joined me to sing on Premonition, while for the album itself we managed to get people like Troy [Sanders] of Mastodon and Dirk [Verbeuren] from Megadeth to play drums.
“I didn’t intend it to go as it did – I was originally looking for a singer, but ended up being the band’s singer overall. Everyone thinks they can sing a little, but I was quite nervous about it. That said, having Billy play his iconic slap-bass on Premonition and bring in Snake’s vocal was surreal and brilliant.
“I remember the first time I saw Voivod (opens in new tab) was with Possessed in ’86 and it was mind-blowing. I saw them in [Birmingham music shop] Shades the next day and was too afraid to go say hello when Piggy [Dennis, D’Amour, guitar] was with them too. It was a big thing for me.”
Blood From The Soul – Calcified Youth (DSM-5, 2020)
“Blood From The Soul were actually the first side-project I put together, back in ’93. Originally, I remember getting in touch with Mike Patton to sing, but he turned me down. I think it was our manager who asked Lou [Koller] of Sick Of It All as he seemed like the obvious choice – this Helmet (opens in new tab) influence, with bits of Sonic Youth (opens in new tab). It got a bit of a cult following; every now and then I’d meet people who told me they really liked it and one of those people was Jacob [Bannon] of Converge (opens in new tab).
“I’d also got Dirk from Megadeth twisting my arm to do another record. I’d got a few songs going and it clicked in my head that it was similar to what I’d done before, so I asked Jacob if he’d be interested, and he was totally into it. We also managed to get Jesper [Liveröd] of Nasum (opens in new tab) to play bass. The great thing with Jacob is that he totally took it on lyric and image-wise, turning into something more. The riff to Calcified Youth came to me in like 10 seconds; even though its heavy, it was also inspired by indie stuff like Pale Saints.”
Dark Sky Burial – Beware Your Subconscious Destroyer (Vincit Qui Se Vincit, 2021)
“I’ve been into experimental music for nearly 30 years – since Harmony Corruption. We all were to be fair, buying Skinny Puppy albums, Ministry (opens in new tab) and Nine Inch Nails, but as the years developed we got into weirder stuff like Coil, Current 93, Test Dept – all kinds of bizarre stuff. I’d always wanted to do something like that, but shelved it. A few years ago, I was on a Brujeria tour and decided to get my laptop out and see what this GarageBand app was all about.
I made loads and loads of loops, watched videos on sound libraries and it all ended up becoming Dark Sky Burial. When COVID kicked in, I was already going through a couple odd years and have been working through some stuff, to be truthful. That came into the track Beware Your Subconscious Destroyer itself – the idea of fighting your inner demons, for lack of a better term. It’s nice to be in control of something and be able to just put it out through Bandcamp – a limited release and not having to deal with the politics of a normal label.”
Dark Sky Burial’s Vincit Qui Se Vincit is available now via Bandcamp (opens in new tab).