After more than 30 years and numerous line-up changes, Birmingham grind pioneers Napalm Death still sound like the musical equivalent of electro-convulsive therapy. Their sound is a bracing jolt to the system that – for all its apparent barbarism – is intended to bring about positive transformation. This therapeutic aspect is reflected in the title of their 16th studio album. Not for them the icy nihilism of black metal, the Lovecraftian vistas of death metal, nor the dismal solipsism of doom; over the years the band have remained true to the humanist principles that charged 1987’s Scum and 1988’s From Enslavement To Obliteration, and with Throes Of Joy In The Jaws Of Defeatism they reassert themselves as a force for life.
At this stage of the game, the band – whose core is represented by bassist Shane Embury and Mark ‘Barney’ Greenaway, with Danny Herrera on drums and the semi-absent Mitch Harris joining live guitarist John Cooke on riffs – aren’t about to make any shocking departures. Napalm Death in 2020 are about tweaking their trademark squall this way and that; thus neck-snapping grind shares space with elements of groove (Fluxing Of The Muscle), crustpunk (Zero Gravitas Chamber), industrial-strength slowcore (Invigorating Clutch) and Killing Joke-style post-punk (Amoral). This time around all the songs have been written by Shane and Throes Of Joy… serves as a reminder that the bassist has not only steered the band surely for three decades, but remains gratifyingly open to external influence.
‘Wokeness’ might be in fashion but Napalm Death have been sticking up for the disenfranchised since 1981. In this sense they have less in common with contemporary metal and more with Canadian doom-hop artist Backxwash and London grimepunk agitators Bob Vylan. Long may they rage.