Napalm Death -Spectrum of ExtremitySunday, 20th February 2022
An absolute pillar in the extreme community, Napalm Death has a long history of being at the forefront of heavy metal. They have been a force that also was never content to simply retread the same sonic ground, continuing to expand their repertoire even after decades of violent, thunderous grindcore to their name. Their last full-length, Throes of Joy in the Arms of Defeatism, turned out to be a real wealth for the band. Not only did they provide one of their strongest albums in more recent times, but had some tracks to spare. Hence the release of the new mini-album Resentment is Always Seismic. We spoke with frontman Barney Greenway to discuss this new release, touring plans, their approch to covering songs, and what keeps the band going this far into their careers.
Dead Rhetoric: This release is a partner/companion to Throes of Joy. What do you feel is special about it, personally?
Barney Greenway: Well, I think that it’s a matter of luck really. The songs were left overs – they weren’t secondary efforts – they were in the mix for the album. They just didn’t fit into the concept of what we tracklisted for the album. So there is nothing inferior about them, in my mind. When we came to do the mini-album, which coincidentally we had been talking about doing one for like 3-4 years, but we didn’t have the tracks to do it. So it all worked out well, and when we got the tracks for the mini, we just tracklisted them the way we would for an album. We thought about it and it all flows and worked out pretty well.
Dead Rhetoric: The first thing people think of with Napalm Death is explosive grindcore, but there’s also a more experimental side to the band too. What’s important about being able to scratch both sides of this dynamic?
Greenway: You used the key word there really, dynamics. Grindcore and faster hardcore, whatever you want to call it, you could be in danger of making the same album many times over. You can just stick to a few fundamentals. We don’t want to do that. To us, extremity is many things. It’s not just one or two things, there’s a whole spectrum of sound that is there to be used. So that’s what we do. We take, either music or vocals, there’s many different places we can take it to. If we can continue to develop that, without losing the traditional base elements of the sound, fast and furious, then I would suggest that is a good thing. If you intend to keep making albums, which at this point we are, I certainly wouldn’t want to do the easy or lazy thing and make the same album again. What’s the point? It’s cheating the people that listen to us, and it’s like doing it half-assed. We don’t want to do that.
Dead Rhetoric: There’s two covers on the release. What’s important to consider when covering a song for you?
Greenway: Really what we do when we are doing a cover is that we try to do…Bad Brains is a pretty well known band, at least I think but Slab! not so much. So what we try to do is a mix of fairly well known stuff and more underground stuff. To me, it’s a bit of a thrill. Whether it is in an interview or a person at a gig, if they say that they haven’t heard a band and we did a cover version that someone really likes, and they go check out the original, it gives me a thrill. To me, it’s actually helping the bands that were an inspiration to me in the first place so it comes full circle. We also incorporate the song in the Napalm Death sound. We don’t like to do obvious covers either. We don’t do covers that you have heard 3-4 other bands do.
Dead Rhetoric: What makes you want to keep going with Napalm Death, having gone at it for decades at this point? What do you feel the band has to say?
Greenway: The influences, musically, are always there for expansion. As far as the ideas and lyrics we put on the table, the world is an ever-evolving place and not always in a good way. There are a lot of things to think about. On the lyrical side, I always try to keep it current. I think that people are less inclined to come along if you are just doing something that is a bit generic and already been spoken about by a lot of bands. So I try to keep it current to what is going on at the present time so it gives a bit of perspective, or our perspective as Napalm Death. On a more simple level of what keeps us going, it’s pure enthusiasm. The day that stops, when I am not interested in going into a studio, or going out on the road, that’s when we stop. I’m not interested in doing that, and I’m not interested in giving that to people who are paying to see something they don’t need to see. They can always go somewhere else. I don’t want to give an approximation of what Napalm can do – forget that! I’m not interested.
Dead Rhetoric: I know you’ve done some albums with other bands, but do you feel that Napalm Death is more or less rooted into your DNA at this point?
Greenway: For sure. I haven’t been involved with other bands now for quite some time, and when I have done it, it’s maybe to help bands out who ask me to do some backing vocals or something like that. I will always help people out where I can. Shane [Embury] has been in a million different bands, so it’s a little different for him but my main focal point is Napalm Death. I do get a little paranoid sometimes, if there is a chance for another band, because I don’t want to spread myself thin. I have this weird fright mechanism where if I commit to a different band to a certain degree, if it’s a project band or something, that it will take some of my ideas away from Napalm Death. Some people might think it’s stupid, but I can’t help it. It’s a part of my mental process, I suppose.
Dead Rhetoric: In a genre where everyone screams, you have a uniquely identifiable voice. What do you think helps, other than sheer length of time doing it?
Greenway: I honestly don’t know. Luckily, I seem to be able to try my hand at some offshoots within the style and it just seems to work. I can’t explain it really much beyond that. That’s one thing I am confident in – I am confident in trying other things without losing the abrasiveness or extremity. That’s all I can say really. I don’t know if it’s an anatomical thing in my throat, as I’m speculating, but I really don’t know. I just try and it seems to work [laughs].
Dead Rhetoric: Again considering the length of the time the band has been around for, there’s a core that has been in the band for decades. What do you accredit this to?
Greenway: I just think we all hung in there. It hasn’t always been easy, and we are all human beings. We are a social experiment just as much as any other band – 4-5 people stuck in a small tube traveling around for weeks on end. It’s very testing at times. Naturally, we all have our differences and different ideas about what the band should be. You have to manage that sometimes. We are very self-contained, meaning we make most of our own decisions ourselves rather than leaving them to someone else, and it can be difficult sometimes. But we manage to get through it. Above and beyond that, we are all friends. We manage to navigate through it, and that makes your band stay around. That, and the belief that we do still have something to offer – forward thinking albums and energetic gigs.
Dead Rhetoric: If people learn one thing from Napalm Death, what do you hope it would be?
Greenway: That we didn’t compromise. We did what we wanted to do. We weren’t dictated by musical market forces or anything like that. We did what we thought was the best to do and ran with it. Hopefully, with the ideas of the band, people can take it onboard even if they don’t agree with it. If we can make a difference with the ideas, I know we are a small pebble in the pond of life, but I still hope that our ideas can sort of make an impact on people, and maybe steer them in certain directions. To understand what being a human is, that’s what is really important for me.
Dead Rhetoric: It’s not so much that everyone has to agree, but you want them to be able to think.
Greenway: Definitely. One thing I definitely would like is to have humanity be a reflection of humanity…in what that word actually means. To exercise humanity. Very often it is not realized, even after all the years of civilization and society, we don’t understand what it takes to be that among ourselves.
Dead Rhetoric: If you were to teach a class about a beloved subject, what would you consider?
Greenway: I would be an amateur Soviet-era historian. I really love it – from the aesthetics to the psychology – I’ve got bookshelves of all kinds of different stuff. I would love to do that kind of thing as a history teacher or a historian. I am absolutely fascinated by it, even though in Europe at least, it’s kind of gone now that era.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s a shift that you’d like to see in metal, moving forward?
Greenway: I think I would always contest that Napalm is a metal band. That’s one thing to say. We definitely have that string to our bow, and it’s definitely significant but there are many other strings to that bow. We aren’t just one thing. We are more of a hybrid of different things. But I will say, and I don’t mean it in a dismissive or mean way, but I couldn’t care less. The reason I say that, is that metal and all other forms of music, are a sum of their parts. A sum of the minds and peoples involved. I am very neutral about it, and very ambivalent and think it will go the way it needs to go. I don’t have any expectations for it. If it takes a shitty dive, then so be it. But I don’t have many feelings on it. I think it has the potential to do some really interesting things but it also has the potential to devour itself on its own cliches [laughs].
Dead Rhetoric: You have a tour in Europe starting soon right?
Greenway: Oh, that’s already gone Katarina. We held on as long as we could but with Europe being made up of many different countries, the regulations are all different country to country. Crossing borders and having to jump to different regulations is not all that possible right now. So we held on as long as we could but the situation didn’t change so we postponed it until next year at the same time. It’s unfortunate, because I was really looking forward to it. One of the bands on that tour, Doom, their drummer is one of my oldest friends. I was looking forward to that. It’s a shame really.
Dead Rhetoric: You do have the tour Behemoth and Arch Enemy over here in a few months. Have you had a lot of touring since the pandemic started?
Greenway: We got to do one gig in the UK, which was a festival. It was after the major lockdowns ended, but we were pretty unsure of what was going to happen. So we did that, and then only have done the Gwar US tour at the end of last year. Actually, the US is the most likely place right now, if you want to do a tour. If you want the tour to hold itself up, and not completely collapse, the States is the only place now. When the offer came up for the Arch Enemy and Behemoth tour, it’s a fairly safe bet for a tour at this point.
Dead Rhetoric: It’s almost ironic, as most Europeans have such a challenge to get over here. But with COVID, it’s easier to maneuver.
Greenway: Yeah! Don’t get me wrong, getting the visa in the first place was a real headache because we couldn’t go the standard route. We have to get a special exemption. The irony is that Napalm Death is an attractive prospect for immigration authorities. I was laughing. So we had to go that route, which of course means spending more money that we didn’t have really. But we have got it at least, so we can do another tour to make the visa work. Coming over to the States on a visa isn’t fucking cheap [laughs].
Dead Rhetoric: With the tour here, are there any other plans outside of the mini-album release in the future?
Greenway: We are doing a few headline dates in the UK. Perhaps not right away, but we are going to continue to do some dates a bit further out after the US tour. As for Europe right now, it might have to be flying gigs where we just do one or two countries. The idea of doing 10 different countries across Europe now is a little unfeasible. We have to just make the best of what is out there if we want to keep playing.