Napalm Death is the pioneer band of grindcore. Formed in 1981 in the UK, they are notorious for their extreme metal, hard hitting lyrics and frequent line-up changes; they hold the Guinness World Record for the shortest single ‘You Suffer’ and they are heading our way.
Salient Music Editor Stacey Knott caught up with Napalm Death guitarist Mitch Harris to discuss all things metal and his surprisingly laid-back view of the world.
Popular belief pins metalers as rather inarticulate meat-heads, to put it lightly. However, if you take the time to converse with a practitioner of this music, this stereotype is usually shattered; evident throughout the documentary Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey, and as Mitch Harris, guitarist and backing vocalist for Napalm Death states: “We’re all just normal people,” himself a relaxed “easy going kind of guy” who’s just interested in the positive messages of music, functioning on the basis that “as long as people are nice to me, they can believe what they want, each to their own.”
However, their music is far from relaxed and easygoing. Back in the early ‘80s when Napalm Death formed they were one of the first to combine hardcore/crust-punk with thrash metal. Their coined style – grindcore – is an extreme sonic assault characterised by heavily distorted, down-tuned guitars, blast beats, short songs (some just a few seconds long) and a vocal style consisting of growls, yells, and higher-pitched vocals. Their lyrical content is usually based on political or social commentary.
Currently at home in Birmingham in the UK, Napalm Death are about to embark on a world-wide tour, attacking the senses of fans from China to Brazil, Indonesia to Denmark, as well as Auckland and Wellington.
The current tour is about promoting their latest album Smear Campaign, where they have gone back to their grindcore roots, and which is based around the idea of questioning religion and moral codes. The band often express their strong views, on things such as animal-rights, all kinds of anti-establishment manner, attacking corrupt governments and social conditions. But, as Harris stresses, none of it is aimed at anyone or anything in particular. Smear Campaign, according to Harris, “Encourages open-mindedness and doesn’t talk bad about anybody’s beliefs or anything like that, it’s just about what’s in your heart and whatever works best for you, that’s really the message we are trying to get people to think about.”
As one of the forefathers of grindcore, being so influential to thrash, death, and black metal, as well hardcore, it would be easy to expect Harris to have a cynical view of the metal scene, especially the commercial-ness of it. But he doesn’t. “There was a point in the mid ‘90s when people like Marilyn Manson, Nine Inch Nails, Smashing Pumpkins were becoming mainstream that were metal influenced, but then eventually this slowed down a bit and more extreme music became interesting and exciting.”
Keeping things interesting and exciting has been essential to Napalm Death over the years, as they have not stuck to their coined style over the past 11 albums. Harris says they have “progressed in many ways and tried a lot of new things like Harmony Corruption (1989) was a lot more in your face, sort of fast paced very extreme, after that album we tried to branch out a little bit.” As their scene began to change – becoming oversaturated with thousands of bands suddenly discovering how to play their kind of music – Harris admits they purposefully “moved away to the other side and expanded, and so we just progressed for years and years making five or six albums to the point where we were like, it would be interesting and fresh to speed things up again.”
For those who have taken their sound, or styles derived from it, to the mainstream, Harris says “I don’t have any negative feeling about it. I’m glad to see someone waving the flag. It was always going to change and adapt and that’s what metal always was, really. I think it’s in a good state. The nu-metal thing is not totally my thing – I do appreciate the melodic vocals, so that’s definitely opened things up. I can appreciate a band that has a real commercial sound and approach and a feel. As long as they believe in what they do, you know you can see right through the music by numbers everybody knows and those bands don’t seem to last.
I wish everybody the best of luck really.”
Aside from playing shows in Wellington and Auckland, for which Harris hopes, “a lot of people come out of the woodwork, and there’ll be no fights but lots of positive energy,” the band have downtime scheduled to check out the Lord of the Rings sites, where they have grand plans of becoming best friends with Peter Jackson. “We are big fans of Peter Jackson’s movies. It would be great if we could get to meet him, or work on the theme tune to his next movie. We have it all planned; if I ever get to meet him I’m going to give him a CD and then we’ll be best pals.”
Check them out at the San Fran Monday 10th September. Tickets from Real Groovy.