Looking back I now realise that, in a curious, oblique way, Napalm Death changed my life. Watching a TV documentary back in 1989 about a band who: a) had about the most unsubtle name you could think of; b) had “songs” that lasted less than a minute (You Suffer is the world’s shortest ever – 1.316 seconds to be precise); c) changed band members almost as quickly as their songs whizzed past; and d) created the fastest, loudest, most extreme and punishing music anyone had ever heard; kept this, then 14-year old, mesmerised and led him into the guilty pleasures of listening to heavy metal.
Of course, people mocked. Napalm Death? 54 songs on an album? Pah! But the life of pioneers is seldom an easily travelled road, and let us not forget that His Royal Highness Of Musical Taste, John Peel, loved the Death and championed them on radio from the moment 1987’s album Scum arrived on his doorstep.
These days, things are different. Not only did Napalm Death’s alumni form bands ranging from the avant-garde (Godflesh) to the respected (Cathedral) to the seminal in their own right (Carcass), but Napalm Death command the utmost respect for creating a musical genre – grindcore – that fused the speed and socio-political thinking of Dead Kennedys and Discharge hardcore with the aggression and brutality of thrash metal.
Commanding respect is one thing but can these late thirtysomethings still cut it in 2005 when the likes of The Dillinger Escape Plan and Norma Jean are taking their undoubtedly Napalm Death-influenced sounds to the masses?
In a word, yes. The Code Is Red… is Napalm Death’s best album in years, a bruising, crushing 45 minutes of mayhem that never lets up in its ferocity and yet travels through various types of violent mood swing in order to achieve its goal.
Of course, the staple Napalm Death diet of mega-fast, metal insanity is still present in the likes of the sub-60 second Right You Are and the hyper but tempo-twisting Pay For The Privilege Of Breathing. However, there’s a whole lot more going on here than mere blitzkrieg and Silence Is Deafening, Diplomatic Immunity and Climate Controllers all feature sections that, well, groove. The heaviest grooving you’ll ever hear, mind, but grooving all the same.
Elsewhere there is a decidedly hardcore element underpinning many of the tracks, and not some wussy, affected, “we’re a bit punk, us, so let’s sing a chorus” attitude. Instead, Hatebreed‘s ubiquitous Jamey Jasta lends his ire to the blastbeat hardcore of Instruments Of Persuasion and Sold Short, while Jello Biafra adds his unique, Johnny Rotten-inflected tones to the suitably cheesed-off, The Great And The Good.
Perhaps the biggest shock comes in the form of Morale. Here, Napalm Death – wait for it – slow down, and use tribal drums, eerie background vocals and swathes of guitar in various stages of distortion to create a stupendous aura of impending doom. This then segues into Our Pain Is Their Power where an impressively depressive bass-line provides a point to finish the album on that is ultra-low from a pitch perspective but very high from a quality one.
Given that Napalm Death played the Soviet Union in 1990 before Communism collapsed, did South Africa in 1991 – under the ANC’s guidance – before apartheid was demolished and gigged in Macedonia in 1993 during the Balkans War, you might expect them to turn up in Iraq in the not-too-distant future. One thing’s for sure – The Code Is Red… demonstrates that there is still a gulf between the musical war created by Napalm Death and many of today’s young wannabes.