Returning to Download for the fifth time, Birmingham grindcore pioneers Napalm Death headlined the Dogtooth stage last Sunday to a packed-out crowd hungry for destruction. After recently releasing the compilation album Coded Smears & More Uncommon Slurs, a filth encrusted collection of Napalm tracks spanning from 2004 – 2016, the four-piece have taken to the road for a titanic series of European, North and South American dates that is sure to leave a trail of deviation in their wake.
Charging into the fourth decade of their career, which in itself is an unfathomable feat to the band’s enduring and cast-iron artistic ethic, vocalist Mark ‘Barney’ Greenway remains an uncompromising force on the stage as he is off it. His sharpened social awareness has crossed over from the musical to the political, with notable politicians taking notice that include former labour leader Ed Miliband having exchanged thoughts and opinions openly together; establishing himself as one of the more important figures in the heavy music and socialist underground.
As RAMzine ducks and dives through the media frenzy of Download’s bustling backstage area, we took a few minutes to chat with Greenway and nabbed a few nuggets of wisdom on the festival in question, their Glastonbury appearance on the Earache stage last year and where heavy music stands in the eyes of the mainstream.
RAMzine: Hey Barney, it’s a pleasure to meet you! First of all, you recently released Coded Smears…how’s that been going down so far?
BG: Really well, actually. It’s a compilation album of previous stuff – stuff that was hard to get or out on print, stuff like that. There’s a reason for it; it’s not just stuff you would normally have easy access too. So yeah, it’s been quite nice to get that out there.
RAMzine: Where did you find all those tracks?
BG: Basically, it was the guy who usually takes care of our website who’s more knowledgeable about Napalm Death than we are, quite frankly ha, ha – he knew we had all this stuff laying around so, he just compiled a list of everything and there we go.
RAMzine: Why now in particular?
BG: Because it’s a nice stop off point between the last album [Apex Predator – Easy Meat] and the new album which is coming soon-ish. Emphasis on the ‘-ish’.
RAMzine: That’s awesome, and when is that coming our way?
BG: Next year; a really sticky next year.
RAMzine: Your Glastonbury performance was awesome. How’d that go down?
BG: Really well, mate; better than we could ever expected. We know that Napalm has a certain appeal, we have a very wide cross section of people that like us from all different scenes and so we knew that it was going to be ok, but we didn’t expect it to be as manic as it was. We didn’t treat it any differently. We’re always firm in the belief that we do what feels right and do the best that we can and that’s what we tried to do. It’s seems to have gone down quite well.
RAMzine: Do you think it was a good reflection of how heavy music is treated by the mainstream?
BG: I’ve never thought of it like that. I’d never thought that we were like spearheading anything. I know there was quite a big deal about that [Earache Stage], but I didn’t really care to be honest. I don’t like this separation of things. There’s kind of an elitism there that somehow, something is more irrelevant than the next. I think music in this world, if nothing else, breaks down barriers and that’s the way it should be. It’s completely subjective, anybody and everybody can have completely different thoughts about music. So, the whole idea about separating it out into boxes – I’m not really interested in that. We went in there to do the very best that we could. We knew that it was something that we never could have seen on the horizon, so we made the best of it.
RAMzine: Napalm Death are going into your fourth decade now and you haven’t lost any of your tenacity. Lots of heavy bands lose that after album three. How do you maintain that?
BG: The thing is right, you take every day as it comes. We never wanted to turn into a parody or a tribute act. I think when you have that mindset that, ‘Oh god, I’m 30 years old now or your 40 years old now,’ the sort of unspoken thing is ‘Well, your best days are past you’ – That’s bollocks, you know? If you want to do something and you want to make something a real outburst of power and musical energy – you can do it, man. It doesn’t matter if you’re young or old, you can do it. And it’s not about competition with other bands, it’s not about that. You know, Napalm Death is Napalm Death; we are very single minded in that respect we will do what we feel is the right thing to do and if somebody tells us [the opposite], I don’t care. My reference points are still from the 1980s from the likes of Crass, from the likes of Discharge or from the likes of Swans or Joy Division. All the other stuff I couldn’t care less about.
RAMzine: Do you think Download is doing enough to help push underground bands further?
BG: Well that’s – I don’t know is the honest answer to that. I don’t know; I haven’t spoken to many up and coming bands so I wouldn’t be able to say. But you know what? There’s a wider world outside Download and there’re many means and ways to get yourself momentum as a band. This is not the soul avenue for that and that’s really important to understand because the underground movement is going back to places like The Mermaid in Birmingham; if you want to use that as an example. That was completely independent – 100% independent. There were other places like that but without them Napalm Death wouldn’t be where it is now. So, there are many avenues.
It’s not really down to one festival to do that for bands. Also, as an independent band that puts more weight on your shoulders as well, so it’s what you do from there is what counts. Nothing is a given. You may believe your music to be the best in the world but you should never expect the world on a plate because often many people get disappointed. So, you should be realistic about these things.
And you know what, mate? I don’t take Napalm for granted. I take every day that Napalm is still around as being fucking fantastic, because it could all end tomorrow and that’s with any band; that’s the way it is in general. So, you should really make the best of it and make the most of it and for us, we chose to hopefully make some salient points about humanity in general, or lack of, you know? Ha, ha.
RAMzine: Your sound has still remained quite relevant in the heavy music scene. After all these years, do you see your crowds getting older or younger?
BG: I can’t put people into boxes, you know? Napalm’s appeal is to whoever’s ears it sits right with. Age is not a bearing on anything, it really isn’t. We get little kids coming to our shows who are really knowledgeable now about the band. I’m not just saying that I’m not blown away by the exposure that these young kids have had from bands like Napalm, quite the opposite. That kind of shows you where we’re at.
RAMzine: Finally, what does the rest of 2018 look like?
BG: It looks like another six months ha, ha! We got a couple of interesting tours coming up over the last legs of 2018, including the Slayer tour. We’re also doing a very extensive South American tour which bands don’t usually do. We’ll go places where another bands wont. Then just working on the album. Hopefully that wasn’t too much of a boring summation of my 2018 ha, ha!
Coded Smears & More Uncommon Slursis out now via Century.