Napalm Death

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Playing in three consecutive bands in one night is a Herculean feat in itself, but when you attempt it at age fifty in bands as brutally heavy as LockUp, Brujeria and Napalm Death, it is almost musical suicide. Such is the task facing bass player Shane Embury who is attempting to do just that on the November Campaign for Musical Destruction tour, also featuring Australia’s own Black Rheno.

“I dunno,” Embury laughed when asked why he would put himself through it. “Is it a midlife crisis? It’s just one of things where at festivals over the years, I have kind of done it before. A couple of times on the same night, but I dunno why (laughs). I keep busy a lot and it just really happened that way. In Europe, we did it with Brujeria and Napalm, and then LockUp’s new album came out, and I talked to Barney (Mark Greenway, Napalm Death’s singer) to ask if it would be cool if they come on tour and it was just a case of necessity in some respects. Sometimes you just have to go for it and make it work. Especially when you do other projects or whatever, if you aren’t prepared to play live, it’s a bit demoralizing for the record company or people that are into you, so I think, ‘Why not really?’ I managed to get through three weeks of it, so seven days should be okay.”

Aside from the physical side of performing over an elongated period, Embury says the emotional and mental side of things also comes into play.

“Most times it’s not so bad,” he shrugged. “I think physically, it’s not so bad, but your ears take a bit of a battering: that’s the problem, really. I’ve got these specially-made ear plugs because I have a tiny bit of tinnitus in my left ear so I’ve gotten some specially made but I can’t get on with them. They reduce the sound a little, but there’s just something about them I just don’t like. That’s the main thing is sometimes you get a little shell shocked towards the end. Not all of the time. It’s probably hardest that first week, but you just get into the fact you are busy all of the time. Once you’re going, you’re going. I guess you can tell by looking at me that I’m not exactly mister gymnast of the year (laughs), so my theory behind it is we are sitting most of the time on tour and spend all day travelling in a van, so you are sat most of the day. You get there and go straight to the gig, and I find, especially as I’m getting older, for the first ten to fifteen minutes… Barney is always good to go straight away, but for me, that first ten to fifteen seems like I am just warming up – even if I have already. My theory is by doing these extra bands I get one big warm up to Napalm Death in a weird way (laughs). It’s a strange mentality, but I thought we get to play the gigs and I hopefully get a bit fitter at the same time!”

 

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Napalm Death is widely considered as pioneers of the grindcore metal scene, but Embury says that is not something that the band ever really thinks about personally.”

“Musically, we come from all spectrums, I guess,” he surmised. “A lot of people perceive us as metal, some perceive it as hardcore punk metal, but we just like what we do. I think we have a unique take on how we put music together compared to other bands and other influences. We’re always trying to push it, for sure. The last few albums we have dipped our toes into different waters, and we are gonna start work on the new album in late August, and there are some tasty ideas coming up. We just wanna push it forwards as always. As we’ve gotten older, we are all looking in the same direction, but if you listen to the last record it is as much extreme as it is varied musically and that’s where we wanna take it. We wanna make it a bit unexpected as well so in that aspect I suppose you’re not intentionally trying to be pioneers but you are trying to be… unexpected I guess and provide some sort of surprise.”

Napalm Death has been known to experiment widely within their genre over the years, but according to Embury, that was more about different periods of the member’s personal growth rather than the band as a whole searching for their musical identity.

“It was more going through different phases,” he agreed. “If you look at Napalm’s early albums, they were quite basic and… I wouldn’t want to use the word ‘simplistic,’ but we are never gonna try and be math rock or anything like that, but you do get better at what you are doing. We do get better at playing, and it takes change. I think especially in the late 1990’s when there was a selection of albums where the old grindcore brigade didn’t like them at all, but as the years have gone on, people have reflected on those records, and they have become their personal favourites. I think we were trying to follow our hearts as well. It would be very easy just to do blast albums all the time, and that’s cool, but you have to make it challenging to yourself. As the year’s progress, you might do a record, and you might not possess all the talents to blend it in the right way. As we’ve gotten older, over the last five or six albums, we’ve learnt to embrace the early grindcore rage and infuse it with a little bit of experimentation. There’s just enough to please us and please our fans and make it a bit more seamless. Because that’s always the art is to try and bring everything together and get it, so it doesn’t seem like it’s just layered on top of each other like a terrible, horrible cream cake or something (laughs).”

…continued below…

 

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Napalm Death is officially credited by the Guinness Book of Records as having the shortest song in history with ‘You Suffer’ coming in at just 1.316 seconds. While being proud to hold the record, Embury admits it wasn’t something the band actually set out to do when they wrote the song.

“Originally that song, because it goes back to the 1985/1986 demo, when it first started, I think it was about nine or ten seconds long, and it gradually got faster and faster and faster, and then the lyrics were shortened. There were probably two lines cut out, and it got down to ‘you suffer, why?’ It used to be ‘you suffer, why? Because you’re fucken stupid’ originally, but I guess the words got clipped and then eventually it ended up as this really short song, so that is the thing that becomes your signature tune in some ways. In some respects, you can do as many albums as you want but everyone’s always gonna remember you for that one-second song (laughs). It wasn’t an intentional thing at all, it just kind of happened that way. As you get older, you just take it in your stride and say that’s the way it is, really.”

As of 1986 Napalm Death has contained none of the original line up, with Embury being the longest standing survivor. Because of this, some people have questioned over the years whether Napalm Death should have changed their name to reflect the new line up but Embury to this day scoffs at the suggestion.

“We didn’t see the point really,” he defended. “I think if you look at the first album Scum, there was not one original member on that record when it finally came out. So the way we look at it is – and I always talk about this with Nick Bullen, the original dude who formed the band – it is like a continuance thing. When you join a band, and you believe in that band one hundred percent, and you know musically where they are coming from, their ideology, and you are influenced by the same things, and you are from the same area and same social upbringing, there is a common thread that ties you. You could say, ‘Fuck it, let’s change the name,’ but we thought, ‘Why?’ We liked the name of the band. We had also dedicated a period of our lives to it, and we wanted to carry it on. We feel like we are upholding the name Napalm Death and that’s what we will continue to do. Once you get past the 1989/1990 period, there really hasn’t been a lineup change in 27 years. That’s how I look at it. You will get certain people that think we should have changed it, but I can’t see why. Everyone’s gonna have their own outlook and justify or not justify it.

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Of the opportunity to share a stage with At The Drive In, Teri’s eccentric excitement bounces on back. “We’re all really good friends and fans of each other’s music; it’s genuine from both sides. Some bands are strictly political and united in a view, but just so you get an idea, all of us, we like to go out, hang with our families.”

Bender loves what she does, and her wonderful Mexican accent sings as she talks about differences in her energy and her audiences from country to country. “If someone says the energies aren’t different, I think they’re lying – that would be denying cultural difference. Sometimes people take it a little personally but in different countries, you know, we’re all different, there are different rules, different gestures – one time we played in Tokyo and the crowd was extremely quiet, and it wasn’t because they were snubbing us, it was because their cultural etiquette is to be very intent on listening to every detail or it might be considered rude.

“Sometimes my performance can be a little sexualised so it might be more taboo in one country over another. In Mexico, women are over-sexualised – it’s a cultural thing that will start progressing, and women will start being taken seriously as musicians and artists – as Kendrick Lamar says, ‘It’s gonna be alright!’”

Written by Kris Peters

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