Music News

Meet Napalm Death, grindcore's progenitors

Before Napalm Death, the bracing amalgam of extreme metal, brutal hardcore and intense speed called grindcore did not exist. With the groundbreaking albums Scum and From Extinction to Obliteration, Napalm Death set a high-water mark for raw power and mind-shearing tempos. In fact, the band holds a world record for the shortest song, with "You Suffer" clocking in at one and half seconds. What is often missed in the band's music, however, is the constant state of invention, the sonic nuances and the sensitivity and intelligence that inform the lyrical content of the band's thirteen full-lengths, up to and including its latest, Time Waits for No Slave.

Napalm tackles typical punk-rock and underground-metal targets such as corrupt governments, racism, war and organized religion with a high degree of humanity, then goes further, tossing in sexism and animal rights in its social critique. Although the music is loud, aggressive and abrasive, a closer listen reveals that the group's songs are more often energizing than punishing. We had a chance to speak with charismatic frontman Barney Greenway about the new record and an unexpected Denver connection.

Westword: You did backing vocals on the Anomalies album, by Cephalic Carnage from Denver. How did that come about, and on which songs do those backing vocals appear?

Barney Greenway: Yeah, it's quite ridiculous, actually. It's very funny. We were playing in Denver that night, and they asked me to do it, but I told them I didn't know the lyrics, so they said, "Here's a book" — a book of crosswords or something. They told me to just read a couple of pages out of there, and that's what I did. You think I'm joking, but those guys are pretty wacky. We always do stuff off the cuff now and then; it's all about the spontaneity. The song I did the vocals on was "Dying Will Be the Death of Me."

On the new album, is there something sonically that you experimented with that you hadn't before?

Not necessarily that we haven't done before; we just worked things in different ways. The title track, "Time Waits for No Slave," we took those Swans/Michael Gira type vocals and then we put them into the fast parts, whereas those might have always been in the context of a slow part. That was really something quite different for us, but it worked because it fit into the context of the song.

Particularly on the title track and on "Life and Limb," there are sections with melodic atmospheres. How did you come to include such elements in your music?

Napalm's always had a sense of melody, just not in the conventional sense. Take Sonic Youth as the perfect example: It was never standard key melody; it was always dissonance, dischords, off-chords, and that's the same with Napalm. Nothing is ever melodic in a twee way. We always sort of mess it up.

For more of our interview with Barney Greenway, go to

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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.