Since 1981, Birmingham, England-based extreme-metal band Napalm Death has consistently redefined and reinvented what it means to create heavy music. Pioneers of the grindcore scene, the men of Napalm (of which there have been many over the years) have made it their business to melt faces and create as brutally uncompromising a noise as possible. In the early days, the band was often dismissed as a novelty band, particularly by an unimpressed music press. But 35 years later, they’re still around and still taking no prisoners.
Barney Greenway has been the frontman with Napalm since 1989 (besides a bizarre few months in 1996 when the band switched singers with Extreme Noise Terror). Much like the band’s music, Greenway is razor-sharp and intelligent. The nature of the band’s music may lead some to believe that the members are one-dimensional and perhaps even Neanderthal-like, but nothing could be further from the truth. It will surprise many, for example, to learn that Greenway is a vegan.
“I always look forward to going to Watercourse in Denver,” he says. “I've been vegan for about four years. I was vegetarian for most of my life, since I was fourteen years old. In the back of my mind, I was an aspirant vegan, but it was the cheese hurdle holding me back. I don't like the word 'morals.' I think morality is a false concept. For me, being a person who holds regard for all sentient beings — it's a human issue. It's not about me and what I've done. It's about my approach to life. It's about regard for other sentient beings.”
Greenway isn’t short of an opinion, but he isn’t one to twist arms. Rather, he conveys his views thoughtfully and eloquently. Animal liberation is something he believes in, but he’s no Morrissey, hammering people over the head with rhetoric. The U.K. is in the midst of a nationwide debate about whether it should remain in the European Union or not, and Greenway is equally incisive when discussing this difficult issue.
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“I feel European,” he says. “I would much rather be European than just one thing, It suits me a lot better as a person. Where it goes wrong is, we concentrate so much on the financial markets and stuff like that. That's not what Europe means to me. Europe means solidarity with people across the water and beyond. Personally, I'd like to stay in it for that reason. Another reason is the fact that there is a very dangerous undercurrent in certain parts of Europe of very extreme nationalist sentiment. That can be nothing but damaging. If Europe disintegrates as a human network, there's a big risk in that, of letting some of these movements take root. That could be problematic for all of us.”
Naturally, Greenway is equally passionate when talking about his band, and he’s excited to be taking this particular tour around the United States. As well as Napalm, the show will feature the Melvins and Melt Banana, and while all of those bands are very different, rarely will you have the opportunity to witness three bands so heavy yet eclectic.
“It's not bad, is it?” says Greenway. “It's been at the back of our minds for quite a long time. I remember buying the first Melvins album on the week it came out. A couple of years later, I went into a record store in New York and bought all the rare Melvins seven-inch singles I could find, and even at that time there were many.”
In fact, it will surprise some to learn that Greenway's musical taste spreads far and wide. This writer used to frequent a bar in Birmingham — the Xposure Rock Cafe, which no longer exists — and Greenway could often be found behind the DJ booth, spinning the likes of Journey and Dream Theater.
On stage, though, he’s single-minded, prowling like a bull and unleashing the most inhuman of noises from his wide mouth. Next week, the Napalm/Melvins/Melt Banana show lands in Denver, and we have no doubt that the Brits will hit as hard as ever. Age certainly isn’t going to hold Greenway back.
“I'm in my mid-forties now, and of course there's always the thing that, ‘You're forty now, so you should start slowing down because your body's degrading,'” Greenway says. “That may be true, in evolutionary terms, but I feel fantastic. To automatically stop doing things because I'm over a certain age is just ridiculous to me. It's bollocks that we can't be as potent as we were because of our ages. I want to kick out the jams on stage as much as I ever did over the past 25 years; it's no different. I'm not going to give people half a performance because I'm ten, fifteen or twenty years older. That's not going to happen.”
No fucking way is that going to happen. And while the band doesn’t have plans to release a new album, last year’s Apex Predator – Easy Meat was as intensely brilliant as anything bearing the Napalm Death name in recent years.
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“There are not many things in Napalm that we're calculated about,” Greenway says. “We try to be very organic. The one thing we do try and do wherever we go is look at the set list we had last time we came and try to make it different. There's always going to be some crossover — we play 'Scum' and 'Nazi Punks.' 'Suffer the Children' is always in the set. We like to play them, and we know people like them. We'll mix in a load of old songs that we didn't do on the last tour.”
Arguably the most exciting part of the night will be comparing the big hair that both Napalm’s bassist Shane Embury and the Melvins’ leader King Buzzo wear with such aplomb.
“As somebody recently pointed out, they can have a 'fro-off,” Greenway says. “That'll be quite the sight to behold. It'll be worth the entrance price alone.”
Napalm Death plays with the Melvins and Melt Banana at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, April 27, at the Ogden Theatre.