Someone always pays

Napalm Death’s Barney Greenway talks slave labour, spontaneity and Joy Division

Terms like “veterans” or “pioneers” get used pretty loosely when describing bands. But they rarely hold truer than when used to describe Napalm Death. The English band, active since 1981, essentially created the grindcore genre, laying the groundwork for much of today’s heavy and extreme music. The group’s current lineup, intact since 1991, just released their sixteenth album, Apex Predator – Easy Meat. It’s a chaotic blast of discordant noise and rabid spontaneity.

“I hope that Napalm doesn’t become machine-like, because spontaneity is key for me,” vocalist Mark “Barney” Greenway explains. 

“One thing that pushed it even further in that direction for this new album is the fact that we recorded it over the course of a year, at various points. If you’re going to be creative with your music, there’s no reason you can’t also be creative with your production. Don’t make it sound the same all the way through. Experiment. Try a more spacious sound on a particular track. Try something more lo-fi.”

The same philosophy applies to songwriting. The album’s songs eschew repetition and refrains.

“Sometimes you write a good part, and to repeat it…as good as it is, it feels too formulaic. We change things up. I write things that might be considered verses, but I don’t phrase them the same way. I start them half a bar later. You get a different feel.”

The album strikes new visual ground for the band, too. Whereas previous albums featured an artwork style utilizing collage and illustration, Apex Predator’s artwork is clean, photographic simplicity: a single image of a supermarket meat package.

“We felt we’d taken [the previous style]…not as far as we could, but as far as we should,” Greenway says. “We wanted that single image. Where that comes from is bands like Swans, who always did that really successfully. Also Joy Division. They had a very striking, optical, challenging kind of artwork. And even bands like Discharge from the early to mid ‘80s”, Greenway says.

 “For me, both musically and visually, Joy Division are an influence. There’s a peripheral side to Napalm that doesn’t get spoken about as much as the traditional [grindcore] stuff. That kind of no-wave, post-punk stuff. As much as Napalm has a message of positivity, that depressive, gloomy, grim kind of music is very appealing to me.”

 The album’s lyrical and thematic content are closely tied to the title and artwork.

“The album’s about, for one, slave labour and exploitation. The common disposable nature of products, whether they be food, technology, clothing. Because I think there’s this modern cultural shift towards cheap. [...] A price tag might be cheap, but someone always pays down the line,” explains Greenway. 

“So ‘Apex Predator’, that’s those who run the companies, enforce the working conditions that are pretty shitty. They’re the top of the food chain. And ‘Easy Meat’ are the people affected. One of the most striking images of ‘cheap’ is that plasticized supermarket packaging. I wanted to put the workers, the ‘easy meat’ inside that. A product of your own environment, inside that cheap, nasty receptacle.”

Published in Volume 69, Number 19 of The Uniter (February 4, 2015)

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