Latest release: Time Waits for No Slave (Century Media)
UK grindcore/death metal pioneers Napalm Death continued a creative hot streak with 2008’s brilliantly crushing Time Waits For No Slave, arguably one of the strongest albums of the band’s two decade-plus career. Brendan Crabb spoke to friendly frontman Mark “Barney” Greenway, who apologised profusely for being late in calling due to technical difficulties, about the success of their new album, the band’s upcoming Australian tour with Dying Fetus, the legacy of the band’s much revered 1987 debut album Scum, why age is irrelevant and more.
Q: The latest album seems to have really continued the momentum the band has building again for several records now. What motivates Napalm Death to keep crafting such abrasive, pissed off music after all this time?
A: You know a big thing is made of being pissed off at times. But, for me it’s like I don’t need to over-analyse it. Because whether it is correct, whether it’s accurate to call it being pissed off I don’t know. It’s just a natural feeling; sometimes it’s kind of stigmatized to be pissed off and like shout about stuff that’s… people look at you as some kind of madman, like jumping up and down and just raising your voice. But it’s not about that – it’s about actually being willing and able to cut through bullshit and see beneath the way that we’ve been conditioned to accept certain things, just blindly accept them. I think even people that do try and have a bit more insight can sometimes be caught up in that trap as well. None of us are particularly immune to it. So I don’t think it’s being pissed off, it’s just being having your eyes fully opened. I think that comes through on the Napalm albums. I mean, yes, they are really angry sounding stuff, but I think we take the time to also make sure that’s there… giving it a bit of flavour as well. I suppose I am over-analysing it now, but it’s really a natural thing for me, it’s not something that I necessarily have to step back and go, “fuck me, I’m really pissed off,” you know? (laughs) It’s just a natural state of affairs for me. As we get older, as I get older, people say you kind of get a bit more, you sort of mellow out a bit. (But) it’s not the way for me.
Q: How does it feel to hear bands who are half your age without that same fury as yours, or perhaps who are faking it by attempting to channel Napalm Death and not really pulling it off?
A: Yeah, well mate I don’t like to sit on a pedestal and look down at other bands and say, you know, “I’m the authority and this is fake and this isn’t”. I don’t think it’s for me to say that. I just think that people should know themselves… I wouldn’t be so arrogant as to place my own judgment on so-called younger bands or whatever, for one. And for two, I’ve never tied age to anything. I really can’t stand it when bands get criticised just because they’ve been around for a certain time, the members might be of a certain age. I think that goes for whoever you’d care to consider. It all depends on your perspective and taste is relative of course, but I’ve heard some pretty awful bands, in my opinion, but that have either just started out or who have been around for 20 years or 30 years, it’s all relative. I’m not going to judge people. I mean, of course my tastes are my tastes and that’s the same way as anybody else’s tastes. I would hate to sort of sit and point the finger at other bands down below, I think that would be really fucking arrogant actually (laughs).
Q: (Laughs) Well said. Is politics and spreading the word in that respect still one of the major driving forces and motivations for the band?
A: (Pauses) I mean, people say politics, but really I mean, what is politics at the end of the day? If you take the mainstream definition of it, it’s really kind of meaningless in a lot of ways because it just hinges around this kind of mainstream sort of system that’s been developed over however many years. To be honest, to most of us it don’t mean shit. In Napalm, the politics are more about just levels of humanity. I think as human beings we’ve lost the drive to achieve and strive for human rights. I mean we’re quite readily ticking off our rights to higher powers and governments and other people. We’re very willing to do that and I just think, “what the fuck are people doing?” It’s just crazy to me. I do find it strange that people argue sometimes about why we should sacrifice rights. We should never sacrifice our rights, you know? Especially in deference to another human being. That’s crap (laughs); it really is on the most basic, fundamental level. So yeah, that’s the core principle of Napalm more than anything and we’re trying to somehow alert people to the exploitation of people. That’s the point, so politics really is a real misnomer.
Q: How do you look back on 20 years of putting that message across, given the worldwide political climate of recent times?
A: Well, I think again that everything’s relative and different situations and circumstances have come along. Connecting it to the last question you asked me, I myself have definitely contradicted myself throughout the years. I may have given you a different answer if you’d asked me ten years ago and that’s just because over time I sort of refined a certain perspective within myself. And also the actual world circumstances change and situations change, so whether things have got worse or better I don’t think is how people should be looking at things, I think you have to say, “well, which things are affecting people at this time?” Obviously there are hundreds of thousands of different situations, millions even. So I think the reason why can’t be answered in a single paragraph of an interview. There are many, many things out there that are affecting people and the world today and the way to deal with them is not easy. But I think we can start by again, actually understanding what it is to be a human being and to not have our natural rights taken away from us.
Q: Great stuff. Changing topics, the band is making their third visit to Australia in September. What are your memories of previous visits?
A: I tell you what mate, I’ve had a brilliant time every time we’ve been down there. In fact, over the years, I must say that at one time I considered emigrating to Australia, because I just wanted to experience it, you know? I’ve never taken travelling the world for granted. I think it’s just a fantastic thing. How many people get to do that? When I sit here sometimes I think about it, it’s fucking amazing. So I seriously considered emigrating to Australia at one time. I know it’s not as easy as that, unfortunately. That’s another thing, freedom of movement, which I believe has been taken away from us far too easily. We accept that, which I think is stupid. So yeah, I just had a brilliant time when I was staying there, I thought it was great. The people I came into contact with were just fantastic and yeah, just had a brilliant time all-round.
Q: What can Australian fans expect from the band’s live show this time around?
A: I guess as ever really, not to say that we are a singular experience (laughs). I think just go for it, 100 per cent performance. There will be a mix of everything from all the Napalm eras and my attitude has always been if people make the effort they’re going to get 100 per cent, no less. That’s it, end of story, period.
Q: I saw the band at Wacken Open Air last year and you were the first band on at about 11am on day two, relegated to one of the side stages. That must have tested that ethos somewhat (laughs).
A: You know what happened there basically was that we got screwed on a couple of things. I won’t go into that, but there was a reason why we played at that time of the morning. But no matter – as far as I’m concerned, if I’m going to step up with Napalm on-stage, I don’t care when it is, or whatever, I’m still going to give it 100 per cent. That’s it, end of story. I don’t see any limitations on me being able to do that, speaking personally. So I ain’t going to do that. This is why I do things like I don’t drink when I go on tour – it’s a policy. I do drink when I’m at home, I enjoy a couple of beers and stuff. But I don’t drink when I’m out on the road, because alcohol dries you out, especially when you’re doing the sort of stuff that we’re doing, playing at that kind of speed and with that kind of intensity, that kind of energy. Alcohol dries you out, you know? I don’t like anything to sort of encroach on me being able to do what I need to do. So I abstain for that while I’m on tour and I try and keep myself healthy…everyone gets ill and everyone has bad days, we all know that and that affects people playing gigs just as much as anybody else. I don’t want anything getting in my way of being able to do what I need to do.
Q: How much of the Time Waits For No Slave material can fans expect to hear at the shows?
A: We’re going to do about six songs from the album, just because we want to. I think we should, we have a new album and we want people to hear it. We just basically do a selection of stuff from that in a Barry Manilow style (laughs). It’s done really well; it’s been well-received, so we’ll be playing it and see how it goes.
Q: The ‘Scum’ medley is a very popular part of the band’s live show and you’ve obviously been performing those tracks for many years. I don’t think that no members from that era still remaining in the band matters at all, but for some that’s the album and lineup they most strongly associate Napalm Death with. How do those circumstances with you?
A: Well, my attitude today is that, you know what, Napalm was my favourite band before I joined. It had become my favourite band. It was a milestone in music for me and it’s great that I’ve been able to be a part of that, contributing to that with Napalm over the years. So as far as I’m concerned I feel pretty privileged to be able to play those songs live. As far as the argument about who’s in the band and who was in the band, when we get on-stage we’re Napalm Death. It doesn’t fucking matter; the shifts in the band, the lineup shifts and stuff, it doesn’t matter. We’re Napalm Death and we play Napalm Death songs and that extends from Scum right over to Time Waits For No Slave. To me, that is the point – again period, end of story.
Q: Scum was reissued again a year or so ago now. Are you content for the guys who have since moved on from the band to get their moment in the sun again and have further or renewed recognition for their place in the band’s and extreme music’s history?
A: Well, that album keeps getting reissued and that’s not something that particularly pleases me. Because to be honest, they should be out there and if they run out of pressings then of course they should re-press it. But they keep re-packaging it and I don’t see why, I don’t see what the purpose is. I mean that’s one argument I suppose. But you know those things should be out there. You know what mate, the one thing I can’t stand about this whole thing that we do is this kind of petty sniping sometimes between bands and ex-members and stuff. You know what, if anyone who used to be in the band has anything bad to say about the current incarnation of the band – which I’m not saying they have, I’m just raising it hypothetically – then let ’em do it. I’m not going to get drawn into stuff like that. I think it’s just petty and puerile and I have no fucking time for it. So and I’m quite happy for those guys to be proud of what they’ve done. In fact, as for being a music fan some of the stuff that the guys did (after leaving the band) I really liked, some not so much, but some of the ex-Napalm members have done some great stuff. Obviously their contribution to those albums is part of the timeline of Napalm Death. So there’s none of this members vs ex-members thing for me, because I couldn’t give a fuck about that sort of stuff. Like I said, it’s just petty and puerile and I won’t have any part of it.
Q: Any famous last words?
A: Yeah, again we’re coming to the other side of the world, more or less to come and do a tour. Not every band gets to do that – a lot of bands get to maybe go to a place like Australia once, (or) if they’re lucky, twice in their band’s lifetime. But we know that we can keep going and we owe that to the people that have supported us out in Australia for all these years. It’s great; we’re really, really looking forward to it. It’s going to be a good old time and we’ll make sure for people that invited us down there and the people that are going to come see us that we do make it as good as we possibly can.