Home Music Napalm Death: Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism

Napalm Death: Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism

The five years that separate Napalm Death’s latest record, Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism, and 2015’s Apex Predator – Easy Meat represent the longest gap between releases in the band’s career. On some level, of course, any continued output from the group will always feel surprising; that a band whose debut LP famously featured two almost entirely different lineups between its vinyl sides managed not to flame out immediately is a feat. Far less startling is that the band has once again delivered a triumphant entry into what has gradually emerged as perhaps extreme metal’s most consistently excellent discography. Napalm Death long ago outgrew their grindcore roots, incorporating elements of industrial and death metal, but even by their own constantly evolving standards, Throes represents one of their most stylistically multifaceted releases to date.

Opening with the pure grindcore blast of “Fuck the Factoid,” the album wastes no time re-establishing the band’s bona fides as one of the most savage groups in metal. Danny Herrera lays down blastbeats at inhuman speed as Barney Greenway roars lyrics about the explosion of fake news; “Spin yarns, carve the face off a main event/ Spray that gibberish all around, it is slick,” he spews in that sprinting growl of his while Mitch Harris and Shane Embury pound out a riff so fast it blurs into a jackhammer din.

But then things pivot almost immediately. “Backlash Just Because” ramps up from an industrial riff into the trebly walls of guitar noise redolent of the artier realms of black metal, at least until it runs headlong into a stomach-sinking breakdown that feels like the drop of a rollercoaster. Black metal recurs even more explicitly in “Joie de Ne Pas Vivre,” as Greenway jumps his vocals up from a roar to a ragged hiss while Embury’s bass darts in and out over Harris’ shimmering, atmospheric riff. “Invigorating Clutch” slows down into a chasm of echoing, metallic guitar wash that recalls early Swans with an assist from Attila Csihar in the form of ominous gurgles from Greenway. When the track swings into its true riff, it maintains a mid-tempo, sludgy tone that oozes menace where other tracks scream their fury.

Lyrically, extreme metal tends to be an exercise in Boschian gore, feverish visions of entrails and effluence amid rivers of blood as musicians strive to come up with the grossest imagery. Napalm Death certainly couldn’t be accused of subtlety, but there is nonetheless an interpretive quality to their screeds that complicates their more politically minded polemics. “Backlash Just Because,” for example, could easily have been a reaction against “cancel culture” in the wrong hands but here is a condemnation on the inherent need to feel some degree of superiority over others. Likewise, “That Curse of Being in Thrall” uses the repeated refrain of “Platitude-shitting amorphous mass” to attack spineless conformism. The title track is pure apocalyptic abandon, at once terrified of and fascinated with annihilation as Greenway roars “Last gasp against the rancor of the species.”

By never tying its tracks too explicitly to any current event or topic, the band can adopt a more generally pessimistic viewpoint without sounding like preachers. And even when they do drill down on something specific, they do so with imagery that strikes a balance between the visceral and the impassioned. Album highlight “Contagion” uses Killing Joke post-punk as the basis for a song about migrant caravans and the dismal living conditions of those desperately attempting to flee to better lives. “Families huddle on the roof racks/ Boldly robbed in the night’s glare” sings Greenway, at first conjuring the images of huddled, unclean masses that dominate reactionary views of immigrants, only to then turn this on its head by targeting the globalist corporatism that disrupts so many nations. In the final verse, Greenway clearly throws in with immigrants as he describes “Summoning courage without guarantees/ There’s no going back, every minute they’ve seized.

Longevity in extreme metal tends to produce escalating extremity, particularly in the grind and death circles Napalm Death navigate. Lyrics become ever more nightmarish as the music itself develops to be heavier and/or more possessed of technical complexity and speed. In contrast, Napalm Death’s ever-shifting sonic palettes showcase a band in constant refinement, not chasing an endpoint of prowess or brutality but rather different ways to express themselves. As such, you can make a strong case that the band has been as great and vital over the last decade as they were in their pioneering early days. Any of their albums from 2006’s Smear Campaign to present can be ranked among their best work, but Throes stands tall even among its brethren as one of the best metal records of the last few years of the genre’s considerable creative revival.

Napalm Death return with yet another stellar blast of socially conscious, utterly brutal metal.
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