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Napalm Death
Throes Of Joy In The Jaws Of Defeatism Dean Brown , October 2nd, 2020 08:22

Brummie 'grindstitution' Napalm Death return with their sixteenth album and they're still pushing boundaries, offering up some of their finest experiments to date, finds Dean Brown

Napalm Death’s screeds against society's ills have always had a prophetic feel to them. And yet, while they have been fighting against the dangers of capitalism and social injustice since the height of Thatcher’s reign, the Brummie grindstitution have never come across preachy in their efforts to warn us of the precipice humanity has been recklessly dangling from for decades.

As world economies begin to enter a second recession in just over ten years due to an insidious disease that’s currently running roughshod through us, some might say we’ve finally overshot said precipice and are on a rapid descent to a cataclysmic fall – and perhaps we should’ve listened harder to such screamed warnings. But throughout all the sociopolitical upheaval and internal turmoil affecting each and every one of us this year to varying degrees of distress, you can still count on Napalm Death to deliver a grindcore polemic of the highest order – a band acting as a beacon of truth, consistency and stability during the most uncertain times of our generation.

This might not mean much to those who are struggling to pay rent or maintain their (physical and/or mental) health right now, but art – even art of such reality-based themes – can be a source of strength and a welcome form of escapism during even the darkest of days. The aptly-titled Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism is the band’s sixteenth LP and it’s certainly a cause for celebration. It finds Napalm Death acting as a self-contained sonic firestorm on a record that features furious tracks, as expected, but also some of their finest experiments to date.

With the ever-productive Shane Embury leading the songwriting charge (he wrote every damn track on this LP), there’s a cohesion to the construction even as stylistic diversity gets pushed to the forefront on numerous songs. ‘Fuck the Factoid’, ‘That Curse of Being in Thrall’, the hardcore punk discharge of ‘Zero Gravitas Chamber’ and the rather punishing title track are blindingly aggressive and vital in their adherence to the tenets of a mongrel subgenre Napalm Death had a massive pioneering hand in. They all twist and turn at a frenetic pace in the almost-coming-off-the-rails manner we’ve become accustomed to from ND over the years, thanks primarily to drummer Danny Herrera’s punk-yet-metal-precise playing style and Barney Greenway’s passionate and palpably intense vocal delivery.

However, it’s the aforementioned statement-making outlier tracks that cause the biggest impressions, interspersed between frantic grind, not to mention noxious death metal-tinged hardcore emissions such as ‘Backlash Just Because’ and ‘Fluxing of the Muscle’. Over the years Napalm Death have given us glimpses of their noise rock, post-punk, art-rock and industrial influences, whether it be on sections of songs, the occasional full track, or on unexpected covers (their take on the Cardiacs’ ‘To Go Off and Things’ is worth checking out). For this album, though, those subgenres and others are wielded like central features, yet interestingly, the intensity overall never drops off even when the tempos do.

‘Joie De Ne Pas Vivre’ sounds like avant-garde black metal’s Dødheimsgard locking horns creatively with Big Black. The long-standing Killing Joke influence emerges fully in emphatic fashion on the skewed grooves of ‘Amoral’, with Greenway rivalling Jaz Coleman in his rabble rousing delivery, and there’s also Killing Joke DNA mixed with that of Napalm and Voivod on ‘Contagion’. Elsewhere, ‘Invigorating Clutch’ has a quasi Godflesh or early Swans clang to its pounding mechanics while remaining unquestionably Napalm Death, while closer ‘A Belly Full of Salt and Spleen’ is almost like a bookend to the title track which opened their last album,Apex Predator - Easy Meat. It's an industrial noisescape with prominent carcinogenic bass lines which act as a rumbling foundation for Greenway’s effective returned use of monotone clean singing.

If we are all still around in time to cast an eye over the final history of Napalm Death, Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism will no doubt sit alongside its predecessor at the upper echelon of the band’s storied discography, just below truly important early works such as Scum, From Enslavement to Obliteration and Harmony Corruption. Never happy to rest on their laurels, or anyone else’s, Napalm Death continue to exist to push sonic boundaries and challenge dogmas, and it’s great to hear them have fun here while further broadening the vitriolic sound they’ve defined into a singular movement.