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Napalm Death Interview

by Matt Hensch

Napalm Death's singular, primal howl against the status quo is still ringing over 35 years after their genesis in Birmingham, England. It's a sound that's ever-evolving but instantly synonymous with "grind" - abrasive, furious and relentless. Though the notes may change, the spirit of raw chaos remains the same.

Even chaos must adapt or die, however, and the band's latest album boasts all manner of genetic mutations in that basic DNA. Apex Predator - Easy Meat finds Napalm Death firmly atop the extreme music food chain, threatening extinction for those who can't keep up.

Vocalist Mark "Barney" Greenway explained the fine line between innovation and integrity during his group's current tour.

Mark Hensch of Thrashpit.com: Napalm Death has logged over three decades in one of Earth's fastest, most brutal musical genres. What keeps your creative fires burning in 2016 and beyond?

Mark "Barney" Greenway (vocals): It's quite simply the enthusiasm. I've never lost the enthusiasm for it. The day I do, I won't do it anymore.

I think a big part of it for me - and I'm sure for the other guys, more or less - is that I like music that doesn't conform to others' norms. I like stuff that really is challenging. I like stuff that really borders on white noise. I just get a kick out of it. It has a real certain appeal to me.

From the lyrical side of things, there are always ideas to put out there on the table. If you're not dead as human being that must always have a certain appeal if you're in a position to do that.

Thrashpit.com: Is there a particular moment in your group's history you're particularly fond of after so much time?

Mark: It's things like going down to South Africa with the African National Congress (ANC) back in the day when nobody else had done that or even gone there from our city or even close because it was a no-no with apartheid. The ANC took us in and it was a real eye-opener to me. I'm real proud of that.

I'm proud of being the first band to independently play in the Soviet Union. Independently, I stress, because there were other bands before us, but that was more of a corporate arrangement.

We've done performance art, like sculptures and stuff. I love all that stuff because for me hopefully Napalm can be more than the music. I like the all-together art approach to things.

Thrashpit.com: Napalm Death is renowned for its political activism and social consciousness. What cultural impact, if any, has it had since forming in 1981?

Mark: I think we've been - alongside other bands - a certain voice that says, 'look, you don't have to be a racist, you don't have to be sexist and you don't have to be a macho idiot to enjoy music that is essentially very harsh and very violent.'

That doesn't mean that you then have to be the same in human terms. You can be a human being and still appreciate very severe art.

Thrashpit.com: Apex Predator - Easy Meat came out last year. How do you assess its role in Napalm Death's output now that some time has passed?

Mark: I really think it's a very complete record. Bands always say that about their new release, but there are very times I've had this feeling in my recording life. I think this does it in quite a big way for me.

It further encapsulates the achievement of mixing the traditional Napalm approach with a more ambient, cold, maudlin atmosphere.

It's the bands that aren't metal, the bands that are perhaps post-punk or post-pop, to use the terminology - it's those kinds of elements - that don't always immediately get associated with us but they are there. Now we've gone more into things, and that's a good thing, definitely.

Thrashpit.com: What experiments on Apex Predator - Easy Meat would you enjoy exploring more in future material?

Mark: I've just learned that I'm capable vocally and we're capable musically of doing more things without compromising the attack of the band.

I can't tell you that I've learned an absolutely lesson, though. The thing is we might go into the next album and do something else, no less extreme but we just don't know at this point.

We've just become comfortable with our capabilities. Certainly that's something for me on the last few albums than at any other time. I know now there are many things I can do that would be appropriate for a Napalm album.

Thrashpit.com: What song off the new record do you enjoy the most?

Mark: I'm not good at singling out stuff like that. It's all part of a whole. It all has its place and fits in the concept.

That being said, I think it's the combination of the intro "Apex Predator - Easy Meat" and that first proper song "Smash a Single Digit."

"Smash a Single Digit" is one of the best short attack songs that we've written in a long time. It's one for me, lyrically, that came together in almost no time.

Thrashpit.com: Much of Apex Predator - Easy Meat criticizes consumerism and for-profit capitalism. Why are those topics important to you?

Mark: That's only part of it. The main crux of it is labor exploitation upon the back of that consumption. It still hasn't been addressed.

The sentiment comes from the building collapse in Bangladesh a few years ago [referencing the 2012 Tazreen Fashion factory fire in Dhaka, Bangladesh]. That to me underscored everything that's wrong with the consumption of cheap, easily produced goods.

I just don't see how it never caused and still has never caused to this day more reaction, response and solid action to stop these things from happening again.

It did some things, there were some token gestures, but I don't see solid changes that came out of all those people having to die for a few cheap clothes you can throw in the trash.

These people are already dirt f---king poor and then to go to work to a few bills in their currency?

It's the big corporations and the multi-national companies that set the trends in this world, like it or lump it. That's the way it is right now. It's therefore up to them and it's their responsibility to sort this stuff out. I can tell everyone, "don't buy this product or buy this product," but at the end of the day, they're the ones that profit from it.

They basically have some kind of idea of the practices going on in their subsidiary factories. They should sort it out, and if they don't, there should be much more severe penalties than what they're facing right now.

Thrashpit.com: You're currently traveling on the "Savage Imperial Death March Tour." What are your favorite stories from the road so far?

Mark: We have a great time, laughs and all the rest of it, but that's where it stays. There's no destroying stuff just for the sake of it.

At the end of the day, principally speaking for myself, I'm here to play a show. My mind is always focused on that all day. I'm counting down to it as the hours go on.

This is no cursory thing to me. There are people out there who are taking the time tonight to spend their money on me. If they're going to take the time to do that, I'm going to give them the best I can.

Thrashpit.com: What is it like performing alongside Melt Banana and The Melvins?

Mark: First time Napalm came over to America one of the first things I did was eat American food as I had never had it before.

Then I went to a record store and bought a very rare Melvins record. It's blue and it has a cartoon-y cover like a superhero comic or something.

That tells you how far we go back. To do this kind of thing with them is fantastic.

It's the same thing with Melt Banana. They're a band we're very familiar with and it's great because it's another string on our bow to play with this kind of package.

Let's be honest, it's very far from being just a metal or a hardcore tour. I like that. It's definitely keeping us stimulated because it's like a breath of fresh air.

Thrashpit.com: The presidential campaign is a hot topic in Washington, D.C. What do you think of the race overseas?

Mark: You could say that I dress to the left politically. That's where I come from and that was my upbringing. That's what I feel the closest to.

I believe in social justice and I believe people shouldn't just be left to rot. I believe in universal healthcare. If I had my way, private healthcare would be completely abolished. Private companies would not be able to take medical contracts anymore. I really feel strongly about that. I don't think the life of a person can be manipulated for profit. To me, that's absurd.

In terms of the presidential race, I find [GOP presidential front-runner] Donald Trump to be an oaf, to be honest. I find him to be like a village idiot, I really do. It plays in to his hands, almost, his comments about Latinos or whatever else. It's lunacy. I can't get offended by it, but I understand why people do. F-k him, you know what I mean?

The thing that bothers me more is people like Sen. Ted Cruz [R-Texas] who are a bit more serious.

One of his big policy tickets is about abortion, and I think if people like him get into the Oval Office, it could be a very real prospect to put severe restrictions on abortion. That's scary to me, to control a woman's body. It's not your business, stay the f---k away from that. It's a fundamental human right to have control over your own body.

I have a real f---cking problem with that, bringing religion into civic life. No, no, no. Leave it the f-k out. Believe what you want to believe, but don't put that sh-t on other people. You cannot have some theological f---king nonsense governing the decisions you make to guide peoples' lives.

There are Democrats I like but are too cozy with big business. Inevitably you come back to someone Bernie Sanders, who I really like actually. I like that he's prepared to stand up and say 'I am a Democratic Socialist' when socialism is such a dirty word in America. I like his absolute resolve to make civil rights his absolute priority over anything else.

I hate the system sometimes, and I hate to use that word 'hate,' but I hate it sometimes. It's such a slight on people in general.

My big problem is with society. It's a hierarchical structure. It's structured to a point where you really have to know your place to get the society to work. After a couple millennia of that it's time for a change.

Those people who are down are always going to be down, let's be honest, except for a few fish that manage to swim upstream. Generally speaking, that lower strata is always going to be there. I think if we consider ourselves civilized, we cannot allow that to happen. It's not sustainable to me in the long term.

We're not going to change it overnight. You're not going to pull the pillars of society down and go to something like the bartering system and trade among yourselves, therefore negating the need for money.

Thrashpit.com: What does the future hold next for Napalm Death?

Mark: We just have quite a lot more touring. We won't think about making any more music for quite some time. It's principally because we have a stand-in guitarist right now, so we don't know how things are going to pan out with that. It's all just touring.

Check 'em out at www.napalmdeath.org

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