3 Oct 2017

Napalm Death: an extreme metal band with a humanist outlook

From Jesse Mulligan, 1–4pm, 1:30 pm on 3 October 2017
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Photo: Supplied

Disoriented and looking slightly dishevelled, Napalm Death’s Barney Greenway stumbles out of the RNZ lift asking for coffee.

He’s just come straight from the airport after a 21-hour flight, and he can barely string a sentence together.

Luckily, the amiable Birmingham native turns it on for the radio. He starts by telling host Jesse Mulligan how much he admires the previous interviewee – an Australian filmmaker who’s been documenting a small community’s stand against the gas industry.

“I might as well go home after that last interview … that said more than I could in the next 20 minutes … I know how powerful the mining companies are – especially in Australia, and by the sounds of things he’s making progress.”

Napalm Death are as notorious for their outspoken views on social issues as they are for their unique brand of heavy metal.

Being a metal band with humanist tendencies, their gigs have occasionally seen conflict.

Barney Greenway from Napalm Death on stage in 2009

Barney Greenway on stage in 2009 Photo: Flikr

“Certainly being in the music scene, we have had our problems with the ultra-right down the years, trying to come and disrupt things and bully people. Because that’s what they are effectively. Bullies.”

To combat this element, the band regularly play the Dead Kennedy’s song ‘Nazi Punks F*ck Off’ as part of their set.

Barney says, aside from the obvious meaning, the song’s also about society, ‘and about how the whole concept of society pushes you into different paths, and very often doesn’t like you deviating from those paths’.

“If you read the lyrics to the song, it really covers all that timeline of life stuff and the things that you have to deal with along the way. The rules that you supposedly have to adhere to. So it’s got a bit of a wider [theme]”

When you look at the lyrics you can see what he means:

“You still think swastikas look cool
The real Nazis run your schools
They're coaches, businessmen and cops
In a real fourth 
Reich you'll be the first to go”

Napalm Death have been to countries where they’ve been pressured to change their stage act and how they perform.
Barney cites a planned tour of the Middle East. Promoters were pressured by local officials to make the band temper their set list.

“[They said] we should steer away from things like gay positive … there [were] some quite specific things that we were given, and we said, ‘No, we’re not going to do that.’”

Barney would still love to go there: “I’m not scared of going anywhere, Napalm [Death] never has been, we’ve never been intimidated.”

Napalm Death have released fifteen studio albums and are listed by Nielsen SoundScan as the seventh best-selling death metal band in the United States.

The band began churning out tracks in the 1980s, before Barney came along at the end of the decade, creating his own signature brand.

Although the band was named before he joined, Barney can still shed light on why ‘Napalm Death’ was chosen: “Effectively it was used … at the time as a kind of shock tactic … but the actual intention of it was anti-war.”

He says the band used it because they wanted a shocking piece of imagery that would pique people’s interest.

As principal songwriter, Barney says he never has a shortage of things to write about.

“I always look at Napalm [Death] to me as just having a chessboard of life in front of you. It’s the same thing as someone coming and sitting you down and going through your personal life. You would never run out of things to say. Because it's perspectives on life in general. That’s the way Napalm is lyrically … so there’s always a raft of stuff to write about”

Apparently, the Indonesian president is a fan of the band: “Well yeah, I’m not exactly sure. He might well be, but he was wearing one of our shirts somewhere I think, but then you’d see ‘celebrities’ wearing band t-shirts … you never know whether they are or whether they’re not.”

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