It seems an odd thing to say about a band as famously ferocious as Napalm Death, but they possess a truly compassionate and proudly caring view of the world. Birthed in working-class, industrial Birmingham and honed in the mid-80’s crust punk scene, the band are a fiercely moral and humanist force of nature. Their music has long tackled exploitation, corruption and the myriad evil doings of mankind, all filtered through a prism of very fast and very loud extreme metal.
In the popular consciousness, Napalm Death first became known for their incredibly short, almost comically so, songs. However they’ve long moved away from this gimmicky element of their work and have grown into brilliant musical craftsmen, seemingly improving with every new release. On their sixteenth album Throes Of Joy In The Jaws Of Defeatism, the band rage against the ills of our strange new world with as much aggro and fury as they’ve ever managed in their illustrious career, sometimes even managing to surpass their past selves.
There are moments of uncut, quintessential Napalm Death like ‘The Curse Of Being In Thrall’. With a smart structure that begins with grind blasts then gradually slows down to punky gang vocals and a groovy breakdown section, it’s the band at their incendiary best. Title track ‘Throes Of Joy In The Jaws Of Defeatism’ is as equally throat-grabbing and outrageously fast as anything the band have ever done before, possessing another subtly clever composition that makes really great use of tempo and structural builds and releases.
However, as has been the case for some years now with Napalm Death, the really interesting tracks are the ones where the band stretch themselves. These guys aren’t just morally open-minded, it reflects in their music too, with many of the key moments in their recent body of work coming from these styles of songs, such as the punishing groove metal of Time Waits For No Slave’s ‘Life And Limb’ or the unsettling atmospherics of Apex Predator - Easy Meat’s ‘Dear Slum Landlord..’. Napalm Death want to expand your mind and your heart, and know that to do so they need to walk the walk as well as just talk.
The most jarring shock to the system is the album’s second single ‘Amoral’. Easily the most melodic track that Napalm Death have ever created, it’s immediacy and catchiness is bizarrely more disarming than the most frantic and brutal moments on ‘Throes Of Joy In The Jaws Of Defeatism’. Led by a muscular, post-punk groove, it features deeply poetic and intelligent lyrics that can be read as an all-encompassing statement on the state of humanity in 2020. ”When our emotions summon ghosts, they scratch the wound and feed the host, the past, the lies are all revealed, the layers of guilt can never heal” is especially brilliant, practically Shakespearian in its attempts to tackle what makes our species tick.
However, the album’s most brilliantly idiosyncratic moment is saved until the very last. ‘A Bellyful of Salt And Spleen’ (a classic Napalm Death title) is a transcendent, genuine work of genius. It’s fascinating and cryptic lyrics seem to focus on the dichotomy of collective love and hate, through the perspective of the contemporary European migrant crisis. One moment the narrative voice is of compassion, the next of hatred, as if noting how divided our current societal landscape seems to be. Its music is reminiscent of early-Swans and the band’s relatives Godflesh, however its industrial eeriness and haunting melodies sound like nothing else you’ll have ever heard.
It goes without saying that Throes Of Joy In The Jaws Of Defeatism is a straight-up masterpiece, forged by a band operating at the peak of their powers. It’s a still-beating heart ripped from a chest, a work of nerve-shredding intensity that will leave you exhilarated, not just by the music, but by its piercing intelligence and profoundly human soul. As our world seems to grow ever darker, Napalm Death’s intelligence and warmth is more vital than ever, and as long as they’re still a part of it, there will remain some sort of light.
Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism is released September 18th via Century Media.