Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism

Artwork by Frode Sylthe, courtesy Century Media Records’ Instagram page

Imagine being run over by an M1 tank. Then, imagine, for a moment, what that might sound like—in slow motion. The rolling reverberations of the M1’s percolating gas turbine engine as its currents of sound infiltrate your body, popping your eardrums, bathing you in a thick envelope of dense brown noise, imprinting its perilous presence upon you before it touches your skin.

I don’t make a habit of entertaining thoughts like these—except when I try to describe, for someone else, the sound of one of my favorite bands. I first heard them by accident. But the impression they made converted me into a lifelong fan. With fevered enthusiasm, I’ve listened to Napalm Death for more than thirty years, talking about them, writing about them, dissecting the ways in which they’ve borne such a plentitude of challenging (and often discordant) musical fruit.

For those with an appetite for the unexpected, Birmingham, England’s Napalm Death are a sonic buffet. A band whose version of hyperspeed hardcore approaches free jazz in its complexity and serendipitous irregularity. Napalm Death are like brightly colored exotic fish swimming to the surface, disappearing with a flick of the tail the moment you comprehend their shape.

Lyrically, their latest album, Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism examines modern society, particularly people living on the fringes, people “othered” by the rest of the world, such as refugees. “We’ve all seen the images of people in boats trying to escape violence, tyranny, oppression, hunger, and poverty,” says vocalist Mark “Barney” Greenway, “all the things that keep the world as imbalanced as it is. As unsustainable as it is. [We] wanted to highlight that.”

The final song on the album, “A Bellyful of Salt and Spleen,” confronts the refugee crisis. “There is so much indifference to these people,” Greenway says. “And all they’re trying to do is to get to somewhere where they can live in peace and dignity, as every human being deserves. The fact that there is so much indifference and real hatred toward these people for trying to liberate themselves is unfathomable. And Napalm Death is the antithesis to that.”

Avowed pacifists, Napalm Death are quick to defend the album’s alarming artwork. Greenway says: “The dove is an internationally recognized symbol of peace and tolerance. We wanted to show this lack of tolerance, this dehumanization by showing the peace dove having been clearly very much violated. But there is,” he continues, “a positive spin on it. If you look on the chest of the bird, there’s the ‘E’ in red—the symbol for equality. So, the essence of it is, equality is coming through. Even when you think things are as bad as they can get there is always the positive side. Which is what Napalm Death is doing. [We’re] being the antithesis to these dehumanization principles which have been ramped up in the last few years.”

Artist Frode Sylthe’s site: