Early history (1981–1986)
Napalm Death were formed in the village of Meriden near Coventry, in the United Kingdom, in May 1981 by Nic Bullen and Miles Ratledge while the duo were still in their early teenage years. The duo had been playing in amateur bands since 1980 as an extension of their fanzine writing, and went through a number of names (including "Civil Defence", "The Mess", "Evasion", "Undead Hatred" and "Sonic Noise") before choosing Napalm Death in mid 1981. The band were initially inspired by the early wave of punk bands, particularly the anarcho-punk movement (a subgenre of punk music focused on anarchist politics), and associated groups such as Crass.
The first stable line-up of the group consisted of Nicholas Bullen on lead vocals and bass, Simon Oppenheimer on guitars, and Miles Ratledge on drums, and lasted from December 1981 to January 1982. Graham Robertson joined on bass in January 1982. Simon Oppenheimer left the group in August 1982 and was replaced by Darryl Fedeski who left the group in October 1982: at this point, Graham Robertson began to play guitar and Finbarr Quinn (ex-Curfew) joined on bass and backing vocals.
The group played concerts throughout 1982 (playing their first concert on 25 July 1982 at Atherstone Miners Club) and 1983 (sharing billing with anarcho-punk groups such as Amebix, The Apostles and Antisect), and made 4 demo recordings in 1982 and 1983, one of which contributed their first released recording to the Bullshit Detector Volume 3 compilation released by Crass Records in 1984.
Cover for the Hatred Surge
demo recording from 1985. From left-right: Justin Broadrick, Nicholas Bullen, Mick Harris
The band entered a period of hiatus from the end of 1983 onwards, playing only one concert in 1984 (a benefit for striking mine workers) with additional vocalist Marian Williams (ex-Relevant POS, and sister of the drummer of the group Human Cabbages from Coventry, UK). During this period, Nic Bullen met Justin Broadrick, a guitarist from Birmingham with whom he shared an interest in the music of bands such as Killing Joke, Throbbing Gristle, Crass, Amebix, Swans, and the developing power electronics scene. Bullen joined Broadrick's Final project for a period in 1983.
In July 1985, Napalm Death briefly reformed in order to appear at a concert at the Mermaid in Birmingham which was also notable as the last concert by Final. The group consisted of a 4-piece line-up of Miles Ratledge - drums, Bullen - vocals, bass and guitar, Graham Robertson - guitar and bass, and Damien Errington - guitar. After this concert, Miles Ratledge and Bullen asked Broadrick to join Napalm Death as guitarist, with Bullen as vocalist and bass player. The band began to develop a musical style which blended elements of post-punk (particularly Killing Joke and Amebix), heavy hardcore punk in the vein of Discharge, and thrash metal (with particular reference to Possessed and extreme metal group Celtic Frost).
The group played their first concert as a trio on 31 August 1985 (playing 2 concerts on the same day: Telford with Chumbawamba and Blyth Power, and Birmingham with We've Got a Fuzzbox and We're Gonna Use It), and began to play regularly in the Birmingham area (particularly at The Mermaid public house in the Sparkhill area of Birmingham) with a wide range of musicians including Icons of Filth, Concrete Sox, The Varukers,
Indecent Assault, Decadence Within, and The Groundhogs.
In September 1985, Peter Shaw (ex-Autism) joined on bass. The 4-piece line-up recorded
Hatred Surge (the band's 5th demo recording) on 23 October 1985 which the band made available at their concerts and by mail. Following the recording of the demo, Bullen and Broadrick wished to extend their exploration of a more extreme musical style which created a split in the group with Ratledge: as a result, the group splintered and Mick Harris (a local fan) was asked to join as drummer in December 1985.
The trio – Bullen on vocals and bass, Broadrick on guitar and Harris on drums – made their first performance on 15 December 1985 and went on to play many concerts in 1986, predominantly in the Birmingham area, with musicians such as Amebix, Antisect, Chaos UK, Varukers, Disorder and Dirge.
The group recorded a 6th demo, From Enslavement to Obliteration, on 15 March 1986, which the group made available at their concerts and through mail, before making a 7th recording later that year, Scum, which was provisionally intended to form part of a split LP with the English hardcore band Atavistic on Manic Ears Records. This recording later became the first side of the band's debut album Scum in 1987.
The band then faced a number of line-up changes. Nic Bullen was becoming frustrated with the musical direction of the group, and began to lose interest as a whole: as a result, Jim Whiteley was asked to join as bass player. The band played a number of concerts as a four-piece before Justin Broadrick left the group to play the drums for local band Head of David. The group attempted to find a new guitarist by asking Shane Embury (ex-Unseen Terror and a fan of the group) to join and giving a trial period to Frank Healy (ex-Annihilator, later of Cerebral Fix and Sacrilege). After Broadrick's departure, Nic Bullen's dissatisfaction with the musical direction of the group led him to leave the group in December 1986 (in order to focus on his studies in English Literature and Philosophy at university), leaving the group without any of its original members.
Scum and From Enslavement to Obliteration (1987–1989)
With the departure of Broadrick and Bullen, the band had to look for new members. Guitarist Bill Steer played in a band based in Liverpool called Carcass, and given the affinity between the bands, he joined Napalm Death while still playing an active role in Carcass. The band asked a friend, Coventrian (Lee Dorrian), to join as vocalist due to his good relationship with the band (he had organised a number of concerts for the band), even though he had never been in a band before. This line-up recorded the B side of the Scum LP at Rich Bitch studios in May 1987, and the album was released through Earache Records. Bill Steer also came third place on Decibel Magazine's "Top 20 Death Metal guitarists of all time."
The band promptly lost another member just after they undertook a short tour after the release of Scum. Jim Whiteley left the group (and subsequently joined Weston-Super-Mare based band Ripcord with whom the aforementioned tour had been shared) and Shane Embury (former drummer of Unseen Terror) moved to bass.
The band then appeared on two compilation records ('North Atlantic Noise Attack' and the 'Pathological Compilation'), recorded two Peel sessions and a split 7" with Japanese band S.O.B. They also returned to Rich Bitch studio once more and recorded their second album: From Enslavement to Obliteration.
A follow-up release to "Enslavement..." came in the form of the six song 12" EP "Mentally Murdered", which was to be the last recording with the Harris/Steer/Dorrian/Embury line-up. This EP was recorded at the Slaughterhouse Studios and took on a slightly different sound, blending grindcore with death metal. Following the release, Napalm Death were featured on national television in the United Kingdom in a heavy metal special by Arena (BBC 2).
The band continued to tour, but as soon as they came back home from Japan, in July 1989, Steer and Dorrian left the band: Steer decided to dedicate himself full-time to Carcass, while Dorrian formed the doom metal group Cathedral. The group recruited Jesse Pintado (ex-Terrorizer) on guitar and Mark "Barney" Greenway (ex-Benediction) as vocalist. This line-up took part in the Grindcrusher tour organised by Earache Records and featuring fellow label-mates Carcass, Bolt Thrower and Morbid Angel. The group recruited Mitch Harris (ex-Righteous Pigs) as second guitarist after the tour.
Rise to success (1990–1994)
In Florida, the group began work on Harmony Corruption. Corruption saw stylistic changes from the band, exhibiting blast beats and slower tempos. Death metal was a greater influence on Corruption than previous records. Following the record's release, Live Corruption, a live recording of the band's 30 June 1990 performance at the Salisbury Arts Centre, was released in 1992.
Negative fan reactions to Corruption and accusations of selling out, compelled the band to reconsider its stylistic changes. The group entered Eddie Van Dale's Violent Noise Experience Club in March 1991 to record six new tracks. The songs produced by this session and released on the "Mass Appeal Madness" 12" LP exhibited a much more "raw" quality, again finding favour with fans. This recording, along with the "Mentally Murdered" 12", the split 7" with S.O.B. and live tracks from Live Corruption, were released on Death by Manipulation.
Drummer Mick Harris - the only remaining member of the Scum lineup - eventually left Napalm Death due to conflicts with the rest of the group over changes in its stylistic direction. Danny Herrera, a close friend of Jesse Pintado, was brought in as the new drummer. Herrera's drumming style has been noted for its uniqueness; being described as "Euroblast," a variant of blast beat in which simultaneous eighth notes are played on the ride cymbal and kick drum, with alternate eighth notes added on the snare drum. The addition of Herrera would be the last major line-up change of the band, save for Jesse Pintado's future absence, which has yet to be filled (and vocalist Phil Vane never recorded with the band).
Napalm Death released the album Utopia Banished in 1992, produced by Colin Richardson. This release was a kind of "return to the roots" - grindcore. After recording The World Keeps Turning EP, the band toured Europe with Dismember and Obituary on the "Campaign for Musical Destruction" tour. They then toured the US with Sepultura, Sacred Reich and Sick Of It All. The proceeds of Napalm Death's 1993 EP Nazi Punks Fuck Off were donated to anti-fascist organisations.
Their EP, Nazi Punks Fuck Off, was inspired by Napalm Death touring South Africa during 1993, which was particularly controversial given that the band faced a lot of opposition from many white supremacists following the end of Apartheid.
The band remixed the track "Mind Of A Razor" by London-based hip hop crew Gunshot. The remixed version of the track appeared on the EP of the same name in 1992.
Thereafter, they went to the studio and recorded Fear, Emptiness, Despair, which was released on 31 May 1994. The album represented a stylistic transition for Napalm Death. Fear, Emptiness, Despair maintaned the complex music structures of their previous albums Utopia Banished and Harmony Corruption, but there was a greater emphasis placed on incorporating elements of groove into the band's style, resulting in a wider use of mid-paced music. Bassist Shane Embury claims that Helmet's and their album Strap It On, influenced the band's style, as they did for many other heavy metal band during the 1990s. Live concerts with Entombed, Obituary and Machine Head followed the album's release.
Diatribes, Greenway's departure and return (1995–2000)
Their EP Greed Killing was released through Earache in December 1995, followed by the album Diatribes in January 1996. There was greater animosity between the band during this time, with a rift between Greenway and the remainder of the band, especially over the band's stylistic transition and the interference of background presences in the band, exemplifying the former when he stated that the band were "letting go of what made the band special". Greenway was hence expelled from the band later in 1996, and went to record with fellow grindcore act Extreme Noise Terror (ENT) on their release Damage 381. Greenway has stated that following his expulsion he was "devastated" and did not want to commit to ENT in fear of a repetition of the events that took place within Napalm Death.
ENT's vocalist Phil Vane replaced Greenway in Napalm Death. Alas, Shane Embury stated that Vane "couldn't pull off what was required. It was a hard day when I had to pull Phil aside and tell him it just wasn't working. We had been too much into doing our own thing to acknowledge all of the parts that made the Napalm machine tick. I quickly made the call and asked Barney if he would rejoin—time away certainly gave all of us the chance for reflection, regrets and hopes for the future. He was surprised by the material, as it was heavy and some of the songs were fast—I don't know what he really expected us to do!". Following Vane's departure, Greenway returned and the band released the album Inside the Torn Apart on 3 June 1997. An EP and music video were released for the album's track "Breed to Breathe" on 17 November 1997.
The album Words from the Exit Wound followed this, being released on 26 October 1998. The album was their last to be produced by Colin Richardson, who Embury believes hindered the album's creation, ultimately affecting the album's success. Embury has stated that bands such as Nasum influenced the album, and in Embury's view, this album represented a turning point in the band's sound, stating "it was also a turning point in us moving towards rediscovering our roots." Embury also mentioned that following the album's release, the band found it hard to tour due to restricted budgets from their record label, but Cradle of Filth and Nick Barker were able to alleviate this problem.
In 1999 the band made an appearance on Chris Evans' TFI Friday, playing three songs on a set lasting 59 seconds.
Departure from Earache and the departure of Pintado (2000–2004)
The band acrimoniously departed from Earache Records following Words from the Exit Wound and later released Enemy of the Music Business on the record label, Dream Catcher, on 25 September 2000; which showed the band's anger with the music industry and especially with Earache, whilst also incorporating a greater grindcore influence than on their previous few albums. The album was produced jointly by Simon Efemey and Russ Russell, the latter of whom has since been a long-time collaborator with Napalm Death.
Order of the Leech continued with the previous album's style, being released on 21 October 2002, also being produced jointly by Efemey and Russell. In 2003, Embury and Hererra formed the side-project Venomous Concept with Danny Lilker, and that group has since released three albums. In 2004, Napalm Death recorded a covers album called Leaders Not Followers: Part 2, the sequel to their earlier covers EP. It contains covers of old hardcore punk and heavy metal bands, including Cryptic Slaughter, Massacre, Kreator, Sepultura, Siege and Discharge. Due to personal problems, Jesse Pintado did not play on either Order of the Leech or Leaders Not Followers: Part 2, and left the band in early 2004. Nevertheless, Pintado stated that he left because he grew tired of Napalm Death and wanted to start something new. The two guitars that you hear is Mitch double-tracking.
The Code Is Red... to Time Waits for No Slave (2004–2011)
In April 2005, their next album The Code Is Red...Long Live the Code was released. It features guest appearances from Jeffrey Walker (Carcass), Jamey Jasta (Hatebreed vocalist) and Jello Biafra (formerly of Dead Kennedys, and Lard among many other bands). The album continued the band's progressive approach to their brutal brand of extreme metal, with their trademark grindcore sound retained. Also in 2005, Embury and Herrera joined the extreme metal band Anaal Nathrakh for one tour.
Napalm Death finished recording their follow-up album titled Smear Campaign in June 2006, and it was released on 15 September 2006 to strong reviews from fans and critics alike. The main lyrical focus is criticism of the United States Government and other governments who are strongly religious. The album features a guest appearance by Anneke van Giersbergen, vocalist for the Dutch rock band The Gathering. There is a limited edition digipak version of Smear Campaign, which has two new songs, "Call That an Option?" and "Atheist Runt". They played a series of headline shows in support of the release including the Koko in Camden with Gutworm.
In early 2006 Napalm Death headlined a tour with Kreator, A Perfect Murder, and Undying. On 27 August 2006, Jesse Pintado died in a hospital in the Netherlands due to liver failure, prompting Mitch Harris to express his sadness at the loss of someone he thought of as "a brother" on the band's official website. After the Smear Campaign tour, the band did a 2007 "World Domination Tour". Bassist Shane Embury is currently working on a project with Mick Kenney of Anaal Nathrakh, their work together will be released on FETO Records at the end of 2007. In November 2008, Napalm Death's fourteenth studio album, entitled Time Waits for No Slave, leaked onto the internet; it was officially released on 23 January 2009. Similar to Smear Campaign, Time Waits For No Slave also had a digipak version containing two extra songs ("Suppressed Hunger" and "Omnipresent Knife In Your Back").
Utilitarian and Apex Predator – Easy Meat (2011–2015)
In February 2011, Napalm Death appeared in an episode of E4's Skins. Napalm Death entered Parlour Studio in Kettering, with producer Russ Russell to begin working on a new album. Also in 2011, they recorded the single "Legacy Was Yesterday". Napalm Death released their fifteenth studio album, Utilitarian, on 27 February 2012 in Europe and 28 February in North America via Century Media. In March 2012, Napalm Death headlined the Metal Mayhem IV festival organized by "Defenders of Metal" in Nepal. This was the first time Napalm Death played in Nepal.
Napalm Death were scheduled to play a special one-off show at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, on 22 March 2013. The show was eventually cancelled at the Victoria and Albert Museum, due to concerns that the noise levels could damage parts of the museum. The show was relocated to the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill, and was performed on 29 November 2013. The performance was a collaboration with ceramicist and Victoria and Albert Artist in Residence Keith Harrison. The show featured 10 large-scale wooden speakers filled with liquid clay that were left to solidify. When the band began to play, the clay inside the speakers was expected to vibrate, causing the speakers to crack and eventually explode. The actual performance was considered anticlimactic, as the speakers withstood the sonic vibration.
In April 2014, the band released a cover of the Cardiacs' song "To Go Off and Things" via Bandcamp. All proceeds from the single went towards Cardiacs frontman Tim Smith's recovery from a simultaneous heart attack/stroke he suffered in 2008. The band announced on 5 November 2014, via Facebook that due to an illness in the family, Mitch Harris would be taking a hiatus from the band, to be replaced by various guitarists on their tour. Napalm Death's sixteenth studio album, Apex Predator – Easy Meat, was released on 26 January 2015. On 4 July, a Nepal Charity Event track from the Apex Predator sessions called "Earth Wire" was released on their page.
Next album (2017–present)
In August 2017, it was announced that Napalm Death entered the studio to begin recording their sixteenth studio album for an early 2018 release. In September, frontman Mark "Barney" Greenway spoke to Australia's Sticks for Stones condemning the announcement and stated that no material was being worked on at the moment but was in the "preliminary stages". He then said that it would not be released until later next year. In an interview at Download Festival in June 2018, Greenway confirmed that guitarist Mitch Harris would appear on the new album, which was not expected to be released until 2019, but did not know if he would tour with them again. Bassist Shane Embury confirmed in a March 2019 interview with Extreme Metal Festival News that Harris "did come over and record guitars on the new record" and Greenway has "nearly recorded all his vocal parts." He added, however, that the album will not be released before early 2020.
Napalm Death (along with Lamb of God, Anthrax, and Testament) opened for Slayer on their final North American tour in the summer of 2018.
In October 2019, Shane Embury announced that he would be unable to join the band during their North American Tour. Vernon Blake was announced as substitute live bassist.