MUSIC FEATURE: Behind The Noise – Napalm Death
Last week legendary grindcore pioneers Napalm Death released their sixteenth album Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism to high acclaim, continuing to push the boundaries of heavy music with their far-reaching and multi-layered approach. In the run up to the release the band revealed a video for their hard-hitting single A Bellyful of Salt and Spleen, which highlights the ignorance of many against those who traverse continents in search of sanctuary. We caught up with vocalist Mark ‘Barney’ Greenway to find out more, including the writing process, themes, and behind-the-scenes stories.
Can you give us your quick elevator pitch on this track? Why does this one standout for you as a band?
Napalm has always done very experimental stuff, aside from what people traditionally think the band is sonically. This song just takes it a couple of steps further, it’s very, very ambient whilst being very, very abrasive. It’s very multi-layered, which wouldn’t immediately spring to mind if you just think of Napalm Death, it’s very multi-layered. There’s a lot of ambient noise going on, there’s a self-built drum kit on there, which was bashed very enthusiastically. Although I wasn’t there I do know about the assembling of old industrial parts which were pilfered from the locale where the studio was [laughs]. So yeah, it all kinda goes together to make something I think that’s very atmospheric, I suppose is the very generic word to use, but it’s very deep, there’s just a lot going on in it. The video is very striking as well.
How did you tackle the writing process for the song? Was there anything unique about this track compared to your usual/previous approach?
Well the fact that it is so multi-layered, not that Napalm is one-dimensional by any stretch of the imagination, but the fact that it is very multi-layered – it’s one of those tracks that takes a lot of building. I had the root tracks many, many months before, and obviously it wasn’t as built up as it was in the latter stages. So the writing process perhaps for Shane who wrote the song, our bass player, was perhaps a little more intensive than mine. Like I say, where the studio is it’s a little rural kind of industrial estate, semi-rural, and there’s a couple of very small fabrication factories there and there was just a load of old…looked like it’d been tossed out the back door kinds of material, like oil cans, like rubbish bins, like these big industrial screw parts like you see. So they built a drum kit and used that as percussion on the track. So that’s quite interesting! Then it was just a lot of layering of guitars and various things, very ambient sounding guitars.
When it came to doing the vocals, I took a kind of baritone approach to it, gothic in the loosest sense of the word I suppose. It’s a very baritone, very stretched vocal, lots of presence on the voice. Actually, you would think a song like this, knowing that it’s multi-layered and there’s a lot to it, you’d think from a vocalist’s point of view that it might take longer than the usual stuff; but this kinda stuff takes me not as long as the regular stuff. It’s really strange, I can’t explain why, I just seem to be able to bash this stuff out quite quickly. It’s not the normal Napalm voice, we have done it before, but I’ve stretched myself a little bit. I’m quite confident in doing stuff so it’s never a problem to me, to try and stretch myself a little bit, and I really did a lot of layers of vocal for it. So yeah, it just went very smoothly and very seamlessly.
Can you tell us how the song’s theme came about?
Well, take the title: A Bellyful of Salt and Spleen. Think of it like this…so the salt is meant to signify the salt in salt water and spleen, because the song is about refugees, the dehumanisation of refugees, and the persecution of refugees, and the indifference to refugees, the plight of refugees sometimes. Well spleen is venting spleen y’know, so where the anger is unfathomable in my opinion. I’ve got to mention the video at this point, that explains everything…
Tell us about the video, do the themes of the single transfer to the video?
So in the video you see boats going across the water. I actually live on the South coast, so not too far from Dover. Thirty to forty miles, something like that. So of course you have people trying to come across the channel, it’s a completely dangerous thing to do but people are desperate. They want shelter, they want sanctuary, just like it should be afforded to any human being. So we’ve got sequences of boats and people within boats, animated stuff, then we’ve got bodies washed up on the beach. The quite hard-hitting thing about that latter part of it, is that there’s bodies on the beach, but then you see people having regular beach days out. The usual things you do on the beach, with people taking selfies y’know, clearly not recognising that these bodies are on the shoreline. So I would say it’s quite suggestive about that sort of indifference, and this sometimes shortcoming of failing to notice when another human being is just another human being.
Really hard-hitting and also very topical.
Yeah, well in my opinion whenever Napalm makes an album I think you have to make it current, because if you don’t make it relatable to the people who might be interested in your band, they can’t make a direct connection to the world that they’re also living in necessarily. Of course you can do really good generic, timeless, ideas-based albums, of course they’re not invalid by any stretch. But I think it’s always better if you’ve got signs of the times, for people to be able to connect to, because it gives them more incentive, psychological incentive to invest in the ideas on an album.
Do you have any behind the scenes stories from the video shoot?
Obviously we were shooting safely! There was actually only two guys on the shoot besides me, because it was only me that shot for the video. It wasn’t particularly safe at that point when we did do the shoot, which was probably nearly two months ago now. It wasn’t safe at that time in a small room to have everybody together necessarily, so they just shot me basically. I had to compensate for the others not being there and make sure I made it fucking hard-hitting, energetic and animated as I could. So yeah, I was fucking knackered by the end of it!
Anything else you’d like to add for our readers?
In terms of the song, just hopefully the idea sticks with you. I’m sure there’s a lot of people who already know and understand this anyway, and would think along the same lines; but I would say that from an ideas point of view that this is human beings we’re talking about, if humanity means anything I think contrary to what some governments around the world are saying at this point in time, if we are going to move forward we have to not shut people out and not make it a matter of life and death for people to get sanctuary. It’s insane, y’know. So I would always say refugees welcome, as the phrase goes.
Also I would say taking the new album as a whole if you’re interested, Napalm Death is a band who is always forward looking. We’ve done too many albums now not to be carbon copies of ourselves. So hopefully you appreciate the mix between the very abrasive, traditional Napalm stuff and the more far-reaching stuff. Aside from that, I would quite simply say thank you for your support. It’s thirty years now since I first joined the band. The band has been around for forty years. As a really fucking noisy band I would say that’s pretty good going [laughs].
Napalm Death‘s new album Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism is out now via Century Media Records, available to purchase in various formats, including limited edition vinyl variants, HERE.