The world according to Napalm Death is a terrible place where terrible people do terrible things; the methods those in power create and implement to increase injustice and suffering always improve, but everything else just gets worse. This seems like it would make remaining focused impossible, but Napalm Death, a band that thrives when the world’s on fire, keeps chugging forward, headlong into the flames.
Beginning with 1987’s Scum, the UK grindcore pioneers have relentlessly documented this downward spiral while angrily cramming wrenches into the ever-expanding machine with the hope of exploding the fucker once and for all. Despite the following sentiment’s absolutely utopian-drunk idiocy, it makes you wonder if Napalm Death would continue making music if we all woke up tomorrow morning and the world was a perfect place. “I think we’re a long way off from that,” laughs vocalist Mark Greenway. “But if that ever happens, I guess we’d have to look for another angle. Maybe we’d go within ourselves and be completely introspective.”
Brushing aside such utopian fantasies, introspection’s a luxury; in fact, introspection’s downright dangerous. At least that’s the argument made on Napalm Death’s 15th album, Utilitarian, which strikes hard against everything from heteronormativity (“Errors In The Signals”) and police surveillance (“The Wolf I Feed”) to apathetic conformity (“Quarantined”) and the arms trade (“Fall On Their Swords”). There’s no space left open for deep breathing here — no time for reflection — only ire, lobbed bricks and frenzied thrashing.
On “Think Tank Trials,” introspection leads to uncertainty and immobility — two things you definitely don’t want to experience during the thick of battle. “Thought it out and just drew blanks,” growls Greenway. The same happens on “Analysis Paralysis,” where an extended gaze into the mirror leads to hopelessness and defeat. The condition Napalm Death is exploring here is one likely familiar to many activists, namely the type of crippling doubt that comes from gauging whether or not all those hours spent on the cause are actually making a positive impact.
“We try to live life as ethically as possible,” says Greenway, “but despite that, we don’t always see results. So we tend to question whether what we’re doing is the right thing. The difference we’re making should be tangible, so we’re always asking ourselves, What difference am I really making? This sort of self-doubt can be overwhelming, but it’s important to maintain momentum and not let that slow us down.”
This death-from-introspection theme is also a befitting way to think about the band itself. As Napalm Death prepares to enter its 32nd year as a band, there hasn’t been much of a musical change since day one. The songs are a bit longer now, the production quality’s improved, and there have been too many line-up changes to track, but the band hasn’t deviated much from the formula it established on Scum. Utilitarian’s only unpredictable moment happens on “Everyday Pox” when saxophonist John Zorn leaps in for a blaring skronk session, but even this slight aberration’s almost completely overshadowed by Danny Herrera’s manic drum blasts.
But introspection kills, and Napalm Death must keep moving. “The people who have the power,” charges Greenway, “need to be kept in check at all times.”
Napalm Death, Municipal Waste and Exhumed play The Gramercy Theater Saturday night (7 p.m., $15).