Extreme metal has always been a fluid genre that has seen trends come and go within a matter of months (Crabcore, anyone?). However, some bands have a way of sticking around without overstaying their welcome. Since they first annihilated the music industry with albums like Scum, Napalm Death has carved a name for itself in a genre that is notoriously difficult to remain relevant in.
I got to speak with vocalist Mark “Barney” Greenway of Napalm Death one fine Friday morning about touring, recording, their new album, Apex Predator – Easy Meat, and more. You can check out the transcript below:
Hey Barney, thanks for talking with me today. I wanted to ask if the Apex Predator is easy meat, or does the Apex Predator prey upon easy meat?
That’s exactly the point. The Apex Predator, specifically, is the company, the bosses, the culture of supply chains. That is the Apex Predator. The easy meat are subject to them. It’s quite a simple kind of separation used with evolutionary terminology because that’s one of the things we like to do. If you look back through our albums, we got quite a few references to that because the couple of us are quite enthusiastic Darwinists (laughs).
I was looking back through the catalogue and I noticed that you guys have a theme of consumption. Just looking back at the previous album, you have track titles like “Wolf I Feed.”
That’s like the secondary meaning of the title, because in certain countries and cultures, they consume, they consume, they consume. Now in other countries around the world, not only do they manufacture, they also have the disposal to deal with. As I’m sure you know, there are these huge ships that cross the ocean carrying industrial plastics, y’know? Just very toxic loads and they just dump them back in the very places that the products come from. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen any film or footage of these huge, mountainous dumps. There are some in China; I know there are some in Africa where it’s just plastic and metal that seems to be on fire all the time. There are people that are paid—or I said they’re “paid”—to live on these dumps where it is a complete health hazard. It’s about as dangerous as it can get. They’re not in danger of being poisoned by fumes, they’re in danger of falling down into a void that, for want of a better term, looks like the World Trade Center site after 9/11. Some of these places just look like that and it’s just scandalous to think about. There’s nowhere to put it. A lot of it is not degradable by any stretch of the imagination. You just end up with toxic wastelands because eventually when some of this stuff melts, or it does react to other materials, it makes the ground infertile. You send up with these wastelands.
Apex Predator is your 16th studio album. I did a bit of counting, and you guys have been quite prolific.
It very well could be. Some people say 15th and others say 16th. I just say count it however you like. Ha.
We have been prolific, but if you look at the spacing the past few years, it has been a good two or three years between albums. There is a very good reason for that: The band is in such demand to play gigs worldwide—not just in the usual places. We figure that if people want to see us, and we can go to places that are interesting and stimulating, then why not just carry on? We don’t get people screaming at us for another album, so we figure, why not just go do as much as we can and see where we end up? See new people, see new places, and open ourselves up to the reality of the world.
You guys have been touring Europe a fair bit this past summer, correct?
I mean, we’ve done Europe throughout the year, really. We do things in fits and spurts, really. Because…I mean, being a European band, we don’t do the longer runs in Europe. Now, in May, because with the festival season being as long as it is, playing four to five weeks of gigs anywhere near May to September, for a band like Napalm, is nearly impossible. Everyone goes to festivals now and pays to see three times the amount of bands, so we do what we can. We do fly-ins to where there are hopefully no festivals happening in the area. Obviously, when we come to the States, we will do a four- or five-week tour, obviously because it’s another continent.
I know you guys did Hellfest in the past, but you didn’t do it last year. Did you guys have prior obligations, or did it just not work out?
Well, we’re not the kind of band that gets asked every year. And I don’t even think the big headliner bands get asked every year, more like every other year. We don’t. We don’t get asked, and that’s fine. I accept what comes with the territory. We’re not easy listening; let’s face it. We’re not easy listening even when compared to a lot of the harder bands, so I get that. I don’t lose sleep over stuff like that. I don’t fret over being on the top/best lists. It’s never been something like that.
It’s nice to play Hellfest. It’s got a friendly atmosphere. It’s got an independent vibe to it despite being so big. My main thing is for us to be able to go to different places around the world and see people that we wouldn’t normally see. That’s really the thrust of it when you come down to it.
When you come to America, are there any destinations, venues or towns that you like to hit?
I always loved Austin and Portland and Oakland on the West Coast. I suppose, for one, for very selfish reasons: I can get really good vegan food in those places. So I’m always excited for those places. Honestly though, above and beyond the creature comforts, I try to make the best out of everywhere. My attitude has always been to give everywhere the same attention in terms of gigs. Everybody deserves to get 100 percent, no less than that. So I try to make the best of each situation and each gig.
When it comes to recording time, I know that you guys have a two- to three-year gap because of your very busy touring schedule. How does that work?
There really is no grand plan, it really comes to down to, “Would you guys like to do another album?” That’s how it usually goes.
That’s great, because I know that for many bands it becomes formulaic for them. You can see it in the interviews, you can see it on stage, you can hear it on the album. With Napalm Death, there is still a lot of passion behind what you guys do.
Dejon, honestly, if I thought I was going to do a 50 to 60 percent version of Napalm Death, then I just wouldn’t bother. I just wouldn’t be interested. It has got to have a purpose, a real strength of purpose. I’ve stood on the side of stages—I’m not going to name names—and watched some bands play and thought to myself, “Why bother? It’s clear you don’t want to be here. You’ve got kids coming though the door who paid however many dollars and they didn’t need to, they could have gone somewhere else.” So I wouldn’t want to be in that position where it came to that, or to where it came time to make another album and we were like, “…I suppose it’s time to make another album…”
I saw that you’re touring with Exumed and Voivod, two really respected bands. How is that? Vovoid is one band I’m really looking forward to seeing with you guys.
When Voivod came out with War And Pain, they were hated by people. I’m old enough to remember. I remember people really hated the band. Some really ultra-critical reviews. Within a couple of albums, people changed their views, but the band was no less extreme.
When I saw them on the touring bill, I was like, “Nice, Voivod?”
Well, think about it. They’re a perfect choice. They’re extreme, but they’re progressive. Within that sort of framework they were doing things with their guitar that no other band was doing at the time. So, they’re a very pioneering band.
When I look through the catalog of bands like Napalm Death, Exhumed and Voivod, I’ve seen that they’re all bands that have been in the music scene for far longer than some of their fans have been around. Do you guys actively reach out to the new crowd, or do you think it is due to word of mouth? How is it that you guys keep yourselves relevant despite changing trends and tastes?
We don’t deliberately reach out to everybody because we believe that music can be for everybody. The whole idea that some music is more appropriate for someone than another person, I just think that’s nonsense. The one serious point about it is that the youth really get treated like shit by the media. They get portrayed as stupid and I really cannot stand that, so I think that when we do a gig, when we do an album, it’s for everybody, and everybody can take something from it. For that reason I wouldn’t be so patronizing as to craft something specifically at the market.
What can fans expect from Apex Predator – Easy Meat?
It’s just a couple of steps down the line. It’s not reinventing the grindcore wheel. I would be arrogant to say that, but I would say it’s a couple of steps forward, the kind of fusion of the ambient, dissonant discord stuff that we have, mixed with the chord stuff. I think that as time goes on, there is a better and better mix of that. I literally think that’s what that is. I couldn’t put it any more specific than that.
Napalm Death will be playing with Exhumed and Voivod on Feb. 2 at the Gramercy Theatre in NYC and on Feb. 3 at Union Transfer in Philadelphia. Apex Predator – Easy Meat is available now through Century Media. For more information, check out napalmdeath.org.