What a wonderful world 1988 in Britain must have been. Obviously, not everything was rosy—the Troubles were ongoing, Thatcherism was in full effect, and HIV/AIDS was still rampant and misunderstood—but unemployment was low and John Peel was producing sessions with Napalm Death, Carcass, Godflesh, Bolt Thrower, Extreme Noise Terror, Intense Degree and Unseen Terror.
I don’t know if I’d call it the good old days overall, but for grindcore, it sure was. There’s plenty to be said for modern grindcore records, with thundering, full bass, overanalyzed drum hits and all-too-clean guitar solos. But they often ignore the deep punk and post-punk roots that the genre was founded upon. Listening to Carcass in this setting is a far cry from the produced Heartwork, for instance.
There are mistakes left in. Less than optimal sounds. Thin, unrounded tone. But it’s great. If you can listen to something through a tin can, and it still sounds awesome, then that’s an achievement. Peel’s production allows for a window onto the dirty character of grindcore bands, their dedication, and strangely enough, humanity—grindcore’s not a particularly human sound—in a social atmosphere that considered them to be, well, scum.
Which to a large extent reveals Peel’s importance to these recordings. But it’s also the bands. Napalm Death’s three performances are astoundingly consistent despite going through two vocalists and two singers between these takes. Extreme Noise Terror’s contributions aren’t the best, but they’ve got charm in spades. Carcass’ contributions highlight the grimy nature of their early work, and Bolt Thrower sounds so different today.
Unsurprisingly, Godflesh loses a little umph, but not quite as much as one would expect. Napalm Death drummer Mick Harris and bassist Shane Embury make appearances as singer and drummer of Unseen Terror, respectively. Actually, the if you follow the comp, you’ll find there’s a web surrounding Napalm Death where almost every other band here is a part of. There are so many members intertwined and it all feels like one big fucked up family.