It’s been five years since I last caught a Napalm Death headline gig, at the sadly now defunct Leeds Rios. So the prospect of catching them at an even more intimate venue, thankfully recently saved from closure, was more than welcome.
As with their Rios gig they have opted to have local acts opening for them, which lead to a low key feel, certainly in contrast to the first time I saw Napalm in 1996 with Crowbar and Face Down in tow. In fact I don’t think I’ve seen Napalm given a run for their money by their supports since The Haunted left them looking somewhat pedestrian in 1998.The blackened riffs and vocals of Diascorum do little for me, whilst Hawk Eyes burgeoning reputation is still something of a surprise. Certainly an interesting band, there’s an off-kilter edge to their music, which brings to mind Helmet on more than one occasion, I just feel other Leeds bands such as Black Moth and Gentlemans Pistols currently edge them in the live arena.
It’s gone 10pm by the time the strains of ‘Circumspect’ finally herald Napalm’s arrival, but no-one seems to be escaping for the last train to wherever. Anyone who did have to leave early would have been kicking themselves as this was a classic performance by the boys from Brum.
The opening salvo of ‘Errors in The Signals’ and ‘Everyday Pox’ (Complete with grindcore sax attack sample!) from this year’s ‘Utilitarian’ underlines Napalm’s continued relevance, with said album easily maintaining the standards of the band’s 21st century output. Live they are noticeably tighter since slimming down to a quartet, although seeing them turn in such a life affirming display inevitably brings to mind the late Jesse Pintado. His one time partner in crime, Mitch Harris, is for me something of an unsung hero. Until tonight I’d assumed that Barney provided the Burton C Bell-esque vocal on new track ‘The Wolf I Feed’, but it’s Mitch who steps up to the microphone for that section, proving a much more convincing clean vocalist in the live arena than Fear Factory’s frontman.
Alongside the cuts from ‘Utilitarian’ in the first half of the set are a number of modern Napalm classics, including ‘Silence Is Deafening’ and ‘Fatalist’, the breakdown at the end of the former never failing to bring a smile to my face. They also delve into their often overlooked late nineties album, ‘Words From The Exit Wound’, with a run through ‘Next Of Kin To Chaos’.
With such an extensive back catalogue to plunder there were inevitably some omissions (Sadly no room for ‘Mass Appeal Madness’), but in general this was as well balanced a set as you’re likely to hear, with the second half taking in material from their first two Earache albums, whilst still throwing in refreshing reminders of the band’s ability to pen a tune as catchy as ‘Breed To Breathe’. The only cover of the night, ‘Nazi Punks Fuck Off’, is a staple of the band’s set that frankly would be a glaring omission if they didn’t play it.
Following the encore of ‘Scum/Human Garbage/You Suffer/Instinct Of Survival’, I speak with a few long term friends who rate this as highly as any previous encounter with the band. The majority of us, all in our thirties, have seen the band countless times, thankfully as we hung back around the middle of the venue a new generation of fans has taken over from us at the front, ensuring that the chaotic pits I would once have thrown myself into live on. Near the end one skirmish led to Barney acting as a lost property attendant, trying to locate the owner of a mobile phone and a single shoe, speaking into said ‘Shoe phone!’ he played the joker for a moment that reminded me why I so love this band. For all their intensity there is a human side to proceedings, and I would like to think that people take to heart some of Greenway’s words, as they continue to be a relevant, raging, force for good.