Here’s a first: the first grindcore album ever produced by the hilariously named “Napalm Death.” It’s also my first metal review (not counting Behold the Arctopus as they’re something else entirely). The first album I reviewed that I laughed my way through the whole time while also respecting what was going on.
Bash bash bash bash tshh tsshh tssshhhh chug chug chug…SCREAM SCREAM SCREAM YOU SUFFER BUT WHY!?
“Scum” is a 198? album created by a rather odd group of British metal/punk heads that created a blur of noise completely different from anything that had come before and which would influence decades and decades of metal musicians.
What’d they do? Why, they sped metal up to the point of insanity: they shortened song structures and riffs to beyond punk level shortness: they changed the riffs, rhythm and sometimes even the time signature every few seconds while a maniac screamed horrific gibberish on top. They had a drummer hit his cymbals constantly, overpowering everything else to the point where you get a headache trying to pick out the (rather clever) guitar riffs.
Sounds stupid? It kind of is…but it’s also kind of amazing.
Mostly because it’s the first time anybody had thought to do something so…extreme. It’s nearly an avant garde level of dissonance and intensity crammed into recognizable (if just barely) metal song structures. It’s noise but structured noise as the band could actually play all these songs live (as evidenced by the BBC Sessions. Yes, they had a few).
The whole thing almost seems like a bad joke until you realize all bad jokes about bad fast metal comes from this album’s influence and the bands that desperately wanted to achieve something like this but failed because they lacked the ground breaking insanity of this crew of weirdos.
Metal had, of course, long emphasized speed: Deep Purple didn’t croon “Speed King” for nothing. But this speed was always tempered by song structure, melody, plain logic and the desire to sell records. One couldn’t play a half hour cacophonous blur of metal riffs, cookie monster screams and cymbal crashes, label it “Deep Purple: Stormbringer” and expect to drum up Platinum level sales.
Of course, thrash came around before this album popped up but even then…that was tempered by a sense of melody (Metallica) complexity (Megadeth’s best work) tightly disciplined interplay (Slayer) and whatever the hell Anthrax was trying to do (Anthrax).
These bands may have come before and after this album but none of them really approached it’s level of complete abandonment. It’s nearly free jazz level noise as you rarely hear a repeating riff or “melody” throughout the entire album but as previously mentioned its clearly structured according to some insane collective psychic understanding.
Want an description of a typical song? Sure thing, but don’t expect to be enlightened: introductory drum fanfare as the drummer hits his cymbals in that “mystery” way that begins many metal tracks. The bass player lets his guitar feedback for a second and then a “1,2,3,4” on a cymbal starts the song.
Guitar comes in grinding out a four or five note/chord riff while the bass grooves along at the same speed (over 240 bpm, give or take). The drummer hits every thing on his kit. Singer Lee Dorian vomits on the floor and calls it a vocal performance. Everything changes up at least five or six times in a semi-logical fashion. The long ends and a minute and a half has passed. Another song begins immediately which sounds nearly identical to the previous track.
The most legendary track on the album is the eternal “You Suffer” which lasts a heartbreaking two seconds and features the lyrics “You suffer…but why?” Perhaps the finest act of “condensed lyrical message” I’ve ever heard. Four words and it tells you all you need to know without any extra metaphorical dressing further elucidating the point.
For Sale: Baby Shoes. Never Worn.
I can’t describe any more of the songs. I simply can’t. How can you tell “Multinational Corporations” apart from “Dragnet” if you haven’t heard the album 10 million times? Yes, the songs are all different in a basic way. But they’re all the same: a blur of sound.
There are at least 28 tracks on the album with BONUS tracks on the album creating an even longer and more draining listen. Stick to the original tracks: even at just over half an hour, this album can be difficult to listen to in one sitting without questioning your taste and perhaps even your sanity.
However, it must be listened to in one sitting. You can’t just, say, listen to five songs and go “okay I’m gonna take a break.” As an album, as an experience, it must be listened to from front to back without any distractions or breaks.
Listened to this way, it almost becomes an epic “prog symphony” as the parts change up at lightning speed and the lyrics all center around your basic metal tropes, giving it a “concept album” feel.
I won’t even go in depth on the lyrics or themes as you know exactly what a band like this is singing about even before you hear a note: blood, murder, all kinds of body dismemberment and eternal torment. It’s kind of their thing.
Naturally, this band wasn’t to last long: there are actually TWO completely different lineups on the album, one playing on each side (only sharing the drummer). They sound indistinguishable.
Both lineups were to quickly implode with only one more album, “From Enslavement to Obliteration” coming out from this band and this style before they completely broke up again.
And…later reformed with completely new members beyond the drummer as a more or less typical thrash metal band. After a few more albums, no original band members remained.
This Napalm Death had a relatively stable line up and was to become a thrash metal institution, issuing challenging thrash metal albums that occasionally combined elements of “grindcore” and even industrial rock elements into their sound.
However, there ain’t nothing like “Scum” (even “Enslavement” is a bit more streamlined and normal by comparison) even amongst the legions of bands who tried to copy the style. Grab a sandwich, crank the volume and laugh along with this merry brand of metal pranksters for half an hour.
Really, it can’t be much worse than watching “Big Bang Theory.” And it won’t insult your intelligence.
Songs to Youtube:
Again, just listen to the whole album: it’s available on YouTube as one long track. It MUST be experienced in this way to be fully understood and appreciated.
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