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.
Behold the…what? Arctopus?! What the fuck is an “arctopus”? Nothing, thank you very much. Which is something may detractors of this rather strangely named math-metal band have said about their music.
I first discovered them on YouTube in a guitar workshop video entitled “Worst Band Ever.” It was a huge hit with my friends: two dudes, one on guitar and another on a WARR guitar played some of the most dissonant sounding “shred” music we’d ever heard in our lives. Every time the guitarist flew up the fret board for another Satriani wannabe moments, we’d tear up and laugh.
Naturally, being the inquisitive person that I am, I looked up their music a bit more. I watched a video on YouTube with a drummer: the drummer gave it a sense of structure that was missing in the previous video. The distortion on the guitar was thicker and it gave it a more menacing, alive edge.
Even more curious, I do some more research and find out that the band isn’t mindlessly jamming: instead, they actually compose their music (that is, write it down with pen and paper) far in advance and carefully arrange everything. There is actually NO sense of improvisation in their music once you give it a further listen. And (thank God) there are no vocals as I generally hate metal vocals.
So, while I was living in Detroit, I ended up picking up their two albums at the time “Nano-Nucleonic Cyborg Summoning” (a collection of two EP’s and live material) and “full length” (as in half an hour) debut “Skullgrid.” The art was awful: horror, metal-skull nonsense that made me semi-embarassed to own the albums.
As for the music on the albums…well, it’s of a piece. That is to say, Behold the Arctopus (hereafter known as either Behold or BTA) have a signature sound that infects each and every one of their songs: complex instrumental interplay that constantly shifts and rarely, if ever settles on a single riff; wild solos that sound like a free jazz genius forgetting all theory and letting his hair down; strangely melodic Warr-bass sections that show off some real composing skills; bash, crash, smash diddle diddle, wank wank zaweee woo!
“Nano-Nucleonic Whatever” was probably their best release for me as it had something approaching song structures, riffs and melodies. “Skullgrid” took the complexity to whole new levels and had moments of musicality but had more moments of seemingly pure chaos.
And then the drummer quit. So, after several years they found a new drummer and released a new album “Horrorscension” in 2012.
I know I’m not mentioning band member names (Mike Lerner on guitar, Colin Marston on Warr guitar and new comer “Weasel” Walter on drums) and this may seem an oversight but this is purposefully: this music is (for good and bad) the most personality free music I’ve ever heard.
That is to say, there is plenty of personality in the music (I’ve never heard anything that sounds like this but I’m sure it exists): it’s an exact mixture of modern classical, free jazz sounds and metal that either inspires instant fan hood or instant derision.
In spite of that, the band members themselves don’t really have any personality. Apparently, all members compose (Marston and Walter composing the ahem SONGS while Lerner composes his guitar solos and guitar parts) but I couldn’t tell you what a Colin Marston song sounds like as opposed to a Weasel Walter song. And Lerner’s guitar parts don’t betray a lot of his personality and sound nearly like a robot could have composed them.
Which is what makes this band (and this album) stand out to me: this could be robots simply playing composed music that their composition software tells them is “complex” and “hard core” though how a computer would measure “hard core” is beyond me.
“Horrorscension” continues the trend set by “Skullgrid” in that the music is more complex than before to a point of absolute absurdity. Some fans have complained that Walter is an inferior drummer to whoever their first drummer was (please don’t ask me to name names) but I don’t hear any huge difference: it’s all “bash bash bash” with cymbals being used and abused into oblivion.
The songs are even less “songs” than before: opening “Disintegore” sounds like a pure blast of complete improvisational fireworks that sets no mood, creates no tension and which gives even the toughest listener a headache.
Perhaps that’s the point of the song. If so, good job.
However, the band does have a few moments of actual musicality and interest. “Monolithic Destractions” (btw, these song titles are ridiculous and not misspelled, but obviously done tongue-in-cheek which makes me like the band a bit more) has an interesting repeated “stop and start” section that gives the manic playing some semblance of structure.
There are other moments that stand out but less so than even on “Skullgrid” which had moments that honestly sounded near genius level: this album sounds more like a band constantly spazzing out and while that does have some appeal to me, it’s much less than the more structured abandon of previous albums.
The last two pieces on the album (another short one at 30 minutes) actually take up just over a third of the album and are the best parts of the album. “Putrefucktion” (yuck) was apparently written by my mom, according to the liner notes (I doubt that) but is a very tight and very fast unison piece that sees the band playing a short burst of variations on a riff. Nothing special but it sounds planned and controlled as opposed to completely chaotic.
And the last song, the 10 minute “Annihilvore” (I really hate typing such stupid words) is easily the best song on the album with actually musical sounding riffs that maintain within the BTA style of instrumental spazzing while moving through several different sections logically and building to an actual climax in a relatively normal way.
Final verdict? While the “complete chaos” of most of the album is relatively interesting (when compared to more cookie cutter music in this style) it’s simply a bit too much for these ears and for most people in general. I actually feel that the album is simply less well written when compared to past albums and that the band’s sound and style simply got the better of them this time around.
Hopefully, the band will move in the direction suggested by “Annihilvore” and streamline JUST A LITTLE. Doubtful, as the band is no commercial prospect and is an “underground” group. Much more likely is that future work will just sit in the “chaosphere” (to quote Messhuggah) until nobody cares any more.
Songs to YouTube:
“Monolithic Destractions” to give you a bit of a feel for the “chaotic” nature of the album combined with a bit more structure than is typical for the album.
“Putrefucktion” for the mind boggling speed and tightness of the playing and for its relatively short nature.
“Annihilvore” for a taste of what the band could do if they stopped fucking around and composed a bit more tightly. Just a BIT: past albums show they have it in them.
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