NEVER SEEN NAPALM DEATH LIVE? NEITHER HAD I. THIS IS WHAT YOU GET
Friday 11 March, 2022. Oxford’s O2 Academy. Upstairs, in the cosy bit – this is where Napalm Death 2022 are going to destroy. Ho-lee shit.
First, a disclaimer, just so you know where these words come from: I’m no Napalm pro. A handful of albums (Greed Killing EP, Enemy of the Music Business, Time Waits for No Slave, Smear Campaign, Fear Emptiness Despair) have spattered the past twenty-odd years and their obliterating Nazi Punks Fuck Off cover has been a pulverising favourite for even longer, but there are plenty of Napalm holes. Doesn’t matter. They’ve been a band for violent kicks more than regular listening and those albums, TWFNS especially, have more than done the job.
But what’s the reaction to the real thing right there, in your face?
SO. FCKN. HEAVY. It’s laughably obvious to say that but it’s all you can do when you’re in disbelief at what you’re witnessing. Napalm Death in the flesh at full pelt with even more density (how?) than the albums is unlike anything else. Precision, violence, intensity, a total revelation. A wall of noise. No tricks. Pure ferocity.
But that ferocity is shot through with friendship. No posturing, no machismo aggro and no barriers: Napalm Death are the people. Everyone’s welcome, which is all the more impressive given the musical hostility coming off the stage. Shane Embury, Mitch Harris and Danny Herrera are impeccably tight while Barney, aka the youngest-looking 52-year-old you’ll ever see, moves with an endearing, almost gentle eccentricity. But his vocal delivery is immense and full-on, song after song. Your only worry is that one night he’ll sweat away his entire body and be reduced to mist. A screaming, raging mist no doubt, but still: KEEP EATING, BARNEY.
Tracks played (identified here only because Barney announced them) include Contagion, Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism, Narcissus, Suffer the Children, Siege of Power, Scum and the epic You Suffer. Taste the Poison too (I did recognise that one, well done me). Nazi Punks Fuck Off, obvs. And a ton of other fast bastard cuts, none of them anything less than monstrous.
Odd as it seems, this Napalm Death experience has a lot in common with King Crimson. It’s all in the pre-gig giddiness and anticipation before the show, though it’s not just about seeing a band for the first time. It’s about seeing a certain kind of band for the first time – bands with next-level reputations, bands who are pioneers, bands that excel, bands whose live shows transcend but you don’t know how exactly because you haven’t seen them
King Crimson do it through a seven-man spectacle of orchestration, complexity and musicianship that sends you back to their albums with new ears. King Crimson on stage are entirely their own thing.
And so are Napalm Death. Bit less orchestration and slightly shorter songs, but no less a spectacle. INSANE. Time to add more mass to the ND back catalogue.