Our top ten Napalm Death songs list looks at the work of one of the most important extreme metal bands of all time who are considered to be the fathers of the grindcore genre who hail from Birmingham, the same city as their forefathers in Black Sabbath and Judas Priest. Whilst they now contain no original members, the current line-up has been together for the most part since 1991.
Napalm Death were formed in 1981 by Nick Bullen who played bass and sang and drummer Miles Ratledge. They started out sounding very different, being part of the British anarcho punk scene that was led by bands such as Crass who put out their first ever recording on one of their compilation albums. After existing for a couple of years and having a few different guitarists, in 1983 Justin Broadrick joined and became their first notable guitar player. Shortly afterwards they replaced Ratledge with Mick Harris. In 1986 they recorded the first side of what would become their debut album Scum. After they recorded this, Bullen and Broadrick both left feeling that they could not go any further with the band.
Harris however, felt differently and decided to group a new line together. He recruited Lee Dorrian on vocals, Bill Steer on guitar and Jim Whitely on bass. This line-up recorded the B Side of Scum. Both sides were then cobbled together and released as a whole album. Shortly afterwards, Whitely left and was replaced by Shane Embury. This line-up recorded the second album From Enslavement To Obliteration which was released in 1988.After this, Dorrian and Steer both left leaving Harris and Embury to once again assemble a new line-up. They recruited Barney Greenway on vocals, and two American guitarists in the form of Jesse Pintado and Mitch Harris.
The band travelled to Morrisound Studios in Florida to record their third album Harmony Corruption released in 1990 with producer Scott Burns who had worked with a lot of the prominent metal bands from that city such as Death, Morbid Angel, Deicide and Obituary. As a result the album sounded very different from the first two records, being more death metal than grindcore. After this album was recorded, Mick Harris left and they replaced him with Danny Herrera. Throughout the rest of the 1990’s the band’s music took a more leftfield direction, with a series of more experimental albums released during the later part of the decade. Greenway briefly left at one point due to being dissatisfied with the direction that the band was going in. They replaced him with Phil Vane who had previously been the vocalist in Extreme Noise Terror but it did not work out with him and Greenway re-joined.
At the turn of the millennium they left their label Earache Records and released an album called Enemy Of The Music Business in 2000 which saw them return to their roots and lyrically dealt with the problems that they had encountered in the music business over the last few years. After recording their next album Order Of The Leech in 2002 Jesse Pintado left and later died in 2006. After recording a covers album in 2004 titled Leaders Not Followers Part 2 (they had previously recorded an ep which was part one), Napalm’s career has continued to be a very strong and successful one with them having produced a string of brilliant albums over the last two decades such as The Code Is Red…Long Live The Code in 2005, Smear Campaign in 2006, Time Waits For No Slave in 2009, Utilitarian in 2012, Apex Predator-Easy Meat in 2015 and Throes Of Joy In The Jaws Of Defeatism in 2020. Here is a list of their ten best songs.
# 10 – When All Is Said And Done
The lead single from 2006’s Smear Campaign saw the band tackling the issue of organized religion and is one of the most ferocious songs of Napalm’s post millennial era. The band espouse their atheist beliefs and put across the message that they feel that belief in humanity is much better than belief in any kind of spiritual being. Everyone obviously has their own opinions on such things and the lyrics are not offensive to any one of faith in the way that some other metal bands are. The band put in stellar performance here, with a brilliant riff and a brutal vocal performance from Barney Greenway.
# 9 – Necessary Evil
Up next is the lead single from the band’s ninth album released in 2000 titled Enemy Of The Music Business which was seen as a return to form for them after the experimental nineties era. Inspired by their split from Earache Records, it is classic Napalm through and through. The band sound very fired up here which was something that had been lacking on the previous few albums.
# 8 – From Enslavement To Obliteration
Next we have the title track of the band’s second album released in 1988 which is one of vocalist Lee Dorrian’s finest moments. The sound of this album continues on from their debut album Scum but its higher production values give it a punchier edge. It is very much influenced by hardcore punk bands such as Discharge.
# 7 – Greed Killing
Our next track is taken from 1996’s Diatribes which is considered to be one of the band’s weaker albums but that is not to say that it does not have its moments. Here the band are bringing their alternative influences to the forefront such as Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine. It is a very different sounding Napalm Death from the early albums and is actually quite an interesting route for them to take. The shoegaze-style guitar work is particularly impressive.
# 6 – Plague Rages
This track is taken from the album the album Fear Emptiness Despair released in 1994 which is generally considered the first of the experimental era which, despite still having death metal elements, sees the band slowing down a little. Despite being slower than the early material it is no less brutal. Like all the band’s material, the lyrics deal with political themes such as corruption and racism.
# 5 – You Suffer
And here we have what is officially the world’s shortest ever song taken from Scum released in 1987 that clocks in precisely…one second long! A fan favourite, it is something that has got the band noticed in wider popular culture outside of the extreme metal scene due to being featured in the Guinness world records. It recently made an appearance in the US sitcom Silicon Valley and British politician Ed Miliband hilariously tried to sing on BBC Radio 2!
# 4 – Twist The Knife (Slowly)
Up next we have another song from Fear Emptiness Despair which was featured on the soundtrack to the movie Mortal Kombat. It is one of the band’s best songs that is also more mid paced like the rest of the album. The song’s inclusion on the movie’s soundtrack got the band more recognition although bassist Shane Embury has stated that it is his least favourite album.
# 3 – Suffer The Children
This track is taken from the band’s third album Harmony Corruption released in 1990 and is the closest thing they ever had to a hit single. It is a live favourite with fans largely due to it being played at twice the speed of the studio recording. With its heavy riff and Greenway’s very guttural vocals, it is a pure classic of the era.
# 2 – Unchallenged Hate
Just off the top spot is another classic song from the band which has two versions recorded by two different line-ups. The original version was featured on From Enslavement with that album’s line-up and a second version was recorded for the compilation Death By Manipulation released in 1991 with the line-up featuring Greenway on vocals and Mitch Harris and Jess Pintado on guitar. Both versions are equally as good and they both contain the same anti-fascist lyrics.
# 1 – Scum
At the top of our Napalm Death songs list we have the title track from the seminal debut album released in 1987. This album is considered to be the record that truly pioneered the grindcore genre and it was heavily championed by the highly influential British disc jockey John Peel. This is an extreme metal classic that is featured on the album’s A side and is performed by the line-up featuring original vocalist Nick Bullen and guitarist Justin Broadrick.