"In this world nothing is sure except death and taxes."
AN INTERVIEW WITH NAPALM DEATH
by Richard Karsmakers
I still remember the day I first heard Napalm Death. I was over
at a friend's (some of you might know him from the days of
yesteryear, a guy whose handle was THH) who I still remember kept
his CDs stacked with the rear end to the front. Anyway, those
were still the early days of CD so he (and I) still bought vinyl
by the wagonload.
"Now this is something you've got to hear," he said as he put on
an LP he had taken from a rather ugly-looking greenish cover.
That day, April 30th 1988, I heard the fastest drumming I had
ever heard, the most hellish voice ever, and generally the most
extreme load of noise it had ever been my disfortune to sense.
Little did I suspect then that six years later to the week I
would be sitting in the same room as these guys (or at least the
respective replacements of the original band members) and meet
the band that is probably still one of the most extreme original
bands to date.
It is Sunday, May 8th 1994. Me and photographer Erwin (the same
"V.I.R.U.S." co-member that was with me when we interviewed
Paradise Lost in the previous issue of ST NEWS) get backstage and
find that, even though we're on the guest list, the bands know of
no interview dates. A minor fuck-up on behalf of Earache, but
it's the kind of thing you get used to. Added to that the fact
that the whole shebang arrived at Tivoli, Utrecht, two hours too
late, I think we were lucky to actually be able to have the
interviews in the first place. After quite a bit of a delay, at
19:30, we are lead into a more or less secluded room with Mitch
Harris (guitar) and Shane Embury (bass).
Shane is a hair-standing-out sturdy dude with a fairly heavy
Yorkshire accent that made Steve Bak spring to mind. Mitch was
more quiet, and someone who somehow seemed to use the the word
"fuckin'" with same innocense and frequency as "very". The room,
unfortunately, was the location of the very (er...fuckin') loud
Right on. Let's kick off with the most cliché of questions: A
band biography in the tiniest conceivable nutshell.
Shane: You probably know everything there is to know about
Napalm. There isn't much to tell you, really, apart from that the
band was formed 1981 and that it didn't develop a musical style
until '86 and with the release of the first album ("Scum", ED.)
there ceased to be an original member at all in the band, it was
mainly an attitude thing really and then went through several
line-up changes, then did "Scum", "From Enslavement to
Obliteration", the "Mentally Murdered" EP, the "Peel Sessions",
"Harmony Corruption" in 1990. That was the third (full length)
album, which is when the Americans joined the band, Mitch, Jesse,
and that line-up kinda stayed until late '91, where Micky
(Mick Harris, drums, ED.) left before we did a tour with
Sepultura in the United States. Hence the third American came in
the band which is Danny Herrera, a friend of Jesse's, with
"Utopia Banished". And we've done a new one, "Fear, Emptiness,
What are your places and dates of birth?
Mitch: (A heavy American accent if ever I heard one) I was born
in New York, Oct 31st 1970.
Shane: I was born in a place called Broseley, in Shropshire, 40
miles from Birmingham on the 27th of the 11th 1967.
What were the first albums you ever bought?
Mitch: I answered this question yesterday actually. The first
album I bought...well I bought three albums in one day actually.
It was Pink Floyd "The Wall", a Blondie 7" and Bruce Springsteen
"Hungry Heart", and I was fuckin' chuffed. I was, like, 8 years
old, 1978, or something like that.
Shane: My mum used to buy me records when I was about 5 or 6. I
was into a band called Slade, and Gary Glitter, the Sweet, the
Osmonds as well actually, the Osmonds were pretty cool.
Mitch: Yeah, I was chuffed for the Osmonds too. I was younger,
Shane: The first album that I would actually have bought that
sortof changed my musical taste was "Never Say Die" by Black
Sabbath and "Killing Machine" by Judas Priest, "Jailbreak" by
What did you do before you entered the music biz?
Shane: Just the usual working thing. I worked in a factory. I
left school when I was 16. I did like an eve training scheme for
a year to try and teach you a trade, which I wasn't interested in
at all. I did this shift working thing in this really crappy
factory, like machine metal work, really average stuff. At the
same time I'd learned to play drums actually. I started off as a
drummer and only later started with the bass. That was kinda what
I was doing.
Mitch: Me, I started when I was in highschool still, I started
my first band. I used to go to school but in the summers I used
to hang wallpaper and also play with the band. I had a band
called Righteous Pigs in Las Vegas, and otherwise I would just
work, hanging wallpaper, and doing construction work and shit
like that before I joined Napalm.
In what kind of neighbourhood did you live?
Shane: Where I was born it was a really, really, really small
village, you know, very quiet, the sort of place where you could
keep your door open, you didn't need to lock your door. Everyone
knows everybody. It's kinda sad in a way, 'cause everyone is
sortof very much expected to do the same, you know, sortof
tradition. Everybody's expected to be married by 21, they end up
working in these similar sort of places. Very narrow-minded, and
I found it very racist. In the village I was brought up in
actually there wasn't one black person. That was kinda sad
actually. I moved to Birmingham about five years ago and since I
got out of it I feel much happier, to be honest. My parents are
pretty cool and there are a few cool people around, but for the
most part it's a very narrow-minded place, very, very small. A
countryside type thing, you know.
Mitch: I lived in New York until I was 10. I lived in Queens
which at the time wasn't a very bad neighbourhood, but by the
time we left it was pretty violent, pretty dangerous, a lot of
robberies and street crime and stuff like that. It was generally
a nice place to grow up though. And then when I was 10 my parents
moved to Las Vegas. I went with them, obviously, and then that
was totally a shock to the system because it was, like, you live
in the desert in the middle of nowhere. There is nothing around.
You have your city and then there's nothing around for something
like 200 miles. You have to have a car to get anywhere and it's
very hot. But now the town has grown a lot and it's easier to get
around. When I grew up there there was not much at all for
anyone to do if you're under 21.
How did Napalm Death get the first album released?
Shane: Basically just because, at the time, Earache was a very,
very small label anyway, and the guy was friends with us. It was
like a logical thing. "I've got a record label out and this is my
friend's band, I'm into it, I'll release it". No sortof like
great demoing. It was just a case of the first year of his record
label and, like, the third release. And we knew the guy very
well. It was just a logical step.
Did you consciously decide it should be extreme so that it had
its own niche in the market?
Shane: It was just kinda the way it turned out. It's what we
were doing at the time. The stuff that we listened to resulted in
that at the time. Just hard-core sortof death metal, thrash
stuff, you know. There was no sort of 'great plan' involved.
Were you angry at the world?
Shane: No, not angry at the world. I just have frustrations in
mind, things that piss me off. And obviously I write about them.
It's not because I'm angry at the world, it's because I'm angry
at certain things.
Doesn't that become more difficult as you go on? It seems
obvious that the more music you make the better off you are.
Shane: In some ways it's more frustrating at some points. I mean
there's a sheer endlessness of topics for me to write about when
I'm in a depressive mood. I'm not a depressive person, I'm quite
happy a lot of the time. But the lyrics that I write, or that
Barney writes, tend to be those moments when you're at a low
point. That's always going to be that way because there's always
going to be times when I'm feeling low. It gets more frustrating
the more you carry on actually. You're trying to put your music
across to people and you get positive reactions and negative
reactions. And the negative feedback you get frustrates you.
After "Harmony Corruption", did you feel like outside factors
pushed you back into making more hard-core music?
Mitch: As much as it was a negative reaction it was, like, the
most successful Napalm album so far. The new album I think will
be more successful, but, you know, as much shit as we took, it
surely fuckin' frustrated us, you know, to have all this
Shane: I don't know, the whole thing about "Harmony Corruption"
was just the way it sounds. 'Cause sound-structure-wise it's not
different in shape or form from "Mentally Murdered". I just think
it didn't sound like Napalm Death. To emphasize that point, with
"Utopia Banished" everybody thought we had returned to the old
style, but in fact that album is far more technical than "Harmony
Corruption" but it *sounds* like the earlier stuff. Not to insult
the fans or the people in general, they know what they want, but
they hear the sound more than the music that's going on, you
know, the beats, I think. People recognize sounds and rhythms
more than actual structures of songs. And so with "Utopia" people
said "Oh yeah, they're going back to their old style" which
really wasn't the case at all. It was more technical but also a
bit faster which they recognized maybe as typically Napalm Death.
Some people think this new album is more technical than "Utopia"
but I think it's a lot more basic.
Mitch: (To Shane) Last night I met someone who said it was a lot
Shane: The drums are more dynamic, but riff-wise it's much more
basic I think.
How do you feel about the time, around when Napalm Death had
achieved popularity, when even faster bands proudly proclaimed
Napalm Death was like a church choire compared to them?
Share: (Smiles) We're a church choire. It doesn't really bother
us. I get flattered when people say that they're influenced by
Napalm Death and I get pissed off as well but things like that,
well, they're not going to make me lose any sleep, you know,
whatever. We're a church choire, great, that's fine.
"Fear, Emptiness, Despair" seems to be an album with a more
negative vibe, there's even a song about suicide. Do you agree?
And how would you describe the album as a whole?
Shane: You mean "Hung"? It's not really suicidal, just
depressed. I wouldn't say it's suicidal. Musically it's more
basic and we just tried to progress with the beats and the
rhythms. That's basically what we're trying to do, you know, we
got sick and tired of playing fast all the time. It's become
boring, really. We write albums as a reaction to things, things
we're into at the time.
How did Danny's arrival change the band?
Mitch: When Danny came in the band we got back some of the
faster stuff. We told him to play fast and he didn't complain.
Mick left because he wasn't into playing fast any more. We still
had "Utopia Banished" in our system. That's what we wanted to
play at the time. We got 22 songs written, totally extreme, fast
intensity. That's what we wanted to do and Mick left.
Shane: I don't know if it was the right album to do or the wrong
album to do, but it just happened that we had 22 songs, you know,
and we're not one of these rock bands that scraps an album. These
were the songs we got and we were into, so do it. Mick left and
Danny came in. That was, like, two years ago and it's out of our
system now. With "Fear Emptiness Despair" we had this new, well,
concept, where we first pick up beats and then do the riffs. It
gets sortof more accessible beats, really. We still keep the
riffs really heavy, you know, intense.
In the "FED" liner notes I read something about it having been
remixed. Was someone not content with the original mix?
Mitch: Yeah. The first mix was a little disappointing, you know,
we spent a lot of time on it and we got home and it didn't sound
Shane: It was kinda strange, we were almost fighting an up-hill
battle from day one of mixing. We were racing against time,
straight away. You have to be critical but I think maybe we were
too critical, you know, analysing things and re-analysing, and,
you know, you think you got to a point where you'd mixed a track
and get back after while and say, "Nah, let's do it all over
again". So we took Colin (Robertson, ED.) in. He was, like, an
old friend of ours, a producer who's done quite a lot of stuff
with us, and kinda let him get on with it, which was better I
think. We're probably too close to the sound to be judgmental
Some people say Napalm Death should have changed their name
because there's only one original band member, Shane, left. Have
you ever considered changing your name?
Shane: I wasn't on "Scum" actually (even though his picture is
on the CD liner, ED.). It was kinda hard because Micky wasn't the
original drummer. Before they recorded the B side of "Scum" -
because the A side was actually kindof a demo at first. There
just ceased to be an original member before "Scum" even was
Mitch: When the B side of "Scum" was recorded the original
members of Napalm left and Mick went on with Lee (Dorrian,
vocals, ED.) and Bill (Steer, guitar, ED.). And Shane wasn't on
there, it was Jim. But Shane did the tour for "Scum".
Shane: They asked me to play guitar for Napalm Death on the B
side of the "Scum" album and I turned it down and Bill jumped in.
When it came out, that's when I joined and I decided I wanted to
But what about those people claiming you should have changed
Shane: I can't see why actually. Why is it that in millions of
other bands line-up members come and go, there's bands that have
changed totally. Pantera is a classic example, right, they were a
glam metal band for something like six albums and all of a sudden
they go "Yeah, we're heavy now". If I was into Napalm Death,
which I am, I was into Napalm Death even before I joined the
band, members could come and go. If it's very frequently then
something's wrong, but if a band retains its core and style, and
it's still extreme and still heavy, why change the name? We could
change the name, but we'd still sound like Napalm Death.
What's your most favourite Napalm Death track?
Shane: I don't know. Probably, the one I'm into at the moment,
is "More than Meets the Eyes". A little different for Napalm. I
like "Contemptuous" as well.
Mitch: I like "Hung". That's still my favourite.
Shane: I like "Hung" as well.
And what is your least favourite track?
Mitch: "Unfit Earth".
Shane: "Unfit Earth". We'll never play it. Never have, never
Why did you record it then?
Shane: I don't know. (To Mitch) Why did we record it?
Mitch: Micky wrote it, Micky played it, and we just went with
the flow. We didn't realise how fuckin' weak it was.
Shane: At the time we did "Unfit Earth" we didn't even think
about it. It just happened, I guess. By the time we recorded the
album we decided we didn't like the track.
What do you think is the most underestimated aspect of your
Shane: The potential to cross over. The potential to be accepted
by a lot of different trends of people. I think we could branch
out to an awful lot of different styles of fans, really.
Mitch: I'd agree on that.
Which item of your CD collection now left at home do you most
sorely miss on tour now?
Mitch: (Smiles smugly) I brought it with me. I brought thirty
CDs and, right now, my favourite is Björk. I'm totally into her.
I only got into her recently.
Shane: I can't really think of one now. I think I brought most.
Mitch: The new Soundgarden. I'm glad I brought that with me too.
Shane: I went through a period where I haven't been playing much
music recently. Usually I always get a need to play a Cardiax
album, which is one of my favourite bands, totally unknown sortof
weird punk progressive band. There are always some points in a
tour when I want to play the Cardiax. I didn't bring it with me
this time so that's probably something I'm going to miss.
What are your favourite bands?
Shane: Hard to say. I've got too many. Bands like Sonic Youth,
Cardiax, Skinny Puppy, Cocteau Twins, stuff like that really.
Mitch: It's hard to say, too, man, I've got like a list of like
30 or 40 things that I totally totally love, you know. There's
Soundgarden and Björk but there's also Jane's Addiction. I always
loved Jane's Addiction. And Smashing Pumpkins.
Shane: Too many bands.
Mitch, what's your favourite guitarist?
Mitch: Probably...I like Dave Navarro of Jane's Addiction. His
style is pretty cool, pretty unique. As far as my influences go,
you know, from the beginning, there's Slayer, Metallica, Venom,
Exodus, Destruction, Kreator, Sodom, all that shit. Pentagram
from Chili that's my all-time favourite, the guy that I developed
my guitar style around. They had some demos out and stuff, but
they never had an album come out.
And your favourite bass player, Shane?
Shane: I like the guy from Primus (Les Claypool, ED.), and I
like Geddy Lee as well, from Rush.
Mitch: (Sounding suggestively evil) Cronos...
Shane: I sortof modelled myself on Cronos 'live', probably. Not
to the point of sticking my tongue out, but I mean, you know.
Is the story true about his having left the music scene and
having set up a fitness school?
Shane: Yeah, pretty much. He still does his band, you know,
kindof, but he's into the fitness thing now. I guess, you know,
shit happens. I guess you get bored maybe.
What are your favourite drinks?
Shane: Diet Coke during the day and beer at night.
Mitch: Water. I love water.
What's the worst food someone ever tried to have you stuff down
Shane: I love cauliflower.
Mitch: My dad fuckin' shoved cauliflower right down my throat.
Since that day, man, I hate the shit.
Shane: They have this stuff in England called Piccalilly. It's
this relish kind of thing, the yellow stuff. I hate that shit,
can't stand it.
Is there something you particularly dislike about the music
Mitch: I hate to see a record company spend so much money on a
band that's just a pile of shit, you know, something they think
is gonna be huge but could never be huge, and they spend all this
time and money on a band when there's, like, lots of bands that
are very talented and deserve the push.
Is Earache guilty of this, too?
Mitch: No, Earache pretty much pushes the right bands. Besides
Napalm they push, like, Carcass and Entombed and Godflesh and
stuff, and they release other stuff where they put out a little
press for one month and that's it.
I had a question specially for vocalist Mark "Barney" Greenway.
Perhaps the others could answer it for me. Does Barney use any
sound effect machinery on his voice?
Shane: Not really, no. He tried a couple of effects for the
weird spoken parts, but the actual growly voice is going natural.
Do you bite your nails (referring to the "FED" liner picture)?
Mitch: I always do.
OK, now for the "words to react to" section. If you have
something to say, just burst forth. But keep it short.
Mitch: I don't know much about Yugoslavia and I don't know much
about politics. I am glad that most of it is over and the place
is free now. At least we get to play in Slovenia and stuff like
Shane: The same as any other politician.
Mitch: One more liar to add to the bunch.
Shane: A waste of time.
Mitch: Same thing in America.
Shane: You can't expect one person to make the right decision
for the entire population of as nation. How can he make the right
move on exactly the right moment for every single person?
Mitch: The government in America is just run by the CIA,
So Rage Against the Machine is right?
Mitch: (Snorts) They're just fuckin' trying to milk the whole
political thing and try to make it a fashion.
Shane: Rage Against the Machine are really popular but they're
not saying anything that I haven't known for the past 10 years.
Shane: We played South Africa last year. It's a pretty cool
place actually, I really enjoyed it. It wasn't like I expected
actually. I really enjoyed the place. It's really cool that
Mandela is going to be prime minister.
One politician that might not be a liar.
Shane: Yeah, definitely not. But it will take more than just him
to put the country in shape.
The ozone layer.
Mitch: Fucked up.
Shane: I think it's fine. It's just all a lie. It's fine
actually, I think. It's just a whole consumer thing really.
Mitch: I think it's fucked up. Noone really knows if it is. Acid
rain and all that stuff, I don't know. Isn't there a place in
Australia where the ozone layer is burned out? Certain places
where gasses meet and, like, open a hole or something. We need
the atmosphere to keep us from the radiation and stuff.
Shane: Fine if you take care of each other, but not fine if
you're irresponsible to the crowd that you're with. In '86/'87
Bill used to stagedive and we used to help each other. There are
certain places where people dive in feet first. That's the wrong
way to go about it. I cringe sometimes. I see someone dive and
the floor opens up and I cringe because I know he's gonna smack
his face on the ground, you know.
Mitch: I had an experience last night with a stagediver where I
fuckin' smacked my nose on the back of his head and shit. Blood
all over, pouring down my face, but I must have hit it not that
bad. I've done my share of stagediving.
Shane: I was too scared to do it myself.
Mitch: I used to do it a lot until I landed on my ass three or
four times and fuckin' landed on my tailbone and shit. It's not a
good feeling when noone catches you. When they catch you it's
Shane: I hate Abba, actually. I've always hated Abba.
Mitch: I like some Abba. If I'm at a club and they're playing it
I'll be singing.
Shane: It kinda bugs me that Abba has this second wind.
Everyone's turning back into Abba or something, whatever, you
should get into it when it's around.
Shane: I'm not a big fan of religion too much.
Mitch: Me either. I'm not against it if it works for some
people, it's cool you know. As long as they don't try to push it
down my throat.
Shane: That's the main problem. If religion works for you that's
entirely cool. Danny's father is really religious and that's cool
because he doesn't force it down anyone's throat. When the scams
come in and the people start making money that's when it becomes
a problem. Religion, like anything else, is just a marketable
form of making cash.
Mitch: It's sad for me to see when people aren't strong enough,
mentally, to realise that these people are taking advantage of
them, taking their money for the love of god or whatever.
Mitch: Good label.
Shane: Pretty good label. Sometimes I have some arguments,
sometimes we have problems, work them out, and carry on.
Mitch: Good thing with us is if something goes wrong we could
just go over to their office in Nottingham and throw the fax
machine out the window. So we don't usually have problems with
Shane: I've known Dig (Earache main honcho, ED.) for a long time
and he'll try it on sometimes but I can make him realise to some
extent that he should get his fuckin' act together. We have our
problems but we work them out. It's probably still one of the
better record labels to be on, in my opinion. I'd rather be on
Earache then I would be on Roadrunner, to be truthful.
Righteous Pigs (Mitch' previous band).
Mitch: We just played a show the day after New Year's Eve this
year. We never, like, officially broke up, I just moved to
England and everyone else just sortof did their own thing. When
I'm back in Vegas sometimes we'll rehearse for old time's sake.
We even played some new songs that we've never recorded. A new
album is not priority now, though. I'm happy to leave it un-
stress-related. There's no point in doing a new album. Maybe in
four or five years' time or something, for fuckin', for laughs or
Shane: Good friends of ours.
Mitch: I'm glad for them for their success.
Entombed (the band they're touring with).
Shane: Pretty good friends as well.
Mitch: Same shit.
Carcass (the band that ex-Napalm Death guitarist Bill Steer is
Mitch: Same shit.
Shane: I have no problems with Bill. We see each other from time
to time, you know. As a matter of fact I probably get along
better with Bill now then when I was in the band with him,
because we really didn't see too much of each other.
Cathedral (the band that ex-Napalm Death singer Lee Dorrian is
Shane: I'm not a big fan of their music but Lee is one of my
good friends. I like the fact that he's gone on into doom metal
stuff. He's always liked it so it makes sense for him to be doing
it. I kinda wish him all the best 'cause he's a good friend of
Mitch: I'm not into their music either.
Scorn (the band that ex-Napalm Death drummer Mick Harris is in).
Shane: Musically really good. I like the whole thing they're
doing. Nick Bullen (the other member of Scorn, ED.) is a good
friend of mine. Micky I haven't got time for anymore. I find him
very confusing. But the new album's a killer.
Mitch: We've been dying to start touring actually, 'cause for
the last year we've been rehearsing and recording so now we're
just very excited. Hopefully we'll tour until December non-stop.
We're gonna give it our best tonight.
I wanted to ask Danny a question, too, but you probably know the
answer too. His drumming is extremely fast, but what's the trick?
Is it a nerve system disorder perhaps?
Mitch: It's probably not that hard, it's just the endurance, the
ability to fuckin' keep it up. So I guess he practises, exercises
all the time, to stay in good shape all the time. If he doesn't
practise for a long time he's gonna lose the coordination of the
double bass and the fast beat and stuff.
Shane: It just comes down to a lot of practice and stamina, I
Do you think he's a better drummer than Mick?
Mitch: I would say, technically, yeah, but I like Mick's drum
style. Mick had a killer fuckin' unique drum style, but
technically Danny can do any beat that you show him. But
sometimes he doesn't come up with the perfect beat straightaway.
Shane: Danny's really good but he's really hard to jam with, to
do sortof spontaneous stuff. Micky was pretty good doing the
spontaneous stuff, but Danny's really a better drummer, yeah.
How would you label your own music as a whole?
Mitch: We prefer not to. I guess we throw in different, new
elements to make it harder to classify, basically. I'd like to
call it just "Napalm Death". In the future, with the progression
of the next albums we'll be even harder to classify but still
very heavy, very extreme. We'll have a little bit of everything.
And that ended the interview and started a photography and CD
liner signing session. It was pretty difficult to find the other
members of the band as well, but eventually the whole thing
worked out. We had spotted Barney several times already and
suddenly we also bumped into Jesse who had a totally
inconspicuous Danny trailing. After that, Erwin and me left the
backstage area to procure a spot right in front of the stage
where support act Entombed would start playing in about an hour's
time. But that part of the day is described elsewhere in this
issue of ST NEWS.
SELECTED NAPALM DEATH DISCOGRAPHY
"Scum" (Earache 1987)
"From Enslavement to Obliteration" (Earache 1988)
"The Peel Sessions" (EP; Strange Fruit 1989)
"Mentally Murdered" (EP; Earache 1990)
"Harmony Corruption" (Earache 1990)
"Live Corruption" (Video; Earache 1990)
"Mass Appeal Madness" (EP; Earache 1991)
"Utopia Banished" (Earache 1992)
"Box Set" (all full-length CDs so far plus "Live Corruption" on
"The World Keeps Turning" (EP; Earache 1992)
"Fear, Emptiness, Despair" (Earache 1994)
The text of the articles is identical to the originals like they appeared in old ST NEWS issues. Please take into consideration that the author(s) was (were) a lot younger and less responsible back then. So bad jokes, bad English, youthful arrogance, insults, bravura, over-crediting and tastelessness should be taken with at least a grain of salt. Any contact and/or payment information, as well as deadlines/release dates of any kind should be regarded as outdated. Due to the fact that these pages are not actually contained in an Atari executable here, references to scroll texts, featured demo screens and hidden articles may also be irrelevant.