Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Napalm Death - Scum

Napalm Death

Released 1987 on Earache
Reviewed by arasamasai, 03/06/2005ce

This seminal LP is generally credited with birthing the entire grindcore genre, but I would argue that its actual achievement was, much like that of the RAMONES debut, less a matter of invention than the artful (or inspiringly artless!) uniting of existing threads-- in this case, of severe hardcore and metal-- into an end product so forceful that people had no option than to finally recognize the validity of said impulses by granting them a genre of their own. By no means is this to take anything away from NAPALM DEATH; their outspoken homage to exactly those predecessors (SIEGE and LARM on the punk side, REPULSION and MASTER on the metal end) indicates that they were all too happy to give credit where credit was due to cult ultrathrash outfits.
While the extremity of these speedier passages have guaranteed this record’s place in the history books, however, the more crucial influences are more pedestrian than obscure tape-trade faves like SIEGE. “Scum”’s core sound is a rough-hewn blend of HELLHAMMER/early CELTIC FROST’s gravelly guitar textures and creepy-crawl riffs with the primal hardcore structures and quick delivery of DISCHARGE and their Swedish progeny. While the resulting heaviness and caveman grunting made for easy comparison to such contemporary metal primitivists as DEATH, NECROPHAGIA and the like, the literate political lyrics and atonal, self-destructing Ginn/Bones-inspired leads betrayed the band’s peacepunk roots-- in fact, the overwhelming bleakness of ND’s drone ultimately recalls the textures of earlier RUDIMENTARY PENI or AMEBIX efforts sped up to inhuman velocity. This is especially noticeable on the more structured first side, recorded in 1986. The second side, recorded almost a year later and with a different line-up, finds the outfit playing essentially the same style, but the band has cut down on their grinding in favour of more relentless bursts of speed. This makes for some rather spectacular examples of absolutely tuneless noisethrash at its best-- songs which in their anonymous brutality render pointless just about every record that was to follow in the same vein-- but the true highlights of the LP remain the more distinct, structured efforts of the first side. “Instinct of survival” and “Siege of power” might not generate quite the apocalyptic head-erupting grindcore whirlwind holocaust appeal of Side 2's 15-second blurblasts, but you’re a lot more likely to remember the titles six months later.
“Scum” is a fine record. It’s also an economically sound release, and not only on the strength of its 28 tracks-- owning this slab pretty much releases one from needing to waste money on any further grind vinyl, although the second LP’s refinement of the ultrahigh-speed attack makes a worthwhile investment for anyone who just can’t get enough of the debut’s second side. None of the subsequent full-lengths are worth owning, marred as they are by scruffy new Floridian members and the ensuing death metal overkill that necessarily followed, but don’t let them deter you from exploring this near-unlistenable gem of a debut.

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