The quality of Napalm Death’s recent output is as miraculous as the fact the band survived the years leading up to its 1987 debut Scum. The longest-running member, bassist Shane Embury, joined six years after the band formed, so it’s been pretty amazing to watch Napalm Death honor its legacy during the past few decades. Vocalist Mark "Barney" Greenway, who first joined in ‘89, has more than proven his worth—along with drummer Danny Herrera and guitarist Mitch Harris, who respectively joined in ‘91 and ‘90. The universal acclaim given to 2015’s Apex Predator – Easy Meat amazed critics and fans alike, and five years later finds the grindcore godfathers striking gold once again with their 16th LP. Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism continues Napalm Death’s penchant for inspired brutality.
When an influential band drops an album late in its career, it’s easy to assume how it’ll sound. As proven by the opening cut “Fuck the Factoid,” Throes… is anything but predictable. Sure, the blast beats and manic screaming are there, but the song actually recalls some of the more punishing veins of black metal with its densely-layered riffage and evocative modulations. Harris’ guitar work juggles ideas with chaotic precision, though Embury handled all of the songwriting this time around.
Perhaps Embury’s increased involvement explains why this album retains the spirit of old-school Napalm Death as it tries new things. “Backlash Just Because” kicks off with a punkish frenzy so catchy that you hardly notice the alternating time signatures until the eerie chord structures and skronky tremolo bursts hit. Complete with an absolutely life-ending breakdown, this song puts the legends in the upper echelon of modern hardcore and metal.
Greenway was right to preemptively allude to this album’s left-field influences, as several of these songs jump the tracks. “Amoral” amounts to the angriest post-punk imaginable, while the horrifying noisescapes drawling baritone singing of “A Bellyful of Salt and Spleen” would likely appeal to fans of Swans and Coil. Napalm Death remains true to the drive it had to push boundaries during its formative years. Those who feel these guys sold out with the mid-tempo stomp, melodic echoes, and synth tones of “Amoral” aren't thinking clearly. The band simultaneously expands its concept of confrontational art and tightens its grip on its roots.
“That Curse of Being in Thrall” and “Contagion” present a more stripped-down Napalm Death. They lend themselves to the UK punk/metal hybrids the band came up with during the late ‘80s, but they’re far from derivative. Both tracks come chocked full of rhythmic nuance and electrifying riffage. Herrera’s drumming abounds with slick transitions and ferocious impact, without resorting to indulgent overplaying. In the same way, the guitarists deliver time-tested rampages made for headbanging and circle-pitting. Throes… transcends time and labels with a keen understanding of what makes metal good.
Whether it be the industrial take on blackened crust found in “Joie De Ne Pas Vivre” or the slow-burning sludge/doom attack of “Invigorating Clutch,” Napalm Death continually works to recontextualize its terrifying noise. The two tracks inexplicably find common ground with the inclusion of throat singing, but either of them could have come from a completely different band. The latter’s plodding, rugged vibe is far from grindcore as usual, while the former’s labyrinth of inhuman screams, misshapen bass licks, and harsh noise blow up any semblance of normality. In any case, Napalm Death effectively navigates diversification.
Throes… spotlights Greenway as one of the most underrated vocalists around. Take a cut like “Zero Gravitas Chamber,” which divides itself into obliterating death metal and classic hardcore punk. His growls work in both styles, ridding the line between guttural debauchery and bestial war chants. In fact, the first 25 seconds of the title track features nothing but Greenway screaming “Bursting lungs for the last gasp” at the top of his lungs. His savage tone and impressive range coincide with the top-notch playing of the rest of the band.
Even more impressive is how he sneaks in hints of melody at key points of “Fluxing of the Muscle,” which also features a striking commentary on minority oppression: “Those who bark at temperate curs who would cave in and self-flagellate/ Come tearing at all you skewed minorities like rutting alpha mammals.” A similar lyrical fire burns in “Acting in Gouged Faith,” a battle cry for the radical individualist: “I won’t take this lying down/ Tooth and nail for a selfdom unfathomed yet espoused.” With pertinent storytelling topping off inspired compositions, this album not only honors but elaborates upon Napalm Death’s legacy.
More than an avalanche of infectious mosh anthems, Throes… continues Napalm Death’s late-career creative trajectory. This album pushes the band into uncharted territory without forsaking the tenets of a solid Napalm Death album. Even if they can’t reinvent the wheel, they’ll still leave no stone unturned within their bastion of ruthless aggression.