1987, Music

Scum (1987) by Napalm Death*

Full disclosure: my favourite Grindcore band is Anal Cunt, because they are a joke. Grindcore has always struck me as a joke, or at least something easily turned into a joke, because of the brevity of the songs and the over-the-top nature of the music.

But there are and have been tons of grindcore bands and lots of people like it. And I believe that there are no bad genres. So, there must be something to grindcore.

If there’s a place to try to understand grindcore, perhaps it is with the first grindcore album. This is, by some accounts, the first grindcore album. The problem is, a lot of people don’t agree with that. To many, it’s the first British grindcore album, because apparently a whole bunch of American bands were doing various things similar to grindcore before this record came out. Before I read the wikipedia article, I had always assumed Napalm Death was first. I would like to assume that just to make assessing this record earlier, but now I feel like I can’t. (Depending upon which wikipedia article you read, you will get a very different story about who created grindcore.)

But there’s another issue with assessing this album, and that is the nature of Napalm Death itself. Because, you see, this album was created by two different bands, going under the name Napalm Death:

  • the first 12 tracks are by the initial version of the band;
  • the remaining 18 tracks are performed by the same drummer and entirely different personnel otherwise’
  • the songwriting is also divided between halves.

My grindcore ear is not yet attuned enough to hear differences between these two bands.

(As an aside, track 12 is “You Suffer,” ostensibly the “shortest” song in history, at 1.3 seconds. It was written as a joke. So at least these guys knew the genre had potential for absurdity.)

So what the hell do we do about this? Two bands with the same name, making music that may or may not have kicked off one of the most bizarre genres in music history. I have no idea.

The music is what you would expect:

  • short, loud songs where you can’t hear the lyrics (because of the growl),
  • tons of blast drumming,
  • mostly just pummeling music,
  • and the occasional guitar solo.
  • The songs are already so short it’s funny.

It’s certainly iconic.

And it’s not bad. I have enough of a tolerance for extreme metal that I can listen to this and not be absolutely appalled. But I find myself torn here between my respect for path-breaking, genre-defining records regardless of quality, and my sheer befuddlement at listening to a “record” made by two separate, seemingly indistinguishable bands, full of music that seems to take ’80s extreme metal to its logical conclusion, just because.

I have no idea what to think.


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