[Welcome to the seventh installment of the our 90s Essentials interview series. This week, we speak with Napalm Death‘s Mitch Harris about their 1990 turning point, Harmony Corruption.]
MR: Hello and a thank you so much for taking this up! Here are the questions: So, after a rigorous voting and arguing process, the Metal Review staff members have just finished selecting the 100 most essential metal albums of the infamous decade of the 1990s, and we are thrilled to let you know that Harmony Corruption was one of our picks. We know that we are not exactly the first ones to laud the album’s excellence, but, still, how do you feel about this nomination?
Harris: Thanks so much for considering us for this! Nice to know that some still consider Napalm a band worthy of crediting after years of hard work and determination!
MR: Speaking of Harmony Corruption, what is your relationship to the album nowadays? Do you feel that it’s worth the recognition?
Harris: Well, it was the first domestic release in the states, and our first effort with the new line-up. Jesse, Barney and I were new to the band, and it was an exciting time for all of us. I’d say it had an interesting impact at the time, since extreme music was progressing and amalgamating into uncharted territory, refining all our mid-80s influences into our own format.
MR: So, how did you guys hook up with Morrisound Studios for the recording, and what’s the story behind getting John Tardy and Glen Benton to make a cameo appearance on “Unfit Earth”? Are there any untold legends from the recording sessions you’d care to share with us?
Harris: Well, Morrisound was producing some interesting things. Death‘s Leprosy was my favorite at that time, and for me it was nice to enter a studio with Scott Burns, someone who knew exactly what he was dealing with in terms of production. For example, Righteous Pigs, my previous band, would enter a Las Vegas recording studio and engineers just did not have a clue what was going on. The idea of blast beats, down-tuned guitars and screaming vocals would catch them off guard, which in turn forced me to take an interest in how good production is achieved. Shane and Mick were already trying to take the band there for something fresh, and looking for a new angle on things. While we were in Tampa, we just had a great time. Hanging out with Amon (pre-Deicide), Obituary, Athiest…great friends, great memories. Being fans of their cutting edge music approach made it an interesting addition to the vocal approach we were working with at the time. I remember being almost 21, and getting into bars like the Volley Club, and clubs like 911, fucking amazing, after all the hassles growing up in Vegas with the 21 and over thing.
MR: Trying to trace the genealogy from Napalm Death‘s birth in ’81 up until Harmony Corruption is migraine-inducing. That’s a novel unto itself. What Harmony did factually is unite the both of you for the first time under the Napalm Death moniker, and in my opinion, set the sails for new ground. Am I wrong in hearing a sharpened blade come through on this recording? Besides the ‘natural progression’ of things; practicing more, etc., what do you guys think were the supporting factors in Harmony‘s razor-edge during its writing process? Did you happen to sketch anything new into the ND blueprint upon your arrival?
Harris: It was definitely the start of a new era, all of us being hardcore genuine fans of the previous lineups, we all had our own vision of which points of the band should be highlighted. You see, many people miss the fact that H.C. was a continuation of the Mentally Murdered EP, where the band had incorporated double bass drumming, more complex song arrangements and structures, death riffs, etc. The main difference between H.C. and Mentally was the tuning. For some reason, we decided to tune up to standard D tuning. The riffs were much more audible, and the sound was more defined, helping the chaotic fast chord riffing style cut through to the untrained ear. There were mixed reactions on many fronts from fans, old and new alike, in fact, we weren’t completely satisfied with what we had achieved on Harmony, which gave us scope to focus on Mass Appeal Madness and Utopia Banished. That’s where we achieved took steps to fulfilling the audio vision that we had all imagined before stepping into the band.
MR: I remember when Harmony Corruption hit the streets. I was thirteen years old, already a huge Napalm fan, and I spent most of my time hanging out with the SHARP (SkinHeads Against Racial Prejudice) skins, crust-punks, and headbangers; I had the pleasure of being able to weave in and out of all of these different, hardened character types, and there were very few things back then that these cliques had in common besides that generic, pre-pubescent feeling of ‘rebellion’…. But one of those very few and real things in common was Napalm Death. I always saw you guys as incredibly powerful in that you were able to actually blur the barriers between ‘difficult’ types of people. This is what I saw as a child in Chicago, IL, USA shortly after Harmony Corruption was unleashed on its population. As you started to implement more ‘metal’ into the Napalm sound, did you also start to notice the band become more of a movement the world over as time progressed? If so, are there specific instances from way back then that made you stop in your tracks and go ‘Whoa… This is bigger than we thought”?
Harris: I guess Napalm has always kind of had a middle ground between metal and hardcore. One thing that has always made the band stand out was the free-thinking attitude and message, attractive for those looking for something more in their music, a positive thought out message, combining many genres from our youth to complete the sound. We’ve toured with many styles of bands, and regardless of the package, I remember lots of support from different music style audiences across the board. I guess in many ways the band is an an institution, more like a collective, and we have strived over the years to keep things fresh, new and exciting, still incorporating a good old school feel when it presents itself. It was always difficult to know how deep Napalm reached in the underground, into far away countries, it was hard to comprehend. Years later, we have played many places like China, Russia, Israel, Indonesia, South America, South Africa, and yes, it has been an amazing journey! I feel we have touched people. and they also left a lasting effect in our minds… Nice to know that you saw first hand how Napalm brought like-minded souls together.
MR: Drummer Mick Harris, who recorded on Harmony and toured on its behalf, was the last direct line to the ND incarnation of old. If I’ve read correctly, he decided to leave the fold shortly after the tour due to ‘artistic differences’; he wanted to veer from the traditional grindcore structure, which, funnily enough, Napalm was gradually doing. So were there any other circumstances at play that made Mick want to leave after several years of helping build the band up to its most monolithic form yet? Did his hesitancy to continue ever surface in the studio during the Harmony Corruption recording sessions or on the road?
Harris: Mick was a very interesting character to work with. A very creative guy with a unique style and approach to drumming. He was very advanced with his musical tastes, and he turned me on to lots of other things. He did want to push the band into drastic directions with a lack of patience at times. I did say, yes, I’d like to evolve the sound and approach, but don’t you think it’s a bit soon after such a drastic change on Harmony Corruption? I’m sure it went deeper than musical differences, but at the end of the day, we were all fans of the band, and had to make sure that it didn’t veer to far from home too soon, and should be something that would be more appreciated if done gradually. Many people have different favorite periods of the band. For me, it’s all about the new album which we have just completed. It’s the pinnacle of everything I ever wanted to explore in the band, and crazy as ever.
MR: Overall, looking back in time, the 90s has often been seen as an interim that brought heavy metal to its knees for a short while, but at the same time the decade produced some of the most revered classics of the whole genre and also many important chapters of the history of metal were written during the 90s. Anyway, how do you remember the 1990s as metal musicians? What do you think were the highs and lows of the period?
Harris: High’s and Lows? Um, well, things come in and out of ‘fashion’ some call it trends, some call it flavor of the month. I guess Napalm kind of hit the states when there was a crest of a wave of many other extreme bands forming and being released on labels like Roadrunner Records, Earache, Nuclear Blast. They had a lot of control over the 90s scene and did a lot to embrace more extreme forms of art. Years before that, many bands with similar approaches found it almost impossible to find a deal. It was finally obvious that people were ready and hungry for it, and some labels milked it for everything it was worth, over saturating the scene, which eventually nudged us into different directions musically too. Interesting bands from that era that come to mind for me are Sepultura, Carcass, Machine Head, Obituary, Fear Factory, Pantera, Helmet, Tool, Nine Inch Nails, Faith No More, Biohazard, Deicide, Ministry, Meshuggah, Jane’s Addiction, Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Rage Against the Machine, Dream Theater, Mr. Bungle, Marilyin Manson, Deftones, Green Day, Offspring, Korn, Coal Chamber, lots of things came and went, and it was all very exciting at the time, and is worth mentioning in this issue! Cool!
MR: Finally, from your point of view, what kind of heritage the 1990s left for metal music as a whole?
Harris: Not just metal music, I guess the Seattle scene kind of took over in many ways, and the whole Wax Trax scene also exploded into the club / dance world, and things were just up in the air for a while. I’m happy to have been a part of it, since we’re all fans of lots of different music styles. It demonstrated that distorted guitar was one organic instrument that would be the medium and unifying factor to merge different genres into something that had yet found a name, identity or classification.