It’s been over five years since the last Napalm Death record of new material, since 2015’s stellar Apex Predator – Easy Meat. That five-year break is the longest stretch between studio albums in Napalm’s 33-year recording career. The odds ‘n’ sods compilation Coded Smears And More Uncommon Slurs stopped the gap somewhat some two years ago, but for ravenous fans, it’s been a long wait.
Thankfully, this is Napalm Death we’re talking about, so while we may not know entirely what we’re going to get with each successive record, we at least know with some certainty that any new record will be vicious and venomous and very damned good.
Throes Of Joy In The Jaws Of Defeatism is all of those things, and even more.
Throes hits the ground running with the raging “Fuck The Factoid.” While I wonder what a certain Canadian grindcore band thinks about that title, any actual deep thought upon it is erased by the absolute ferocity of that opener, with those grinding Shane Embury riffs balanced against some ominous keyboard underpinnings, and all of it topped with an absolutely vicious Barney Greenway bellowing. For someone who has made a career out of sounding unbelievably pissed-off, Barney has leveled up for this one: He’s a man possessed, belting out furious furnace-bellows blasts, his already aggressive tones ratcheted up above and beyond now. Of course, it’s 2020, and the state of the world is certainly such that one wants to scream and rage, so can you blame him really? Napalm Death has always existed to rail against the flaws of the system, and with all those flaws on full display for the past however many years, there’s plenty of anger to stoke the fires.
From “Factoid,” Throes tears through more Napalm-styled rippers in “Backlash Just Because,” the grinding hate of “The Curse Of Being In Thrall,” and back-half highlights like the title track and “Fluxing Of The Muscle.” These are the parts of Throes that keep it firmly rooted in the modern Napalm Death, a grinding sonic mishmash of ‘core and death and fury, built on a base of razor-edge riff and Danny Herrera’s whip-crack blasting. Each of these tracks is stellar; each is violent and vicious, in the best way; each is exactly what anyone following along with Napalm Death for all these years — and particularly the last 20 — wants and expects.
But like the Napalm records before it, Throes is mostly defined by its oddities, the twists that Embury and Greenway like to throw in the mix to nod to their less-metallic (but equally heavy) influences like Swans, Killing Joke, Young Gods, etc. These are the tracks like the industrial groove of “Je de ne pas vivre,” with its gnarled and distorted bass and abrasive whispered vocal; or like the straight-up Jaz ‘n’ Geordie drive of “Amoral,” which is one of the album’s best, and among the most straightforward and best of Napalm Death’s outside-the-box diversions. These are the tracks like the electro-industrial tinged intro and midtempo rockin’ stomp of “Invigorating Clutch,” or the Swans-y monotone trudge of “A Bellyful Of Salt And Spleen,” which serves as the album’s close and also its most interesting and least “typical” Napalm moment. All of those tracks are outright killers in their own way, and none of them exhibits the blistering forthright aggression that defines Napalm Death, and yet, each of them is also very much in line with Napalm Death’s overall aesthetic, as they explore the fringes of the band’s sound instead of the center.
As with Apex Predator before it, and Utilitarian before that, and Time Waits For No Slave before that, Throes Of Joy In The Jaws Of Defeatism is the sound of one of the greatest extreme bands of all time reminding us that they are exactly that, one of the greatest, and here are twelve (or more) reasons why. There are no wasted moments, no extraneous riff or scream, no moment of spite and fury put anywhere but in the exact perfect place. Now the eighth album produced by Russ Russell, Throes is a sonic juggernaut, punchy and clear and devastating.
So the million-dollar question: Is Throes as good as Apex Predator? Or as good as Utilitarian or as good as Time Waits? I don’t know yet; my rankings even between those earlier albums shifts often, sometimes depending on something as simple and thoughtless as which one I’ve spun last. When albums are this close together in terms of quality, and yet all are variations upon a certain set of musical parameters, each cut from similar cloth and yet arranged in manners that gives each its own unique twist upon the myth, well… it may take years of dedicated listening to determine which, if any, is the better one. (How’s that for a critical cop-out, eh?) Regardless, I can assure you that I intend to give Throes those years of dedication, just as I’ve given them to Apex or Utilitarian or Time (or Code or Enemy or Utopia or From Enslavement or…)
In a world that’s seemingly collapsing in upon itself, Napalm Death is the stable force of righteous rage and perfectly noisy ugliness that we all need. Like the best Napalm Death, Throes is a record defined by dichotomy — it’s the aural equivalent of a world in flames, but it’s pleading with us all to stop the burning. It’s a hideous beast of atonal noise, and yet that’s a beautiful thing. In the sideways world of 2020, Throes Of Joy In The Jaws Of Defeatism is proof that some things do not change, and Napalm Death’s continued excellence is one.
Hands down a contender for album of the year, this one — don’t miss it.