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Napalm Death bring campaign of musical destruction to Birmingham - review with pictures

By Peter Madeley | Birmingham | Music | Published:

Rarely can a tour have been as aptly named as the Campaign for Musical Destruction, a 23-date trek around Europe headed by Napalm Death and featuring four other bands who destroy amps and eardrums for a living.

Napalm Death at the O2 Institute, Birmingham, Feb 20, 2020.

Punters were still steadily filing in to the venue when Misery Index came on, introduced in an almost impossibly low voice by guitarist Mark Kloeppel.

The Maryland death grinders tore into The Great Depression and Ruling Class Cancelled, the later coming equipped with a massive mid-song breakdown that sparked an early bout of pushing a shoving in the pit, which featured, among other things, a Doom patch-clad man in a balaclava; a youngblood with a fade who could seemingly care less about regularly getting sent sprawling to the floor; and a grooving grandpa who did this slow motion pelvic thrust thing that would have raised serious concerns in different circumstances.

Misery Index at the O2 Institute, Birmingham, Feb 20, 2020.

They all fared better than the guy who was forced to depart the fray midway through the first song, looking rather crestfallen having taken an accidental blow to the head.

There was no let up from Misery Index, who served up set highlight New Salem – the first single of last year's brilliant Rituals Of Power album – before finishing with the ferocious Traitors.

It is entirely likely that the majority of the crowd had not had the pleasure of seeing New Orleans sludge titans Eyehategod before.

The last time I can recall them playing this fair city was way back in 2010, and although they did a handful of UK dates at the tail end of last year, EHG shows in these parts have been a rarity to be cherished over the band's history of more than three decades.

To cut a very long story short, EHG pretty much changed the game 30 years ago with In the Name of Suffering, a violent, nihilistic beast of an album that borrowed in equal measures from early Black Sabbath and Black Flag to pioneer a sound that writhed in despondency.

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With a storied history shrouded in drug abuse, near-death experiences and incarceration, the band have understandably taken on legendary status. In many respects it's a wonder they are still alive.

Eyehategod at the O2 Institute, Birmingham, Feb 20, 2020.

Ahead of the set started there was a loud cheer from the crowd as singer Mike Williams entered the stage. He was clutching a three-quarters-drained bottle of cheap white wine, some of which he struggled to pour into a pint glass as he swayed from side to side.

Bassist Gary Mader chugged down the same brand of plonk straight from the bottle before hitting the opening notes of 40 minutes or so's worth of life-negating sludge.

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Williams, the waif-like frontman who is only with us thanks to a life-saving liver transplant a few years ago, appears to be using the mic stand to keep himself upright as he shrieks his way through the opening few numbers.

"We're always the outcasts," he says with complete sincerity, guitarist Jimmy Bower nodding solemnly by his side.

Classics such as Sister F**ker – which a grinning Williams introduces as 'this song's for you Birmingham' – and Shoplift, both from 1993's Take As Needed For Pain, are highlights in a feedback drenched set that rarely shifts away from the brink of chaos.

Williams' seems to warm to the occasion as the night progresses, and when he's not firing snot out of his nostrils he delights in sharing some of his observations with the crowd.

"Look at these people up here, partying, having a grand old time," he wryly notes, squinting as he looks up at the static punters in the Institute's seating area.

"We'll be out of here soon... you'll never see us again," he says before EHG depart to a wall of feedback and the cheers of the crowd.

Having demonstrated precisely why they represent the most extreme of the extreme, we can only hope that on that point, Williams is proved wrong.

Napalm Death enters the stage to an almighty roar. Unlike EHG, the Birmingham natives are regulars around the venues of their hometown, although familiarity certainly does not breed contempt among their loyal fanbase.

I say loyal, you could also add 'growing', as the by-now packed venue includes kids with their parents out on a half-term treat that most definitely beats a night at the cinema.

Napalm Death at the O2 Institute in Birmingham

Napalm had raced through three songs before affable frontman Barney Greenway had addressed the crowd with his well versed salutation of "We're Napalm Death" followed by a name-check for the parts of the West Midlands from whence each band member hails.

They ripped into Can't Play, Won't Pay, an attack on corporate suits wrecking the music industry, before oldie Scum leads into Fatalist, which Greenway preludes with a diatribe about personal freedoms being under threat that seasoned Napalm fans may have heard once or twice before.

With a new album due out in a few months – the bands' first in five years – they aired Logic Ravaged By Brute Force, a new track described by Greenway as "a snapshot of the god awful noise that's to come".

It features the vocalist switching from yelling to a clean singing style that sounds a bit like Ian Curtis, and in the space of a little more than three minutes demonstrates why Napalm, despite entering their fifth decade, are still such a vital band.

The crowd lap it up, and the frenzied atmosphere continues through Human Garbage, When All Is Said And Done, and Mass Appeal Madness – which includes a shout out to Danny Sprigg, the guy who engineered the classic 1991 album of the same name and is apparently among tonight's audience.

By popular demand, both of the world's shortest tracks get an airing – You Suffer and Dead – with the former proving so popular that some punters demand to hear it again in all of its one-second-long glory.

We also get to hear Cleanse Impure, the best song from the Words from the Exit Wound album that Napalm rarely visit in their live sets.

They finish with a pair of classic covers – Dead Kennedys Nazi Punks Fuck Off and White Kross by Sonic Youth – with Greenway spending the final moments of the set on his knees with his head buried inside Danny Herrera's bass drum.

We are left in no doubt that the Birmingham leg of Napalm's campaign can be considered a resounding success.

Peter Madeley

By Peter Madeley
@P_Madeley_Star

Political Editor for the Express & Star. Responsible for local and national political stories, opinion, comment and analysis.

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