According to every boomer I know, there are only two certainties in life: death and taxes. While existing as the stalest of semi-humorous platitudes, there’s obviously a fairly deep truth to the statement. But I’ve always felt that we could add more to the list. Death, taxes, and quality Napalm Death records, for instance. While that last part is obviously much more controversial than the first two sentiments, a deep dive into the discography of a band that has existed for three decades and released 15 albums with maybe one of them dipping below the average quality bar is exceedingly rare. I can count on one hand the amount of bands that have maintained that level of consistent excellence at 10+ records, so I feel confident in the assertion that Napalm Death as a death-grind entity breathe rarified air not only in the metal community, but in the music world at large. Their 16th full-length effort, Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism, does nothing to hinder that stellar track record.
One of the most utterly insane aspects of Napalm Death’s perpetual effectiveness has been their ability to operate for as long as they have with the same lineup. Barney Greenway, Mitch Harris, Danny Herrera, and Shane Embury have been a unit that has developed and evolved together from hardcore punk and brutal grind through their nü-metal phase and into a seamless incorporation of death metal elements into the Napalm Death template, providing a sonic continuity that is exceedingly rare in music. Their obvious chemistry as musicians and songwriters is a constant presence throughout Throes, which is as tight performatively as any record the band has yet produced. There isn’t a weak performance to be found here, with each member contributing mightily to a clean and effective final product. And what a glorious product it is. From start to finish, Throes is one of the most propulsive, fluid, and (somehow) accessible records in the band’s storied catalog.
Which, to be frank, may seem like a dealbreaker to those enamored with Napalm Death’s most abrasive work. But fear not. The intensity that has made Napalm Death a full-blown institution in the metal world is intact throughout Throes. Opener “Fuck the Factoid” provides ample evidence of this truth. Kicking off the album with a politically-fueled tirade that is matched in content by its relentless musical backdrop, “Fuck the Factoid” is pure Napalm Death, but with beefier production and an increasing sense of melody. This track’s main riff is an earworm that morphs and evolves in consistently interesting ways, while Herrera’s drumming provides a consistently brutal rhythmic accompaniment to keep things consistently, maniacally heavy. This penchant for melodic riff building has been an increasingly prevalent component of the band’s late-career output, but perhaps never so obviously and effectively as here. It’s a key ingredient that helps Throes move from retread territory and into something more innovative.
“Backlash Just Because” is perhaps the perfect example of the above. Launching into a sequence of melody-heavy riffs that are some of the most accessible and catchy the band have written, Embury’s propulsive bass lines and Greenway’s impassioned vocals maintain the manic intensity of Napalm Death’s traditional sounds while Harris’ guitar leaps, swings, and skips through a downright catchy sequence. But just as longtime fans may start to wonder where all this is going, the bouncing melodies stop and congeal into an oppressively heavy groove-fest that will undoubtedly get heads banging across the planet. It’s a crushing end to one of the band’s most weirdly musical tunes, and this pattern doesn’t relent as the album continues.
The balance of distinctly melodic songwriting and manic aggression is one of the principal reasons that Throes excels as a record. Napalm Death have been around the block a few times in the songwriting department, and more than most bands have a keen understanding of balance. This may be the band’s most thoroughly listenable record yet due to its ability to fuse catchiness and abject brutality, and I certainly wouldn’t hesitate recommending it as an introduction into death-grind or extreme metal at large for the curious. But that in no way diminishes its quality and enjoyability for more seasoned aficionados is the band’s music. This is still Napalm Death through and through, with tracks like “That Curse of Being in Thrall”, “Zero Gravitas Chamber”, “Fluxing of the Muscles”, and the album’s title track presenting immediate jolts of healthy nostalgia and proving that the band haven’t lost a single step in their ability to produce throat-ripping death-grind anthems. But it’s honestly the catchier side of the record that highlight its most distinctive (and rewarding) qualities.
When heard in a vacuum, it wouldn’t be surprising to see fans of Napalm Death’s classic early material to shrink in revulsion from track’s like the thrashy “Contagion”, the doom-laden sludge of “Invigorating Clutch”, or the straight-up radio friendliness of the hard rock-flavored “Amoral”. But in the context of the record, they not only hold their own as excellent tracks that show the band stretching their copious and diverse songwriting and performative muscles, but also once again highlights Napalm Death’s penchant as a band to delve into new sonic territory with verve and without compromise. In many ways, Throes feels like a more successful version of what Pig Destroyer attempted to accomplish in Head Cage. While that record was a fun romp into a different breed of metal for the band, little of it came together with the sheer songwriting brilliance of Throes, which ends up being one of the band’s most accessible, diverse, and thoroughly enjoyable records yet without compromising a single inch of their musical integrity. It’s a genre-bending rarity that stands tall among the band’s most notable achievements.
There’s very little to criticize Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism for. It’s a pure Napalm Death record that adds new musical elements that are integrated into the band’s traditionally brutal style seamlessly, creating an album that’s among the most simultaneously intense, listenable, and repeat spinnable records I’ve heard this year. I’m thoroughly convinced that Napalm Death is incapable of making a bad record, and Throes keeps the band’s decades long hot streak alive and kicking. Those who have been along for the long, strange ride of Napalm Death’s sonic evolution will find plenty to sink their teeth into, while newcomers may have found their perfect introduction to one of the most consistently excellent extreme metal bands on the planet. Death, taxes, and quality Napalm Death records. Few things in life are more concrete.
Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism drops September 18th via Century Media Records, and is available for pre-order now.