LIVE: Napalm Death / Brujeria / Power Trip @ The Electric Ballroom, London

By Jay Hampshire

Go ahead and picture a British institution. You might have thought of an artery clogging breakfast, an opinion dividing yeast paste, a depressing regional soap opera or a lukewarm cup of brown leaf water. Or, you might have thought of the decade’s long career of grindcore progenitors, Napalm Death. The Birmingham based four piece have been a perennial pillar of the British music scene, winning over generation after generation of fans with their acidic, acerbic, ferocious sound. A sold-out night at Camden’s Electric Ballroom stands as a testament to their loyal fan base and their sheer, legendary stage presence.

Why tonight isn’t simply called ‘The Shane Embury Experience’ isn’t all that clear. The longest serving Napalm Death member is in not one, not two, but three of tonight’s bands. Unfortunately, we miss the first due to the incompetence of South West Trains, so the Lock Up portion of the trifecta will, for the moment, remain unfulfilled. Texas based crossover-thrashers Power Trip quickly blast away the sour taste with glorious, speedy licks. ‘Firing Squad’ rends faces with its rampant gallop, Riley Gail’s barked vocals cutting through the locked in chugging and screaming guitar dives. Stompy, razor edged riffs evoke a heavier ‘Kill ‘Em’ All’ era Metallica, and their synchronised head banging is near hypnotic. With Gail ardently thanking the other bands on the tour for ‘putting up with a bunch of young shitheads from Texas’, you get a real sense of a band humbled by this opportunity.

Based on the number of t-shirts in the crowd and flying off the merch table, a lot of folks are as excited to see Brujeria as they are the headliners. A Latin radio intro sample is barged aside by the bands lumbering brand of rhythmic brutality, suffused with sudden neck-snapping turns of speed. El Sangron and Juan Brujo prowl the stage, spitting furious Spanish odes through their bandanas. Machine gun drumming and bursts of gristly bass churn away, stop/start grooves wound tight, peppered with jarring guitars that whine as if under protest. Crowd favourites like ‘Satongo’ and ‘Angel De La Frontera’ incite furious moshing and shout-alongs, the loudest of which is a bellowed refrain of ‘Fuck Donald Trump’. The band close triumphantly, machetes held defiantly aloft, before placing their tongues firmly in cheek with a metal cover of ‘The Macarena’ (with that word, obviously, swapped for ‘Marijuana’)

There’s a definite sense of ‘calm before storm’ as Napalm Death walk casually onto the stage over their brooding intro tape. Then the space between band and crowd seems to detonate, all at once, and chaos is all that remains. There’s something organic and, dare we say it, a little scrappy about the first few tracks tonight, but after Barney Greenway’s first pause to thank the crowd with his dulcet purr of ‘nice to see you, nice to see you’ things click into place. A frank, anti-capitalist diatribe ushers in the stuttering fury of ‘Smash A Single Digit’, while ‘Stunt Your Growth’ boils away with a breathless, manic grind.

‘Brink Of Extinction’ is massive, a mechanical behemoth with an undeniable swinging groove. While these ‘latter era’ Napalm death cuts prove that the band continue to refine and master their craft, it’s when, as Barney puts it, they’ve ‘dragged songs out of the archive’ that the almost universally bearded crowd really lose their collective shit. ‘Scum’ is remorseless and brutish, ‘From Enslavement To Obliteration’ revolves on a pummelling axis of spite sharpened to a terrible point. The (obligatory) airing of ‘You Suffer (But Why?)’ has Barney quipping that ‘you have to concentrate’, and the crowd lapping it up. A fearsome cover of Dead Kennedy’s classic ‘Nazi Punks Fuck Off’ encapsulates Napalm Death’s ceaseless quest to challenge and dismantle hatred at its root and core. With their ethos, their tireless work ethic, peerless live energy and their towering back catalogue of cathartic vitriol, Napalm Death are just as sorely relevant as ever. Nothing less than legendary.