DB HOF NO. 39
The making of Napalm Death’s “Scum”
released: May 6, 1987
Without Napalm Death’s Scum, you probably wouldn’t be holding this magazine. This album—essentially a split LP between two almost completely different lineups—defined grindcore with its growled vocals, whirring, hardcore-influenced riffs and faster-than-a-locomotive blast beats. Its fusion of anarcho-punk and death metal would inspire countless bands, and every musician who played on it would go on to do something extraordinary, musically.
Cofounded in Birmingham, England, in 1981 by vocalist/bassist Nic Bullen, who would later play in Scorn, and drummer Miles “Rat” Ratledge, Napalm Death began modestly as a Discharge-inspired band espousing political punk. The group would land a track on the Crass Records comp Bullshit Detector #3. After that, guitarist Justin Broadrick joined, and this lineup formed their Napalm nucleus. Broadrick came from an industrial-music background, and he would later form Godflesh and, more recently, Jesu. Finding a faster drummer in Mick Harris, the group booted Rat, and with this lineup recorded the A-side of Scum. Harris would be the band’s linchpin, later playing in Painkiller, Lull and also Scorn. Side B’s lineup would feature bassist Jim Whiteley (currently in Warprayer), vocalist Lee Dorrian, later of Cathedral fame, and guitarist Bill Steer, who also played in Carcass concurrent with Napalm Death. (Steer’s Carcass bandmate, Jeff Walker, would design the album art for Scum.) To this day, Steer says people in the U.K. know him better for his work in Napalm Death than anything he would do with the far-more-successful-outside-of-England Carcass.
Fame came quickly to the group, thanks to repeated airplay on BBC DJ John Peel’s popular Radio 1 program. With repeated plays of “You Suffer,” which found a place in the Guinness Book of World Records as the World’s Shortest Song, Peel’s more eclectic audience would start showing up to Napalm Death gigs, attracted by Harris’s whirlwind drumming. Often performing at dingy clubs like Birmingham’s the Mermaid, Napalm found themselves scrambling to keep up with themselves, both in terms of fame and songwriting. Shortly after the first tour for Scum, the lineup would change again as Whiteley left the group and new bassist Shane Embury would join, performing on the follow-up to Scum, From Enslavement to Obliteration. To this day, Embury remains the only consistent member of the group from their breakthrough days. Through him, Scum’s legacy lives on.
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