Napalm Death - LIVE: The Underworld, London 2011

Utilitarian Preview Tour
December 16 (21:00-22:15)
Capacity 500

One might expect Napalm Death to play London quite a lot, given the amount of touring they do up and down the country throughout the year. Yet strangely they headline the capital only on occasion, seeming to prefer odd support slots and playing more obscure towns elsewhere. It clearly isn't about demand though – tonight's show at the Underworld proved to be impossibly rammed, and whilst the show didn't seem sold out at the start of the evening, it surely must have been by the time Napalm Death took to the stage.

A headline show from Napalm Death is a treat in itself, but the band's supports prove not only to be surprising, yet still appropriate and very, very good. Given Napalm Death's roots, it isn't much of a stretch to have London hardcore punks Flowers of Flesh And Blood on the bill, though perhaps surprising for those expecting grind or death. Flowers play fast-paced, old school hardcore punk with the odd thrash metal influence and a touch of Oi – a bit like a more punk sounding SSS. Fast, punchy and incredibly aggressive, even the most hardened metal purist must have found it difficult not to enjoy the band's supporting set. Like Napalm, the singer often expressed a similar anti-authoritarian left-wing sentiment, giving some real weight to the band's punk rock. Closing with not one but two Minor Threat covers – Filler and I Don't Want To Hear It - Flowers of Flesh and Blood are exactly what made hardcore punk so enjoyable in the first place.

There's plenty of positive things to say about The Atrocity Exhibit as well, playing just before the headliners. The Atrocity Exhibit are a little bit more in line with Napalm Death's sound, playing a fast-paced, sludgy-sounding grind with some elements of crust. Not surprisingly the band are brutally heavy, fast and loud, pretty much doing away with melody in favour of pure noise – not that there's anything wrong with that. Still, whilst this style made up the majority of their set, it is the band's slower and more doomier tracks that are the most mesmerizing and appealing, exemplified in the devastating Gathering of Vultures, a song with such a luscious and heavy riff that practically the entire room was bobbing their heads in time with it. After, one person screamed for something faster – but if they can sound this good playing slowly, they should play as much slow stuff as they like.

That just leaves Napalm Death. One of the most appealing things about the present day Napalm Death isn't just that they have a wealth of material from the classic grindcore '80s and death metal '90s from which to draw a set from, but the fact that they continue to make excellent and relevant music to this day. That's why the band can open up with recent tracks Downbeat Clique and Strong Arm and yet the crowd still goes haywire. Certainly when Barney states they are going to play both old and new songs tonight, the crowd gets most excited for the old, but that just seems expected. The band's newer material – from The Code Is Red... Long Live The Code through to last album Time Waits For No Slave really holds well throughout the entire set. Old hipsters have little to worry about though, as the band still managed to cram in plenty of old material – after all, when songs are as short as M.A.D. and You Suffer, it is easy to find time in the set to play them.

Other than that, Napalm Death are the utter machine that you expect them to be – you don't spend your entire and very lengthy career on the road playing shows across the globe without becoming incredibly tight and refined at what you do. They haven't changed much in the last few years (surprising given their less stable early period), and so to an extent there isn't much in the way of surprises the band can deliver – if you've seen them before, you know exactly what to expect from them. You already know that Barney runs around like a hyperactive toddler having a tantrum, you know about his political rants, you know the band play with unbeatable precision, when that one second song appears and when to shout 'Fuck Off' during the band's Dead Kennedy's cover. You also know that this never actually gets old, and the pissed off, righteous energy the band exude only gets magnified in a sold out Underworld show.

Closing with an encore of old classic Suffer The Children and recent classic Silence Is Deafening, Napalm Death were exhilarating for the entire length of their set. With a new album Utilitarian out in 2012, hopefully it won't be long before Napalm Death come back to headline the capital again – because there clearly is the demand for them. If you somehow haven't managed to see this bona fide legend yet, exactly why the hell not?

“ incredibly tight and refined ”

Setlist: Downbeat Clique / Strong Arm / Unchallenged Hate / Continuing War on Stupidity / Next on the List / When All Is Said and Done / Lucid Fairytale / Social Sterility / Life and Limb / Lowlife / Quarantined / The Code is Red... Long Live the Code / Mentally Murdered / On the Brink of Extinction / Conform / Scum / Life? / Control / M.A.D. / You Suffer / Nazi Punks Fuck Off // Suffer the Children / Silence is Deafening

Written by James Donovan
More: 2011, Albums, Gigs, Grind,

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