w/ Mark "Barney" Greenway of Napalm Death

Lisa Sanchez
​Napalm Death, one of the longest lasting and most brutal bands known to the world since the mid-80s, made a stop at the Cleveland Agora Monday, February 9. The band is touring in support of their latest album, Apex Predator-Easy Meat, which was recently released on January 23. Napalm Death have always made themselves known by pushing extreme music to a new level and incorporating political topics into their lyrics. Luckily, I got a chance to chat with lead singer Mark "Barney" Greenway about the band's longevity and the importance of the band's ethos.
Apex Predator-Easy Meat is Napalm Death's sixteenth release over the course of their decades-long career. Considering their experience with releases, Greenway is just excited that no one hates the album, citing that heavy music isn't historically accepted.
"Whatever band of whatever genre is always going to get negative press or feedback. That's life. But, for a band like us that's so extreme, quite forthright both musically and lyrically you do expect a certain amount of pushback...but everything has been entirely positive."
The release of Apex Predator has done significantly better than not being hated. In fact, the album reached the No. 2 position on Billboard's Top Heat Seekers Albums list recently. Even as the music scene changes to become more accepting of all genres, Greenway doesn't believe it affects Napalm Death:
"We take the rough times with the smooth. I remember...when times were a lot leaner for this kind of music and we've survived on our own independence and we continue to do so...of course it's sort of nice we've achieved that sort of thing, it's sort of respectable, but it's not a driving factor for the band. We make our own decisions musically, lyrically, and conceptually and that's what we continue to do."
Greenway says he's stopped counting how many albums the band has actually released, but says that Napalm Death is always focused on keeping true to their core sound. "[Apex Predator-Easy Meat] is just a couple steps forward, it's not reinventing the wheel. It's just advanced enough from previous albums to be considered a little different yet no less extreme. It's arguably more extreme." Greenway continued "I like what we do. We like what we do, so why change it for the sake of it?" Considering the career longevity that Napalm Death achieved it's difficult to argue with the singer's logic.
Napalm Death have been pushing the limits of extremity for decades, but Greenway and the band have always pushed another topic as well; the power dynamics that affect society. The band's lyrics often revolve around the subject of human suffering, which take an active opposition to human disenfranchisement, unlike some bands in extreme music that use the imagery for shock or glorification. Greenway says the content isn't promoting an agenda, it's just what he knows: "What it is really is, is a human stance. I recognize humanity. Unfortunately, in this world, there are many people who have forgotten what it's like to be a human being."
Greenway recently reached out to Indonesian President Joko Widodo, a fan of Napalm Death. The singer requested the Indonesian President abstain from using the death penalty for two Australian drug smugglers arrested in the country. Greenway explained, "I think that the death penalty, capital punishment in general, doesn't serve a purpose. It just perpetuates violence. It doesn't solve the root causes." The singer goes on to say that race or nationality is not a factor when confronting human rights violations, it's a matter of recognizing what is just: "It has nothing to do with nationality; I could fucking care less. It's irrelevant to me. It matters not. Anything that challenges humanity or human rights bothers me. Human beings as entities have been forgotten. There are people who are trying to restrict freedom of speech; there are people out there who restrict women's rights to health services. Religion, to me, is one of the great dehumanizers. I have no problem with people who have faith, that's their personal choice. But, when it's brought into civic becomes disastrous. Absolutely disastrous."
The heavy metal veterans have given no sign of ever slowing down. They've been consistently touring and recording since before dinosaurs grew mullets, and the band appears to have destroyed the age myth in the process.
"I'm 45 years old, I've never had that thing in me that says 'I'm over 40 so I can't do certain things.' Nonsense," commented Greenway. "If it comes to the point where I'm not enthusiastic about doing music, I'll just stay home. I won't do Napalm Death at just 50%."
Napalm Death has been around so long they've actually influenced multiple bands following their style, incorporated numerous hard-edged musical influences, and proved that longevity isn't based on commercial success. Greenway told me as much by saying, "You don't want to restrict people from hearing what the band has got to say, both lyrically and musically, but at the same time, understand we're not going to go down the corporate road to do that. That's the antithesis of what we're about in the first place. We're still very much an underground band."
The band's extensive career has helped shape the history of the genre, but in the end Greenway says he's just proud that he and Napalm Death did something different and pushed the boundaries instead of conforming to the norm. Greenway offered, "We can't say Napalm Death will turn the world on its axis tomorrow, but at least we are contributing."
The Napalm Death stage show was just as riveting as you'd expect from the progenitors of grind. The band performed the bellowing, aggressive "Smash a Single Digit" and "Stubborn Stains" from Apex Predator-Easy Meat as well as playing a crowd favorite, "Scum" from their first 1987 release of the same name. Napalm Death relentlessly blasted the Agora with their barbed lyrics and punishing instrumentals, leaving me with considerably less hearing than I had when I entered. It was one of the most organic, natural, enthralling performances I've ever seen, therefore well worth the persistent tinnitus. Napalm Death have lived up to their legacy and they still have the talent and stage presence to maintain their reign for another 25 years.
Napalm Death will continue their North American tour with Exumed in support of Apex Predator-Easy Meat then move on to Australia to perform with Carcass.