Bootlegged In Japan

Napalm Death

Earache Records, 1998

REVIEW BY: Jason Thornberry

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 10/23/2003

Grateful Dead they will never be, but someone found it profitable to release a recording of this show (made through the sound-board), and sell it. As the owner of a Brazilian Napalm Death boot-leg, I can attest that sound-quality is probably never a concern for people trying to make some quick money off the band's labors.

It's just noise, anyway, you say. That's precisely the problem. To the un-trained ear (especially early period) Napalm Death is taxing on the listener and stereo on their regular, 'legitimate' releases. I still remember hearing "Rise Above" on vinyl for the first time over ten years ago, and thinking something was very wrong with my turntable. The same thing happened when I took the EP over to a friend's record player. At first, Bill Steer's spaghetti-like guitar strings seemed as densely tuned as possible (bands who want to seem ominous usually tune to 'D'. Napalm Death tune to 'B', where their tremolo-picking just about sends the strings to the floor.).

Then the "singing" begins. My friend, Neil, and I fell on the floor, laughing in disbelief that anyone could sound like that. It was lo-fi before that became cool (Guided by Voices back then were still a hobby band, and their albums just sounded like…crap), but you could still suss out the fact that the drummer had about ten arms, and was going full-speed ahead with them on this "verse". It sounded quite a bit like a helicopter with drumsticks taped to the blades. I, who previously thought that D.R.I. were one of the fastest bands in the land, was totally speechless. Not only was this amazingly quick (about twice as speedy as primo Slayer), but the singer! Lee Dorrian, a mild looking fellow, couldn't possibly be human.

'What's he growling about?' said Neil, snatching the sleeve out of my hand so he could read the lyrics off the back. Instead of a dissertation on Beelzebub's finer points, or diatribes against women (popular lyrical jaunts in the heavier spectrum of rock), these are, oddly, what Neil read back to me:bim_ad_daily_vault_print_250

"At time of birth, minds free from suspicion, senses raped, induced with superstition. A pre-set mode to befit description, language, colour, race definition. Inner strength must detect the love we each possess before we may reach, appreciating it in anyone else. External distinctions used as scapegoats to problems, channeling our aggression in the wrong direction. Break down the barriers that enforce superstition. Learn to trust, overcome suspicion. Acceptance, the weapon, active against our freedom, our love and compassion held at treason. Rise above induced superstition."

All we heard was: Crushing Riff...Growls...FM Radio-Static bass...growls...machine-gun ('blast-beat') drums...Growls. As the brief maelstrom ended, Dorrian's last line rang out after the barrage had already climaxed "...superstitionnnnnnnnnnn!", with the last syllable sounding like a wounded minotaur. How on earth can the combination of bass, drums, guitars, and vocals reap such an earth-pounding dividend?

This was my introduction to Napalm Death. They had just broken through the 'They can't really play. It's all a big joke.' Phase, and were entering a more progressive one. One where their .075 second-long songs (really) of old were replaced by ones that approached, and at times, went beyond the two-minute mark.

Lee and Bill did a tour of Japan, before calling it a day, and Mark 'Barney' Greenway, an occasional roadie, and American pen-pal Jesse Pintado joined up. They played for a bit, touring with Morbid Angel, and other like-minded acts, before another American pen-friend Mitch Harris jumped aboard. Bootlegged in Japan was recorded at the Liquid Rooms in Tokyo, in 1996, while The End of Music As We Know It were plugging their finest (at the time) album, Diatribes. The line-up to this group has been in flux somewhat, but drummer Danny Herrera (who replaced Mick 'the Human Tornado' Harris) has been in the fold since 1991. With the post-Diatribes re-instatement of Greenway (he felt Diatribes a little soft, and that ND was no longer much of a democracy, but changed his mind), Napalm Death continued to be the most intense live band on earth -- without really trying.

This concert document is a prime example. Psychotic tempo episodes meet brief melodic moments. There's plenty of the former to counter-balance the latter. Barney in an early interview claimed that too much melody would "bore the tits off" him, so subsequent CDs are a strong mish-mash of both styles. At times you almost feel like you're listening to a less-whiny Smashing Pumpkins, especially on "Cursed to Crawl", which bassist Shane Embury sings most of.

Outside of Merzbow's peak moments, you're not likely to hear a band quite like Napalm Death ever again. Merzbow (composer Masami Akita's prolific noise excursion) comes close. I said close. You'll find Merzbow in the 'Electronic Music' section anyway. This is a must have, for when someone tells you about how 'out-there' the new Metallica is. Throw Bootlegged in Japan on, and invite them to have a tall, frosty glass of shuthefuckup.

Rating: A

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© 2003 Jason Thornberry and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Earache Records, and is used for informational purposes only.