Napalm Death, Madball, Doom, Fukpig and Broken Teeth Live at The Mill, Digbeth, 1st December

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Napalm Death Band Photo 2018

Christmas is a tremendously jolly time of year. Chestnuts roasting on an open fire in a serene family scene could warm even the hardest of hearts. What better way to ring it in than with some intensely aggressive and sociopolitical anarcho-grindcore then? Truly a fitting response to the capitalist bastardisation of the once humble Pagan holiday. With a varied but endlessly furious five band bill, Christmas certainly has come early for the punters of Birmingham.

‘Punk, metal and hardcore under one roof’ is a perfect summation of the flavour of the evening and lyrical content on show: social cohesion through carefully administered aggression. Broken Teeth [7] play straight ahead, thrashing hardcore for the duration of their set. Plenty of high velocity riffing and anvil heavy breakdowns are tightly executed, while vocalist Dale Graham commands the stage like a young Henry Rollins. Calls to ‘fuck em up’ and ‘open this place up’ largely fall on deaf ears, but the band do a more than admirable job opening the night. Graham’s grisly grin is a terrifying prospect to stare down, and is ironically well sculpted. Who’d have thought and orthodontist’s wet dream would front a band called Broken Teeth. It takes about four songs for the sound to get sorted out, but when it does it only accentuates Teeth’s fury. The band slam their way through the brief but explosive display and go down to raucous cheers. They certainly put up a fight.

A weighty slab of blackened grindcore came from Birmingham’s own Fukpig [6]. The advent of dual vocal duties creates an interesting, if not wholly varied dynamic as the balaclava’d boys trade screams and growls seamlessly. Musically, it’s hard to say as the sound mix is a complete mess. Guitars are almost totally inaudible, the bass is blown out to all hell due to a generous helping of distortion, and the drums smash away overtly imposingly in the background. It’s a real shame as to look at, they seem like technical adept musicians, but sadly on the night, very little listening could be done.  Focusing on a variety of tongue in cheek topics, the band are clearly having fun, and this translates heartily into the crowd, particularly during Thrash Armageddon.

Perhaps unsurprisingly tonight, the band Doom [7] don’t play doom. They are the antithesis of doom, but with a quality of dread about them as the rattle through their grinding, dreadlocked d-beat crust punk. Sounds like a lovely proposition doesn’t it. They barrel through song after song, each receiving a more fervent audience response than the last, particularly the likes of Police Bastard and their cover of Symptom of the Universe. Denis is a physically imposing frontman, goading the audience into crowd surfing and circle pits matching the ferocity of the music. The crowd goes absolutely wild for them, and luckily they are fortunate enough to have a killer sound job, with Bri’s guitar cutting through the mix to deliver those thrashing riffs. They play with a verve befitting of far younger bands, and don’t let up in their sonic brutality one jot.

What’s the difference between Madball [9] and a Bengal tiger? One’s a feral, muscular beast that, if not afforded the proper respect, can be lethal. The other’s a Bengal tiger. This intensity is a sight to behold as Freddy bounds across the stage with vibrancy and exuberance. He has the crowd eating out of the palm of his hand by the end of the first song, head banging and lunging around the room. He takes several opportunities to thank the audience for the riotous reception they deservedly receive, and the whole band’s demeanour is one of pure joy. They are ecstatic to be a hardcore band. They eat, sleep and breathe hardcore. Everything they do is for the cause of NYHC. The band are thick as thieves and an absolute joy to watch. Old and new material goes down phenomenally, with Get Out and Freight Train being two particular highlights in a set packed with unbeatable moments. After a showing like that, Madball can proudly take their place in the pantheons of hardcore alongside Bad Brains, Cro-Mags and Black Flag.

How do you summarise a legacy as important and transformative as that of Napalm Death [9]? By playing one of the most ferocious sets possible, filled with some of the greatest, most artistically challenging music ever written. Opening with Multinational Corporations from 1987’s Scum, the entire crowd instantly joins in a fervent scream of unbridled anticipation. The set is a varied one, pulling from all annals of Napalm Death’s long and illustrious career, focusing particularly heavily on their aforementioned debut. Newer material like Smash a Single Digit from 2015’s Apex Predator, Easy Meat and Standardisation from the b-sides and rarities collection, Coded Smears and Other Uncommon Slurs goes down with just as much jubilation from the Brum crowd, and all sounds monolithically heavy. Like, a bag of spanners on Jupiter, heavy.

Barney Greenway continues to be the most intelligent, witty and thought provoking frontman in the game. ‘Love and Peace, my friends’, he beams out at the audience. There’s an excess of love in the room tonight, but the evening is anything but peaceful. Turning his attention to nuclear disarmament in Call That an Option? and the horrific indiscretions of the Catholic Church In Suffer the Children, every speech is delivered with vigour and nous. It’s as much a political rally as it is a show. The crescendo of the set  comes with their now famous cover of Dead Kennedys’ Nazi Punks Fuck Off. The performance sees bodies fly around the venue and over the barriers into the arms of security in a riotous display.

As the set reaches its climax with Siege of Power, it’s hard to believe it’s all over. The rush of emotions and intensity is as truncated as a Napalm Death song, but no less impactful, and so prescient given the current political climate. Truly a wonder of nature, this band are rightly lauded as legends, with applause continuing long after the house lights have gone up, and oxymoronically Pharell Williams’ Happy blasts over the PA. Ferocity falls short of describing the frenzy that is a Napalm show, and they cement themselves as one of the greatest live bands of all time.

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