“Scum”: How Napalm Death Shook the World with 33 Minutes of Mayhem

Picture this: It's the '80s, and while most are grooving to synth-pop, Napalm Death's 'Scum' crashes onto the scene like a runaway freight train, laying down the gnarly tracks for the grindcore genre.

Napalm Death - Multinational Corporations (Official Audio)

The Unlikely Birth of a Grindcore Classic

Step back in time with me to the mid-1980s – a time of big hair, pastel colors, and the meteoric rise of synth-pop. Amidst the likes of Duran Duran and Wham!, a sonic revolution was brewing in the underground music scene of Birmingham, England. This revolution was led by none other than the band Napalm Death, and their breakthrough album “Scum” was about to set the music world ablaze – quite literally!

Napalm Death was initially formed in 1981, although the band’s lineup would undergo several changes before the recording of “Scum”. By the mid-80s, they had found themselves deeply rooted in the anarcho-punk scene, drawing significant influences from bands like Crass and Conflict. But the raw, blisteringly fast, and aggressive sound that they were gradually developing was about to push the boundaries of what punk — and indeed, music itself — could be.

The band, at the time of recording “Scum”, consisted of two completely different lineups across the album’s two sides. The first side, often referred to as the “A-side”, featured the lineup of Nicholas Bullen on vocals and bass, Justin Broadrick on guitar, and Mick Harris on drums. In contrast, the “B-side” had a completely different lineup, with Lee Dorrian on vocals, Bill Steer on guitar, Jim Whitely on bass, and Mick Harris (the only constant member) remaining on drums. It was a unique setup, as unconventional as the music they were crafting.

The “Scum” album was recorded in the richly atmospheric environment of Rich Bitch Studios in Birmingham. The entire recording process was a rough and ready affair. With a shoestring budget and the bulk of the album recorded in just a single day, the band had to make every second count. The DIY ethos was strong with Napalm Death – they were a band not seeking the polished perfection of mainstream pop, but the raw, unfiltered expression of their music.

What emerged was a unique fusion of heavy metal and punk – a sound that was as extreme as it was innovative. With a whopping 28 tracks packed into a 33-minute running time, “Scum” featured songs that were often no more than a minute long, a stark departure from conventional song structures. These songs encapsulated everything from political dissatisfaction, animal rights, to anti-capitalist sentiments, all delivered in a screaming, relentless sonic assault. It was a sound that would come to define a whole new subgenre: grindcore.

The release of “Scum” in 1987, under the independent British label Earache Records, marked the beginning of a new era in the world of extreme music. But it wasn’t a smooth ride to success – far from it. The critics were divided, the mainstream was confused, and yet, within the chaos, “Scum” was gradually finding its audience.

But that, as they say, is just the beginning of the story. The tale of how “Scum” impacted the music world, transformed Napalm Death, and became a grindcore classic is a wild ride full of surprising twists and turns.

An Unusual Reception and The Emergence of Grindcore

The release of “Scum” in 1987 made a clear statement: Napalm Death was here, and they weren’t here to conform. In an era dominated by catchy pop tunes and glamorous rock ballads, “Scum” arrived like a sonic grenade, ripping through the fabric of the music scene with its raw intensity and unfettered aggression.

The initial reception to “Scum” was, unsurprisingly, mixed. Some critics didn’t quite know what to make of it. The album was a cacophony of noise to many — a blistering maelstrom of guttural growls, frenzied guitar riffs, and breakneck-speed drumming. This was not music as many knew it. But for others, “Scum” was a revelation. It was a musical embodiment of rebellion — a chaotic symphony of sounds that encapsulated the frustration, dissatisfaction, and defiance of a generation.

In one of the most amusing incidents that underline the album’s unique reception, “Scum’s” track “You Suffer” was acknowledged by the Guinness World Records as the world’s shortest song. The song, if you could call it that, was barely a couple of seconds long and consisted of a solitary, indecipherable shriek and a few brief, manic strums of the guitar. This unusual recognition catapulted Napalm Death into the limelight, albeit in an entirely unexpected way.

In the underground music scene, however, “Scum” was increasingly recognized as a game-changer. The album’s lightning-fast blast beats, guttural vocals, and politically charged lyrics, coupled with its DIY production values, inspired a slew of other bands. Napalm Death’s music was no longer just an oddity — it was a pioneering force in a burgeoning new genre: grindcore.

Grindcore combined the aggressive energy of hardcore punk with the heaviness and complexity of extreme metal. The genre was characterized by its extreme speed, short songs, political themes, and a raw, lo-fi aesthetic. And right at its genesis, with “Scum” as its inaugural manifesto, was Napalm Death.

While the mainstream music world remained largely oblivious, “Scum” started to gain a cult following. The album resonated with those who felt disillusioned by the increasingly commercialized music industry. It became an emblem for non-conformity, challenging the status quo not just with its lyrics, but with its very approach to music itself.

The impact of “Scum” went beyond the shores of the UK, resonating with fans of extreme music worldwide. Napalm Death, whether they intended to or not, had set in motion a movement that would continue to reverberate throughout the metal scene for years to come. But as the world slowly began to wake up to the raw power of grindcore, what was next for Napalm Death?

The Evolution of Napalm Death and the Legacy of ‘Scum’

With “Scum” making waves in the underground music scene, Napalm Death found themselves at a unique juncture. They were pioneers of a new, intense genre, with a cult following that was steadily growing. The band, however, was also in a state of flux.

Post-“Scum”, Napalm Death saw a significant lineup change, with only Mick Harris from the original ensemble remaining. The band’s sound also began to evolve. While they never lost the essential grindcore ethos, Napalm Death started incorporating elements of death metal into their music. Subsequent albums like “From Enslavement to Obliteration” and “Harmony Corruption” exhibited this shift, demonstrating a broader range of influences and a slightly more polished production value.

But despite these changes, “Scum” remained a constant reference point. The album had seared its mark into the fabric of extreme music and its influence could not be undone. In fact, its impact continued to grow.

The years following “Scum’s” release saw the emergence of numerous grindcore bands, inspired by Napalm Death’s brutal intensity and speed. From Carcass to Brutal Truth, bands across the globe were adopting and evolving the genre in new and exciting ways. Not just grindcore, but genres like death metal and black metal also found elements to admire and adapt from the unfiltered aggression that “Scum” had so rawly exhibited.

What made “Scum” so enduring was its authenticity. The album was not a calculated attempt to create a new genre or achieve commercial success. Instead, it was the genuine expression of a band that was not afraid to break rules, challenge norms, and confront societal issues. It was this authenticity that connected with listeners, and it’s the reason why “Scum” still resonates with fans today.

Three decades on from its release, “Scum” is celebrated as a seminal album in extreme music. It has inspired countless musicians, given birth to a new genre, and challenged the boundaries of what music can be. The album has been reissued several times, and its tracks continue to be a staple in Napalm Death’s live performances.