Napalm Death's Barney Greenway on Thatcher, Nostalgia and the Pursuit of Happiness
Most of the people who pass Mark "Barney" Greenway in the street every day almost certainly have no idea what the man does for a living. His sensible haircut, unassuming demeanor and soft-spoken Birmingham accent betray nothing of his status as one of the most ferocious and accomplished voices in the gruesome history of extreme metal.
For the past 23 years, however, Greenway has toured the world as the front man for Napalm Death, the grindcore originators who have continuously pushed the boundaries of abrasive sound in every direction. Tonight, Greenway and company hit town to shatter eardrums at Music Hall of Williamsburg as part of the Decibel Magazine tour featuring death-metal heavyweights Immolation and headlined by those godfathers of gore, Cannibal Corpse.
Each band has built a notorious legacy of brutality dating back to the '80s, making tonight's bill a showcase of underground legends. Just don't call it a nostalgia tour.
"I don't think it's a nostalgia tour for one reason: All the bands on the bill are still active and still making albums," Greenway says. "There are bands out there that specifically set out to do a nostalgia tour and market it based on that. To me, that's never going to be the thought school with Napalm. If it came to that, I wouldn't want to do it. We're always striving to do something fresh."
That's no platitude. Napalm Death isn't simply still active; they're on top of their game. 2012's Utilitarian, their latest album, is a furious, experimental and crushingly heavy squall of outrageous noise. In addition to the expected blast beats and guttural shrieks, the record also seamlessly incorporates cruel snatches of acoustic guitar, crooning vocals, and even a schizoid saxophone solo from noted composer/multi-instrumentalist John Zorn. Sonically, it's their most intriguing album of the 21st Century.
Characteristically, there's a message in there, too. Eschewing the horrific fantasies that inspire the lyrics of many of their contemporaries, the album instead finds the erudite Greenway exploring the utilitarian ethics of "the greater good," which have inspired some of humanity's greatest triumphs and terrors.
"Clearly, the pursuit of happiness is what everybody would want," Greenway says. "An equal world without oppression or having to prostrate yourself to other people: That's what everybody desires. But utilitarianism isn't that simple. It's basically a pursuit of happiness, but that could mean anybody from animal-rights advocates or it could mean the most extreme form of capitalism, sort of a very selfish form of individualism.
"There's a wide spectrum, so I don't really know if I am (utilitarian) or not. What I was trying to do was sort of throw a question mark up in air," he continues.