Fibbers, York, Sat 17 Apr, 2010.
The distinct odour of man sweat permeates the venue of York Fibbers on this mid april evening. It’s hardly surprising, as the assembled throng of grind fans here for the return of the midlands’ finest are a mix of the distinctly male persuasion. As you’d expect, there’s the usual mix of aged bearded biker sorts, those whose mohicans will have attracted more attention and care than usual, and slightly nervous looking young ‘uns in Cannibal Corpse T-shirts and bad haircuts. It’s a welcome sight, given that York is generally only home to a couple of ‘proper’ metal gigs a year. So far all we have lined up for the rest of the year is a visit from shrunken headed Max Cavelera and his revolving line up of nu metal also rans, Soulfly. And so Fibbers is pretty packed, hence the odour.
The first band to have the privilege of opening for Napalm Death are Bitterskies, a band for whom you can imagine that this will be the highest accolade they achieve in their careers. Taking their cues equally from the likes of Raging Speedhorn and Stamping Ground, but without the charm of the former or the skill of the latter, their main problem is that they just don’t have the tunes, and their vocalist is incapable of forcing his personality over the music. In other words they are your typical local opening act. Faring better are All Will Suffer, who also fit more into the hardcore mould, but do so with flair, panache, confidence and most importantly the tunes to back all that up. It’s not long before they have the pit going, and their mix of Knuckledust-esque UKHC mixed with occasional grind forays is good fun. Which I imagine is entirely their intention.
After a rather too long pause between bands, as the sweaty boys down the front start to wilt under the intensity of the light rig, The burly old men that are Napalm Death take to the stage, and proceed to steamroller the audience with an hour plus of non-stop grind. While their albums have developed a lot in terms of sound over the last two decades, with a greater amount of subtlety mixed in with the onslaught, it’s immediately clear that these nuances do not carry over into the live show. But before you think I’m grumbling, this is in no way a bad thing. The sheer weight of the sound hits like a kick in the solar plexus, and the next hour is like wrestling a bear while an angry geography teacher lectures you on every way that the world is wrong. Not three hours earlier I was having a fascinating chat with Barney, but even so he saves his best lines and missives for onstage, eliciting huge cheers from the crowd every time he launches an attack on the political system or corporate greed or the influence of religion, each line followed with a billowing grind anthem to press the point home.
With a set list culled from every era of Napalm’s illustrious history (I could have done with a bit more off Enemy of the Music Business, but with a back catalogue this big, everyone is going to have something they love missed off) and the obligatory Nazi Punks Fuck Off and You Suffer the circle pit keeps going throughout, and the band still play as though every gig is their most important to date, even if it is in a shithole like this. It would be all too easy for a band with longievity of this kind to look around at their surroundings after nearly 30 years of hard slog and think about jacking it all in, but you get the sense that this is exactly where Napalm want to be, playing to a small but dedicated fanbase who know every song.
By the end the pit are looking more exhausted than the band, with Shane Embury still attacking his bass like Geezer Butler on speed, with as much ferocity as when he started. As the band make their way from under the heat lamps to well deserved applause, it’s clear that this is a band who have managed to make their ‘peak’ last longer than most bands entire rise and fall.