It’s snowing in the north of England, but rather than an icy black metal show Manchester’s Academy is playing host to a prestigious night of high intensity grind and the most intense end of what hardcore can offer with Napalm Death’s Campaign for Musical Destruction, a tour moniker which has seen the revolutionary extreme music titans bringing a package of sonically and ethically like-minded acts with them for over thirty years with 1992’s landmark edition seeing them joined by legendary outfits in their own right Carcass, Cathedral, and Brutal Truth.
Much like Lamb of God and Kreator’s State of Unrest tour that rolled through the previous night (with multiple attendees here visibly having partaken in this double treat of ferocious metal parties), the return of this legendary tour has been plagued by delays and line-up reshufflings as we continue to emerge out of the COVID pandemic, but after all of this the bill put in front of us tonight carries all of the spirit that the headline act have come to embody.
New England’s Escuela Grind are brought to Europe and the UK for the first time, and where last year’s album Memory Theater laid the groundwork the way they sink their teeth into sets like these is what is really going to keep getting people on side. Their riffs stink with the gurgle of Mortician-laced deathgrind but that particular kind of gory sonic touchstone also feels distinct when paired with their unshrinking playfulness, vocalist Katerina Economou twerking and high-kicking her way across the stage with bug-eyed fervour, or their open-hearted inclusiveness in the phrase dropped from the stage that they’re here to represent “the girls, the gays, and the theys”.
Siberian Meat Grinder are an entirely different proposition that really shakes up the running order, storming the room kitted out in matching uniform with a vigour that bewilders a few people in the process. Their music is far and away the most upbeat and cheerful of tonight’s bands, delivering track after track of buoyant crossover with insistent punk chant-along refrains. Their fixation on the subject of the Russian bear with an announcement of a special guest on-stage leading not to another musician on the bill as you might expect but instead an enormous man in a bear costume is a real shift from the more socially conscious material around them, but their regular reminders of unity in the punk rock tradition create the link to the tour ethos. Whether they were swept up in the energy or perplexed by it, there’s no one in the room likely to have not had a reaction.
The presence of Rhode Island powerviolence icons Dropdead alongside the young upstarts is what helps this really feel like a Campaign for Musical Destruction tour, a band with their own incredible level of esteem who are also a rare draw on this side of the Atlantic getting another extreme music pioneer ticked off your bucket-list for your buck.
The band whose 1993 LP (all their albums are untitled aside from the year) sits as a landmark of militantly leftist hardcore punk remain as determined and unfaltering in their stance today introducing their very short songs in suites themed around calls for anti-racist action, anti-corporate stance, and particularly animal liberation. There is no room for frivolousness in this set, their performance conveying that this is more than just music but a platform to directly try and galvanise those watching into action in greater society. Their extreme pace, feral shrillness in vocal delivery, and incredibly daring level of microphone swinging are all outlet for that urgency.
Napalm Death on the other hand are an act we are privileged to see so often here in their home country. This is a band after all who in subversive and experimental music history sit in league with Sonic Youth, Swans, Killing Joke, and Throbbing Gristle, yet are still touring with the dogged regularity of true punk rock lifers. This is so true that Barney Greenway is currently confined to a chair having broken his ankle earlier in the tour, and bassist Shane Embury is absent, yet the intensity of the campaign goes on. When Barney’s guttural roar turns to agonising screams, there’s the sense that this time some of that might be genuine, his constant manic movement even when sat with his feet up a reminder that he is one of the quintessential heavy music performers.
That lineage of musical revolution is apparent in recent album highlights Invigorating Clutch with its Celtic Frost via no wave riff and the distorted post-punk of Amoral that might actually get you dancing at the Napalm Death show, but the original grindcore of Scum and From Enslavement to Obliteration material somehow still sounds essential. Just the same, their message has not changed. The thirty-three year-old Suffer the Children is pointed out to still be dealing with the same religious policing of women’s bodies apparent today. Tonight’s show happens to land the same day as the UK government’s unveiling of a plan to strip refugees of their protection by their modern anti-slavery system, and Napalm’s latest record heavily engaging with this exact topic means that this tour ends up feeling like a bit of an affirmation that no matter what’s going on, Napalm Death have remained, continuing to fly the flag for music that without hesitancy like the bands they have with them tonight battles for empathy and change "in the spirit of friendship and solidarity". If this is what a wounded Napalm Death can do, it is a reminder of what a vital band they always have been and seemingly always will be.