Napalm Death call for empathy and action in a troubled world on Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism | Music Review | Chicago Reader

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Napalm Death call for empathy and action in a troubled world on Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism

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Two days after the 2016 election, when I caught a package tour headlined by British-American grindcore pioneers Napalm Death, the night seemed to encompass the best and worst of the moment: After witnessing a presidential candidate openly lean into hate and emerge victorious, the sound of hundreds of people belting out “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” during the band’s brutal cover of the Dead Kennedys classic felt grounding and cathartic. That relief was eighty-sixed when I ran into an acquaintance who’d been subjected to race- and gender-based harassment in the pit. No show or scene is immune to such vile behavior, but for more than three decades Napalm Death’s unshakable humanitarian politics have been nearly as loud as their pulverizing blastbeats—a combination that’s helped them shape the course of heavy music and endeared them to an international fanbase. Against the backdrop of the election, that harassment felt less like an isolated incident and more like a punch-in-the-gut reminder that the country was in for a rocky ride. And it’s not just the States: since Napalm Death released 2015’s Apex Predator—Easy Meat, most places on Earth have experienced escalating adversity, whether it’s the accelerating impact of climate change, growing poverty and inequality, or the rise of authoritarianism driven by fearmongering and “othering” entire groups of people (if not all three). On their new 16th album, Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism, the band confront that troubling global picture with an unflinching mix of face-peeling grindcore and vibrant experimentalism. The album bursts open with an urgent trio of songs that threatens to break the sound barrier, starting with “Fuck the Factoid,” a takedown of public figures who contort reality to suit their personal agendas. From there, things really twist and turn. “Contagion” is a full-bodied metallic take on the plight of migrants risking it all in the face of exploitation from political leaders and everyday pond scum alike. “Amoral” ventures into the darkly gleaming postpunk of Killing Joke as it ponders the compromises we can fall into when we fall for deception and give in to our basest emotions. The skittering “Joie de Ne Pas Vivre” goes still further, imagining being fucked-up enough to derive ghastly pleasure from others’ pain. And even “A Bellyful of Salt and Spleen,” which pairs industrial skronk and exploratory metal with frankly murderous lyrics, represents another round in Napalm Death's fight against deadly prejudice. Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism is a force of a record, and its biggest triumph may lie in its staunch assertion that even when things are most dire, we still have the tools of compassion, empathy, unity, and even rage to help us build a better future.   v

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