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A lot of jokes have been made about this split album of Napalm Death and Electro Hippies and the absurd lengths of the tracks are certainly worthy to be ridiculed. Yet, to understand the intentions behind this album it is vitally important to look behind the obvious meaning of it all and to put it into the proper framework.
These are the two short ‘phrases’ used by the British band Napalm Death for their one short track. In them they refer to a person who suffers, but the actual reasons why this is the case remains hidden. Yet, it is possible to provide some explanation for this and the background of this track. Through this, some light on the intentions behind the split release are shed as well.
1 – The satisfaction paradigm:
To many people in many cultures music is an important part of their way of life. Common sayings such as "the harmony of the spheres" […] point to the notion that music is often ordered and pleasant to listen to (I). So, when you acquire a piece of ‘audio art’, then you try to enjoy those moments of music, satisfy a desire, dive deep into the motives and the play of the instruments. A listener wants to experience music, be surrounded by the spheres, which appear in the air like magic; you do not understand how the music is created by the artefacts, you are merely able to enjoy the atmosphere created by the mechanical/electronic tools. Yet, as Napalm Death as well as the other band Electro Hippies reduced their compositions to such lows that our ability to understand them is stressed over the limit, the satisfaction, once the ‘performance’ is over, will not arise. The person is left with this vague feeling of being cheated. It is music, but it appears in a fragmented way and is as such not made for our ears. The time and money that had been spent on this vinyl disk does not meet up the expectations on the side of the listener. You have to remember: it was released in a time in which the Internet was not around and people were not able to share their experiences over a longer distance on a larger (or any) scale. There were publications of course, but how were the chances that someone would have been able to lay hands on the one in which this issue was discussed in a meaningful way; if there actually was any in which it was brought up at all; aside of an advertisement of course? The following should also be kept in mind:
Only initial copies of "Grindcrusher - The Earache Sampler" (catalog# "MOSH 12") included this limited edition etched 7" single (catalog# "7MOSH 12"), which was entered into the Guinness Book Of Records as the world's shortest single (II).
It was (and is) a rare album and collectors might have wanted it. Not only back then, also today it is important to refer to these two tracks on this vinyl disk as an important part of the musical culture, because through the limitation in copies and the small circulation, it is not only hard to lay hands on, but once you have achieved this goal, you have enriched the collection with something that is basically ‘shit’, something impossible to listen to; left alone to enjoy. The capitalist’ mantra that through consummation satisfaction and identification is created, has received a reversal through this. Just look at the lyrics and everything be comes quite obvious. Moreover, the implications of this and how it affects the black metal scene in particular are also self-evident.
2 – The lyrics:
If you leave the aforementioned aspect aside, then the one of the lyrics and how they are received plays an important role as well. As the track of Napalm Death is the only one with a text in it, a discussion of the performance of the Electro Hippies’ part has to be limited to the title they choose for their composition, but more of this later.
Anyway, another aspect why a person might suffer deals with the lyrics or better how they are/were expressed. Not only due to the extreme shortness of the track it is impossible to understand anything of them, but also because they merge somehow seamlessly with the instruments. The result is one violent burst; the track is even shorter and more extreme in the live performances. It might be argued that the style of the band would prohibit this on a broader scale and a listener would expect the impossibility to understand the text directly in some respect. Even though the validity of this point cannot be doubted, it still misses the point, though. The title “You Suffer” points towards the listener, attempts to communicate with this person and as such it is only natural what the intention of the lyrics will be; remember those old radio and television commercials and how they attempted to speak directly to the audience. Yet, the mere burst of noise prevents an interaction between these two sides, especially as the mere listening does not reveal the meaning behind the composition. The anticipation of a/the revelation is contradicted by the final result.
Then, if you ignore the issue of understanding the text by ‘hearing’ it, the aspect of how to interpret the four words is important as well. The words “You Suffer” might be understood as an imperative, while the second two are nothing but a rhetorical answer to them; maybe even ironic. Further, when you keep in mind how short the track is, the phrase “You Suffer” becomes somehow hilarious. To even imagine that this statement would bear some reference to or impact on the real world is simply preposterous.
3 – The titles:
As discussed in section 2, the titles of the compositions need some additional attention. Napalm Death’s share has been dealt with above, but there is still the other band: Electro Hippies. Their part, conservatively entitled Mega Armageddon Death Pt.3, might give a neutral person the idea that something really aggressive might have been used for this split album. A blast, something with a real punch … something brutal and aggressive, something that would reflect this title in one way or another. The actual result is rather wanting – to call it really euphemistic –, because this band’s share is even shorter then the one of Napalm Death. A single beat, this is what the listener gets and nothing more. Minimalism brought to new levels and the only album I can think of that would be even more extreme is a Silent CD like this one:
The “Mega Armageddon Death” is reduced to nothing more than a single and extremely short track. Again, the anticipation created by the title reflects in no way the final result. The gap between these two is enormous and impossible to bridge. Moreover, this composition appears on their first output – entitled Play Loud or Not At All – already and had also the additional (Pt. 3) syntax. None of the entries at Electro Hippies’ Discogs site give hints on whether there were ever earlier parts of this track or not; it can be doubted that there are.
What makes this track even more absurd is the following:
It appeared on several albums before – for example The Peaceville Recordings (III) – and even in different lengths. In the version on the aforementioned release it appears in a recording of a live set: played once at the beginning and end with some solo part in the middle. Ridiculous somehow.
To sum the impressions up:
This is not a serious release, even though some might describe it as such. It is rather a bizarre example of what music has become in the modern ages. You do not need complex rhythms anymore, you do not need loads of arrangements and sometimes the music can have the length of a blink of an eye. Whether or not it is possible to measure the quality of this piece of art by normal standards is a different question and was not the idea behind this review. Nevertheless, the split album between Napalm Death and Electro Hippies marks an extreme not only in the metal but in the music scene in general. The chances to see or hear a shorter release any time soon are next to zero. As such, this release should be treated as it is:
A communication with the listener, whose inability to understand the bands in any meaningful way, leaves this person silent. He or she suffers but does not understand the reasons why and is unable to ameliorate the situation in any meaningful way. The death is not of a physical kind, but a mental one, due to the inability to find the proper expressions for the art that said person has just experienced. Suffering and death are both rhetorical, but come with an ironical twist in it.
It really has something of Monty Python.
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"Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler." - Albert Einstein
If you believe that this quote summarizes everything there is in this release, well, it doesn't. The fact is that this is an interesting split that achieved what it tried to achieve and deserves to be commented by any Napalm Death fan (category in which I am not included) and the only reason to give it a 0 is that there is no point in buying it, owning it or listening to it. If you think for a while you will see that it makes sense: when you review a recording you are supposed to evaluate the quality of the music, so if there is no music at all (if you want to say that three goddamn chords with grindcore vocals in one side and one power chord in the other are actual music go ahead, but nobody will listen to you) the rating should be "0" automatically.
The idea, however, is pretty great. First of all, Napalm Death needed 1,3 second to do what most people will never achieve during a lifetime: they made it to the Guinness Book. Also, they managed to get extra attention from both their fans and the people who have never heard of Napalm Death before, pretending to be “cult” with a song that doesn’t really have any meaning (the rhetorical question asked by the band is not very clear, and can be answered in a lot of ways). Whether this is valid or not is another problem, which shouldn’t be discussed in a review since the morality of a band hardly ever reflect s on their releases, being “Megadeth” the most known and one of the most bizarre examples.
This release does have a point, but it is pointless to buy it for obvious reasons, unless you can resell it for a decent price. It lacks the very elements that are supposed to be present in music and is impossible to headbang to, while its length makes the act of putting it on not rewarding enough. I doubt that anyone is sufficiently insane to actually enjoy this, so the rating is fair enough.
Well, I have to admit my interest in this little single was, of course, piqued by a couple of posts on the metal-archives forum, but there is an undoubted fascination some have with this particular Napalm Death song which gives the whole thing a curiosity that I can’t help but comment on. ‘You Suffer’ is undoubtedly the band’s most famous hour (haha!), and I guess that’s in a grand, old tradition of band’s having a signature track that is either utterly unrepresentative of their collective talents (see: ‘Breaking the Law’) or something of a throwaway (‘Paranoid’, for example). Napalm Death seem to have taken this to its very extreme, and believe me it is extreme -- in its worthlessness, that is. Napalm Death have never been a favourite of mine (or grind as a whole, really), but I do have respect for them and enjoy their early work somewhat. Furthermore through their long career they’ve proven to be something a little more serious than this. In fact, I’d probably look at this release as Digby Pearson looking to gleam extra attention for a naïve band. But it is this that gained them their cult status (wasn’t Napalm Death on the cover of, gay-pride-rag, the NME around this time?). If it's not "money for nothing" then it certainly is a shameless bit of self-publicity, exploiting the new-found Napalm-mania.
On a musical level, this isn’t bad, it’s not really anything, to be honest -- I can’t feel strongly either way about the songs themselves. One could raise the question as to whether these two ‘pieces’ do still constitute songs -- I’d go ahead and yes, why not. They’re just not particularly good. Napalm Death (whose contribution is worth more discussion due to its infamy and having more going on than the B-side), have made something of a novelty classic with ‘You Suffer’ and back in 1989 that band were at the peak of their fame -- which proved to be just as short-lived as the lasting impact this particular song has. I have no problem with things getting faster and heavier, just so long as you remember quality song craft -- and with this alone, Napalm Death completely eschewed any real value and just went for shock value, which is devoid of worth. To provide you with a brief example, around the time I was fourteen or so I picked up both copies of Napalm Death’s Scum and Darkthrone’s A Blaze In the Northern Sky. Though, today I’d never place the two in the same boat, then both were the earliest examples of extreme metal I’d heard. Both proved difficult to start with, but Darkthrone had a mystique and grandeur that carried away (you could simply say: “lasting value”). Whilst Napalm Death did seem always seem novel in comparison. That novelty does, of course, become stressed to its extreme (how apt!) when you take Scum’s most harmless track on its own. Extremity alone, to me, is worthless… a second-long blast of music doesn't achieve anything except the cursory “Ugh, what was that?”.
And to back that up with Electro Hippies providing what I can only see as a parody of the ND track, and you’ve got an instant recipe for nothingness (I almost feel sorry for Electro Hippies having so little material to work with). Although, it’s completely devoid of value for me its novelty might hold fleeting value for a ever-unsightly group of people often labelled with the “H” word. They can derive a, largely ironic, enjoyment from this, then show their friends the song with glee as they all delight in saying “Aha, what a laugh! Heavy metal is such noisy nonsense”… to them it’s all the same, inherently silly and not worth the time . So, then, the brevity of these songs must be so very appealing to them. If heavy metal's all an angry noise then why endure any more than a couple of seconds of it? And lest we forget who it was to first champion Napalm Death, Carcass, Extreme Noise Terror et al? That’s right, John Peel -- a man who’s always been a suspect character in my book, especially considering his canonization by weepy, Morrissey-esque men with floppy, expensive haircuts. Call him a saint of hipsterdom, if you will.
Got any new riffs, John? No, thought not.
What can I say? If you see this in a second-hand shop somewhere for cheap I say go ahead and get it, you can sell it to fawning collectors and use the cash to get something with value. Novelty isn't extremity!
Ah, notoriety. How often does it happen that a release utterly undeserving of anybody’s time and attention is thrust into the limelight, to be reviled by most (and often lauded by a few), when it would have been better that it languished in obscurity? Too often, I suspect— it is far from a rare occurrence to see a release garner unwarranted discussion and review, simply due to its background, its artist, or some other notable feature that has somehow ensnared people’s attention. It seems to be a part of human nature to fixate on things for the strangest reasons. This review is an example of this behavioural oddity; in fact, the 1300-odd words devoted to this curious little release is really far more than is deserved! A far more appropriate and succinct summary would be “It’s shit; why bother?”.
Nevertheless, in the name of the sunk-cost fallacy I shall forge ahead. This release has become somehow noteworthy due to its record-breaking nature, but ultimately there is no point in listening to it. Napalm Death and Electro Hippies each contribute one extremely short track, resulting in a total play time of about two seconds, making it the Shortest Release Ever; it also features the Shortest Song Ever (according to Guinness): You Suffer, by Napalm Death. Accordingly, this little split’s reputation precedes it. But really, it’s not meritorious enough that anybody should ever have even heard of it!
The first side consists of the aforementioned Napalm Death track, which apparently clocks in at 1.316 seconds. Its record-breaking nature has led to a number of (lengthy) cover versions, and resulted in many live performances of the piece. Now, many will be familiar with this little curio in its original form due to its inclusion on the Scum album, where it rounds off Side A. It has to be said that in this context it’s not half bad. It essentially serves as a little flourish that firmly ends the first half of the album (and the tenure of the line-up that featured on that half!). It can be considered analogous to the endings of so many songs where the music completely stops and then after a second or so a final chord or drum ornament finishes the piece off. It works in exactly the same way, but for a side of an album rather than a piece—however, given the non-stop assault of that album, it actually works extremely well! It’s aggressive and violent and a great bookend.
However, taken out of this context, the weaknesses and other traits of the song become apparent. It certainly is a song rather than a burst of noise. It features a good two guitar chords or so, which are played insanely fast and in a blurred manner that would be rather entertaining if not presented in such a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it fashion. The drums are sloppy and chaotic, but that’s essentially perfect for the piece, and for what Napalm Death were doing at the time, and they are definitely playing about a bar’s worth of music rather than just a crash. The vocals come out as a sort of throaty bellow, asking the listener the question, “You suffer—but why?”. It’s hard to know whether this is profound or just silly (I tend to lean towards the latter), but it certainly carries a message of some sort, and is open to interpretation, to a degree. So, this is certainly a legitimate song, of sorts. Yet it provides none of the satisfaction that should be provided by a decent example of a real song. There’s no progression, no engaging of the listener, no possibility of emotional release. It can’t be treated as a cathartic explosion of noise, since it’s just too damn short to get behind. You can’t mosh to a gunshot for more or less the same reason. Awkward analogies aside, you can’t bang your head to it, and it doesn’t provide any kind of connection to the listener. It’s just so short that without some kind of introduction (such as the first half of Scum) it’s ultimately without impact of its own, and as a result is profoundly alienating. The worst part is that it actually sounds like it would be pretty cool if it were only a little longer. An equally intense and raw explosion of noise that lasted even five or six seconds would be something I could appreciate for itself, and even scream along with, but this takes the aesthetic to such extremes that I want nothing to do with it! Knowing that it was intended as a joke doesn’t make any difference—bad is bad, no matter how you dress it up.
The Electro Hippies’ side of the split is another extremely short piece called Mega Armageddon Death Pt. 3. This one is similar to Napalm Death’s in terms of length only, but is dramatically different in my mind in one crucial way—I listen to You Suffer like it is a song, but this is nothing more than a burst of noise. It’s just one staccato guitar chord with a drum crash. It doesn’t really provide anything to the listener to analyse or think about. It’s just there. I guess it’s… a pretty okay chord? It carries unpleasant overtones, something fairly high-pitched that makes it slightly unsettling in its way. A little bit of echo makes it feel quite natural and almost warm, in a cavernous kind of way. But it doesn’t actually go anywhere, which the Napalm Death offering does, in an admittedly stunted kind of way. It somehow manages to engage the listener even less, carries no weight, has no impact. It’s just there, eternal and inscrutable. If I were to judge this as a song I would call it the worst song I had ever heard, carrying no artistic merit whatsoever (that I can feel, at least; these things are so subjective), but as I don’t think of it as a song in the first place it is spared that particular ignominy.
It is unfair to bash this piece so without providing some kind of context—it’s actually the third in a series. Mega Armageddon Death is a very similar piece—it’s literally just a different chord, presented in the same way! There’s also an extended version floating around somewhere, and a part two, but as I haven’t heard either it’s inappropriate to judge the series as a whole. Still, I can kind of guess what they sound like, and this doesn’t seem like a logical conclusion to a series so much as another bad joke in a series of bad jokes-- and it’s even more unpalatable in its way than Napalm Death’s little peccadillo. Context or not, it is presented on this release without one, and it’s every bit as alienating. It’s not worth the time it takes to listen to it.
To summarise, the Napalm Death side of this split is utter tripe, but at least it’s an actual song, and one that could be decent if it hadn’t been pushed to such extremes. The Electro Hippies half doesn’t even have that going for it—it’s a non-song, a nothing. Despite the distinctions surrounding this release, it is almost without merit of its own, not worth listening to, and certainly not worth writing about. It should sink into obscurity forever, but this is unlikely to happen—as I said right at the start, human nature is a funny thing. The only saving grace is that it was available free with another release! This is not something that anybody but the most dedicated collector should shell out for, listen to, or otherwise pay any heed to. The irony of saying this in a review that I actually had to sit down and write is not lost on me, but let the reader rest assured that I regret every second it took.