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Album of strong anarchic punk-influenced metal - 70%

NausikaDalazBlindaz, November 18th, 2007

This album is famous for a number of reasons some of which don't actually relate to the music itself. Certainly "Scum" was a forerunner of the grindcore scene and for a time drew public attention to a new generation of underground metal bands in the UK (and it helped that the late UK radio host John Peel was a fan of Napalm Death for a while). The album is also unusual in that two different band line-ups, each featuring people who became famous in other bands after leaving ND, play on the album: Side 1 features a line-up with a future member of Godflesh and Jesu (Justin Broadrick) and the musicians on Side 2 include future members of Carcass (Bill Steer) and Cathedral (Lee Dorrian), plus the only musician to feature on both sides, Mick Harris (or MJ Harris as he prefers to style himself these days) has since made a name for himself in experimental / dub / ambient music. The album cover which depicts reptilian corporate CEOs presiding over social, economic and physical destruction of human beings and the Earth was designed by Bill Steer's Carcass comrade Jeff Walker and the album itself addresses the theme of global domination by octopus-like corporations and the methods they and their friends in government and the commercial media use to keep people down, a theme that perhaps is more relevant to us now than it was 20 years ago when "Scum" was recorded.

Aside from all this interesting background info, what actually emerges in the way of music from "Scum" is a parade of strongly anarchic punk-influenced metal songs most of which are no longer than a minute or two and are hardly more than blasts of guitar anger and guttural roar. Other songs have basic riffs and melodies with maybe slightly more comprehensible lyrics and a rare guitar solo. On Side 1, the early songs go so fast and the singing can be such a blurry mess on most tracks that it's easy to get lost. Drumming consists of Harris mustering as much energy he can at once to bash the skins and foot pedals. Occasionally there'll be a diarrhoea guitar solo. The few recognisable songs include "Multinational Corporations" and everything from and including "Siege of Power" to the end: the singing becomes a lot clearer and the last 5 tracks on Side 1 have stronger and more regular riffs and melodies, though they can still collapse into fits of blast beat chaos. At the very end is the famous one-second wonder "You Suffer" in which everything that has gone before, lyrically speaking, gets pancaked into the short rhetorical question that is spat out in a roar.

The Side 2 songs are just as fast but are slightly different in that they sometimes have a dual vocal approach (Dorrian singing the lyrics and Harris helping out on garbled background vocals and screaming) and the standard of musicianship is a bit better with some songs actually having changes in rhythm and pace and Bll Steer managing to get in a frenzied fat-sounding lead guitar solo suggestive of burgeoning bacteria on "Parasites". Songs like "Success?", "Stigmatized" and "M.A.D." have bouncy, almost danceable rhythms and it's clear from the energy on these tracks that the musicians enjoy each other's company.

Musically the album is short on technical finesse and you could argue that if all the songs had been better written and had some real structure in the way of definite riffs and melodies, then the guys would have something to channel their energy and righteous anger with the result that their message would be more effective and hard-hitting and listeners would feel the anger and aggression coming out of the music. As it is, the emotion seems blocked and all over the place and unfocussed. With the songs being so short, there is not much scope for a guitarist with some talent like Bill Steer to prove his chops. But possibly the idea behind "Scum" was to create something that was anti-capitalistic and anarcho-punk in spirit and that might have meant doing away with "capitalist" music concepts such as melody and pacing and all the other things that make music amenable to listeners' preferences (which sometimes can be pretty narrow), therefore we have "anti-music" as well as "anti-capitalist" music.

Overall the lyrics are more important than the actual music itself and I think this is very much in sync with Napalm Death having been more of an outlet for expressing a particular point of view and ideology about what music should be about, and changing people's perceptions of music composition.

This is obviously one of those recordings where the legend surrounding it is greater than the actual object that spawned it deserves but that's often the way with famous albums. I could take an example of a legendary album like Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" which is hugely famous and which a lot of people regard in awe: I find that a lot of the music on that record is really very ordinary, indulgent and forgettable, and the hoopla that's surrounded the album since its 1973 release just seems to get bigger and more out of control.