Napalm Death weren’t just the heaviest band at Primavera yesterday – they may have been the most relevant too

Going to this straight after Caroline Polachek was interesting

There has been a lot of polish on show at Primavera Sound 2022. Clearly artists have reacted to the previous fallow years by refining and perfecting their live chops, and this has resulted in some spectacular performances this time around, with even acts on the smaller stages going all-out with choreographed dance shows, elaborate stage decorations and expansive visuals. As with any feast, though, variety makes the experience even richer, and after two days of sugar, it was time for a kick of spice. 

Admittedly it’s weird to think of Napalm Death as a palate cleanser. A band that has spent four decades weaponising their music into a brutally efficient sonic assault, they are more like an aggressive scrub down with caustic soda than a light sorbet, but they do the trick. There’s hardly time to give the guitar and bass a quick tune before the band launch into their set tonight, taking a fair portion of the assembled crowd entirely by surprise. In the blink of an eye, the opening four songs are barked out in rapid succession, setting the tone for a performance that rarely lets up in pace and intensity.

At face value, it’s difficult to understand why Napalm Death works at a festival like Primavera. While the organisers have always enjoyed throwing the punters the odd curveball, the Birmingham four-piece have always felt a bit out there on a line-up that covers experimental pop, hip hop and indie. Yet this band could be the ultimate Primavera booking when you think about it, perhaps because Napalm Death are nothing if not progressive. Their mashing together of death metal and crust punk founded and defined the grindcore genre, and their radical politics and community-spirited philosophy make them just about the most generous performers on any lineup.

The set tonight is a whistlestop tour through the band’s back catalogue, and material from almost every album is well-represented. An act that can easily back fifty songs into an hour-long performance, songs arrive and depart at a frenetic pace, giving the assembled onlookers almost no time to regain their senses. However, in all the chaos, I managed to pick out most fan favourites, including ‘Scum’, ‘Deceiver’, ‘You Suffer’ and ‘Siege of Power’. 

However, it’s a moment in the last quarter of the show that stands out as a testament to the band’s staying power. Coming up for air briefly, panting frontman Barney Greenway apologises and asks if he can address the crowd in English. “At the moment, across an ocean, there are people who think it’s okay to tell other people what to do with their bodies,” he tells us. “I think that’s fucking disgusting.”

They then launch into a bruising rendition of 1990’s ‘Suffer the Children’, one of the band’s classics, that deals with the dangers of religious interference and closed-minded thinking. In one song, it sums up everything that Napalm Death are about. Whatever you think about their music, it’s hard to deny that they’re a rare band who have effectively combined music with a social purpose. Their sound is ugly because society is ugly and serves to warn us that intolerance, exploitation and fascism end in destruction and death. It’s just a shame that in the 40 years they’ve been around, Napalm Death remain as relevant as ever. We have truly learnt nothing.

Photography by Sam Walton and Eric Pamies