Napalm Death’s 1987 album Scum is an interesting album. It’s not only interesting for its music, but also the story of its recording.
You see, Scum is essentially two albums in a 28-song 33-minute long package.
You heard me right. Twenty-eight songs, 33 minutes.
The average song on this album is quite short, with most falling in a range of being 30 seconds to one minute, thirty seconds long.
The band, or more properly bands, blast through these songs at a sonic pace, never really giving the listener a chance to breathe. There are some breaks in the blast beats, with the band slowing down to a mid-paced grind, but on the most part, you feel like you’re getting shanked repeatedly by the Flash.
I refer to this as essentially two albums by two bands because on the original vinyl recording, the lineup was different, save for the drummer, Mick Harris. Interestingly, Harris was not an original member himself, joining in 1985, four years after the band formed. At the time Side A of Scum was recorded, Bullen was the only original member left from the 1981 lineup.
Side A consists of Harris, Nick Bullen on vocals and Justin Broadrick on guitar. We’ve talked about Broadrick’s post Napalm Death band, Godflesh, before and he won’t be the only one on this album to go on and find success in a different band.
Lyrically speaking, Napalm Death can be described as rather left wing. So, if you’re conservatively inclined and don’t want to even seem like you’re supporting someone who has a different opinion, I guess you’d probably want to skip the album. On the other hand, if politics don’t really matter to you when it comes to art, then keep reading.
Anyway, side A kicks off with “Multinational Corporations” which surprisingly doesn’t have the blast beats that Napalm Death, and grindcore in general, are known for.
Standout tracks on Side A include “Instinct for Survival” which is pretty much the second half of “Multinational Corporations.” It is where the album really kicks off and it lets you know you’re going to be in for a merciless experience.
The title song “Scum” is probably my favorite on the album. It starts off with this grinding groove that you’ll find yourself bobbing your head along with before it lays into you with blast beats. Even when performed by a different lineup 30 years later, this song still kicks ass, which I say makes it a classic.
“Siege of Power” is the longest, and probably slowest paced overall, of the album. It also gives a hint of what the future holds for Napalm Death as this is pretty much a solid, mid-paced metal song. “Human Garbage” is also another standout, starting out with a really punk intro before it kicks off into blast beats then flows into pure metal before ending on another blast beat. “Life?” is another stand out before it leads into the most famous song on this album “You Suffer.” “You Suffer” is famous for being one of the shortest songs ever recorded at 1.316 seconds. But … you’re not missing anything if you listen to it once and never again. The novelty wears off after one listen.
“You Suffer” marks the end of the Bullin/Broadrick/Harris part of the album. From there we go to Side B, which still features Harris on drums. Harris is joined on this side by Lee Dorrian on vocals, Bill Steer on guitar and Jim Whitely on bass.
For those who have heard Dorrian in Cathedral but not Napalm Death, don’t expect any similarities. On Scum, his performances are largely guttural growls or loud shrieks.
“Success?” is the first track of note on this side. It’s definitely a mosh pit song with its low-tuned grind. “C.S. (Conservative Shithead)” stands out for Whitely’s bass intro. It’s followed by 23-second-long “Parasites” which tunes things down even lower and throws in a short guitar solo.
Scum is an important album because it pretty much put the grindcore genre on the map.
Now, there are three negatives for me on this album. As with a lot of punk music, particularly that which incorporates blast beats, the short songs can sometimes leave you feeling like you hear a lot of great things that never get to develop into something greater. There’s also another problem with many of the songs having a very similar sound, with several songs having sections that sound like that from other songs on the same album. The other problem is that Harris’ drums seemed to be at the forefront of the mix on many songs, burying the other instruments.
Those are not major quibbles.
While the ultra-short songs, also called “microsongs” can seem to stifle creativity, Napalm Death is many times able to squeeze a lot of it in. I was able to enjoy parts of most of the songs, though sometimes the reliance on blast beats kept me from enjoying the whole. But, you’ll feel that mounting desire to roar along with the vocals at points, even if you don’t understand them, and that kind of shows how special this album is.
Now, I can’t really recommend running out and buying it. But I will say that you should go on YouTube or other online outlets and give it a listen. If it’s up your alley buy it, if not, then you still heard an important piece of heavy metal history.