Scum (Napalm Death album)

Last updated

Studio album by
Released1 July 1987 (1987-07-01)
RecordedAugust 1986 (1986-08)–May 1987 (1987-05)
StudioRich Bitch Studios, Birmingham
Genre Grindcore [1]
Label Earache
Producer Napalm Death, Unseen Terror, Head of David, Dig
Napalm Death chronology
From Enslavement to Obliteration
Singles from Scum
  1. "You Suffer"
    Released: 1989

Scum is the debut studio album by English grindcore band Napalm Death. It was released on 1 July 1987 through Earache Records. It is widely considered a formative influence on the grindcore genre.


The two sides of the record were recorded by two different lineups in sessions separated by about year. The only musician in both incarnations was drummer Mick Harris. The two sides are very different, and the two taken together serve to bridge stylistic elements of heavy metal and punk rock. While the songs on the A-side are influenced heavily by hardcore punk and anarcho-punk, the vocals and lower-tuned electric guitars on the B-side anticipates subsequent developments in extreme metal.

The album sold more than 10,000 copies in the year of its release and reached #8 on the UK Indie chart. In 2005, Scum was voted the 50th best British album of all time by Kerrang! readers, and in 2009 was ranked number five in Terrorizer's list of essential European grindcore albums. [2] Scum is listed in Robert Dimery's book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die . [3]

Recording and release


The Mermaid in Birmingham, where Napalm Death frequently supported touring punk bands in the early and mid 1980s. The Mermaid, Sparkhill.jpg
The Mermaid in Birmingham, where Napalm Death frequently supported touring punk bands in the early and mid 1980s.

Napalm Death formed in 1981. After various personnel changes, demo recordings, and a period of dormancy, they had returned to activity in 1985 with a lineup of Nicholas Bullen (vocals, bass), Justin Broadrick (guitar), and Miles Ratledge (drums). Around this time, Daz Russell, promoter of the club The Mermaid in Birmingham, had essentially made Napalm Death the punk "house band" of his club. [4] Due to the local popularity of the band, this arrangement secured him the visitor numbers sufficient to generate enough revenue to pay the foreign bands playing at the club. [5] Napalm Death therefore supported all the hardcore punk bands that Russell booked, including Anti Cimex, Sacrilege, Heresy, Concrete Sox, and The Varukers. Bassist Peter Shaw also briefly played with the band while Bullen sang exclusively. After recording their demo Hatred Surge, Shaw and founding drummer Ratledge departed, and the latter was replaced by Mick Harris in November 1985. Harris aspired to play faster than any other drummer, citing U.S. hardcore bands Siege and Deep Wound as influences. The first live appearances with this lineup took place in January 1986 with Amebix and Instigators, and the new lineup had allowed the band to become more musically adept. [6] In March 1986, the group entered Flick Studios and recorded the demo From Enslavement to Obliteration, combining their initial anarcho-punk influences with riffs akin to those of Celtic Frost and extremely fast drumming. [7]

A-Side recording

Napalm Death intended to record another demo in 1986, as no record label had yet shown interest in the band. [8] Russell offered to release either a single or split for the band on his newly formed independent label. [7] The band thus entered the Rich Bitch studio in Birmingham to record a set of songs. The recordings took place over two days, with sessions happening at night due to the studio charging a lower hourly recording rate during this time. [9] Around 20 friends of the band were present for the sessions. [10] These included the members of the bands Head of David and Unseen Terror, who are listed on the record as producers, as well as Damian Thompson of Sacrilege, from whom Broadrick had borrowed an effects pedal. [11]

The songs came from different phases of the band's development. Some material was based on ideas from Justin Broadrick dating to 1983, [12] while others derived from material written by Broadrick and Ratledge for the Hatred Surge demo. The songs "The Kill", "You Suffer", and "Death by Manipulation" were included on From Enslavement to Obliteration, [13] but the versions of the songs recorded during this session were faster than the originals. Russell paid the initial studio costs, but Napalm Death decided not to give him the master tapes because he had never paid them for their appearances at The Mermaid. [7]

The demo was distributed to various record labels. Manic Ears Records had planned to release it as a split album with Atavistic, but the label owner Shane Dabinett ultimately withdrew his offer. Napalm Death also received a cancellation from Pushead and his label Pusmort Records.

Lineup changes

After the recording sessions, there was tension in the band. Bullen attributed this to the fact that every band member wanted to take over the leading role. [14] In September 1986, Jim Whiteley joined as bass player while Bullen switched to singing exclusively. This coincided with Bullen's loss of interest in Napalm Death and music more generally. [15] After a concert in Leeds with Sacrilege, Broadrick left the band to play drums in Head of David, [16] which was at the time more successful than Napalm Death after having released an album for Blast First, the label of Sonic Youth. [15] Broadrick was initially replaced by Frank Healy, and later by the 16-year-old Bill Steer. Soon thereafter, Bullen left Napalm Death to pursue his studies of English literature and philosophy at the university. Lee Dorrian joined as the band's new singer. The new lineup's sound reflected an increasing interest in heavy metal while remaining rooted in anarcho-punk.

In late 1986, the band came into contact with Digby Pearson, who had just founded Earache Records. [17] Pearson had learned of the band after receiving the recordings from Broadrick. [18] Subsequently he became interested in the band's activities.

B-side recording

The rear of Rich Bitch Studios, where Napalm Death recorded both sides of Scum in studio sessions, one each in 1986 and 1987, featuring two different lineups. Rear of Rich Bitch Studios - Bournbrook by Phil Champion.jpg
The rear of Rich Bitch Studios, where Napalm Death recorded both sides of Scum in studio sessions, one each in 1986 and 1987, featuring two different lineups.

In March 1987, Napalm Death signed a contract with Pearson, who bought the master tape from 1986 recordings [19] and booked the Rich Bitch Studio to record further material. [20] Harris had written 16 songs with Steer in his parents' house in Liverpool. Two songs were written by Steer, and Whiteley was involved in some of the arrangements. [21] Harris had written tracks on a guitar despite not being able to play the instrument. He did this simply by tuning the A and E strings and removing the others, recording the guitar parts on a tape recorder. The lyrics were written by Whiteley, while Dorrian added some material on the night before the recordings. [20] The band had only one three-hour rehearsal before entering the studio in May 1987. [20]

The recordings took place under the direction of sound engineer Mike Ivory. [20] As was the case for the recording sessions yielding the A-side, the B-side recording sessions were held overnight for reasons related to cost. The recordings were difficult, especially for Dorrian, who was in a recording studio for the first time. Harris had to signal to Dorrian to indicate the moments at which he was to begin singing. [22] The band was not satisfied with the initial mix, particularly due to the drum sound. Pearson organized a final studio mixing session, which took place from 4 to 8 o'clock in the morning, to fix the initial mixes. [20]

Initial release

Pearson wanted to release Napalm Death's debut not as a mini-album and not as a split, but instead as a complete album. [23] He did not believe, however, that the current lineup, which had not been active for long, could write enough songs for an album in a reasonable time. He therefore decided to use the previously unused recordings from August 1986 as an A-side for an album. There was little reason to expect the record to achieve commercial success, and for this reason, the budget for the record's production was very low. Pearson spent nearly all of his savings for the recording, production, and promotion of the album. It was his label's third release, and the album's failure would have potentially spelled bankruptcy. [23] In June 1987, the album was released in a pressing of 2000 copies. [24]


Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic Star full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svg [25]
The Metal Forge10/10 [26]
Metal Forces 9.1/10 [27]
Pitchfork Media 8.4/10 [28]

Commercial success

Earache Records secured a contract with Revolver Records and thus was able to ensure the nationwide distribution of its releases, so that the first edition of the album sold out within a few weeks. Simultaneously, Napalm Death embarked upon the first tour in their history along with Ripcord. [29] The most decisive cause of the commercial success of Scum came when radio host John Peel played songs from the album on his radio show BBC Radio 1 and subsequently invited the band to perform a Peel Session. On 13 September 1987, Napalm Death recorded twelve tracks with a total playing time of 5 minutes and 40 seconds, which were first broadcast on 22 September 1987. The broadcast gave the album national attention, and Earache Records thus pressed another edition. This sold well, leading Napalm Death to procure the number 8 spot on the UK Indie Charts. Within a few weeks of the first Peel Session, about 10,000 units of the album had been sold. [30]

Later releases and legacy

The first pressing of the CD (1988) included 54 tracks, adding the From Enslavement to Obliteration album and four bonuses. In 1994, the first two albums were re-released separately. A remastered version was released on 27 January 2012. The album cover was designed by Bill Steer's Carcass bandmate Jeffrey Walker. The album covers came in varied colours: orange, gold, green, blue, and yellow.

The album stands as a landmark achievement. Natalie J. Purcell described the album a formative influence on the European grindcore, [31] while Ian Christe called Scum the conclusion of a ten-year competition for the fastest and hardest sound, marking the point from which neither speed nor intensity could increase. [32] The album is regarded as the "central release of grindcore" both musically and lyrically, marking "the height of the discourse of extremization" within the British punk scene. [33] The song "You Suffer" was listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the world's shortest song; the track is precisely 1.316 seconds long. [34]

Napalm Death remained active in the years that followed, but by the 1991 departure of Mick Harris, all members that had played on either side of Scum had been replaced by new members.

Track listing

1."Multinational Corporations"1:06
2."Instinct of Survival"2:26
3."The Kill"0:23
5."Caught... in a Dream"1:47
6."Polluted Minds"0:58
8."Siege of Power"3:59
10."Born on Your Knees"1:48
11."Human Garbage"1:32
12."You Suffer"0:01
14."Prison Without Walls"0:38
15."Point of No Return"0:35
16."Negative Approach"0:32
21."Pseudo Youth"0:42
22."Divine Death"1:21
23."As the Machine Rolls On"0:42
24."Common Enemy"0:16
25."Moral Crusade"1:32


Side A

Side B

Additional personnel


Chart (1987)Peak
UK Indie Chart [36] 7

Related Research Articles

Grindcore is an extreme fusion genre of heavy metal and hardcore punk that originated in the mid-1980s, drawing inspiration from abrasive-sounding musical styles, such as: thrashcore, crust punk, hardcore punk, extreme metal, and industrial. Grindcore is characterized by a noise-filled sound that uses heavily distorted, down-tuned guitars, grinding overdriven bass, high speed tempo, blast beats, and vocals which consist of growls and high-pitched shrieks. Early groups like Napalm Death are credited with laying the groundwork for the style. It is most prevalent today in North America and Europe, with popular contributors such as Brutal Truth and Nasum. Lyrical themes range from a primary focus on social and political concerns, to gory subject matter and black humor.

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