Fight Fire with Fire is an ongoing series on our site where we pit two classic genre albums against each other to definitively figure out which one is better. “But they’re both great!” you’ll say. Yes, these albums are the best of the best. But one is always better. Plus, we love these sorts of exercises, and also love watching you battle each other to the death in the comments, so how could this possibly end poorly?
Well, we had to come to this one eventually here in this column, didn’t we? We’ve had a more modern grindcore showdown with Nasum taking on Discordance Axis, but we still haven’t gone back to where the blasting all began: Napalm Death’s Scum and Repulsion’s Horrified.
And, oh, man, talk about a difficult task here. One is basically ground zero for grindcore and one is where every goregrind band on the planet takes inspiration from. Both were pioneering, forward-thinking and ahead of their time. Both still sound amazing today.
They’re also both marred a bit by confusion: Napalm Death’s LP is two different recording sessions from two different lineups on the two sides, while Repulsion’s wasn’t officially released as an album until three years after it was recorded. None of that matters a whole lot, but when filing these things in the cluttered mental metal mindspace, it… well, no, it doesn’t matter, we’re just weird that way.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t make my job any easier today as we look back on these two grindcore milestones and determine which of the two is the better album. We’ve got a tough task ahead of us, so get ready to grind.
Napalm Death – Scum
I mean, contextually speaking, and looking at the historical importance of this album, it’s untouchable. It’s by no means Napalm Death’s best album, but it’s Scum: it’s just undeniable. Released in 1987, the album is immensely important in the history of extreme music. But beyond being important, it’s just awesome, every song incredibly hungry and wildly energetic, and, all these years later, those feelings still ooze out of every second of this record.
Of course, you have to break down Scum by side, so let’s start with side A, 12 songs with Nic Bullen on vocals and bass, Justin Broadrick on guitars and Mick Harris on drums, recorded in August 1986.
“Multinational Corporations” is as killer a crust-grind opener as they come, period. It’s a legendary opener, iconic, and it sets the mood perfectly for what’s about to happen. “Instinct of Survival” rules, a classic crusty riff kicking things off before the world-eating grind begins and the chaos descends, while the title track has both sludge and a slight boogie (!) to the proceedings; it’s the sludge riff that really nods to the majesty of what this band will become, though, before things collapse into beautiful grind despair again.
The side is just grind hit after grind hit, songs like “Polluted Minds” doing what they came to do, no more, no less (well, there is that insane guitar solo thrown in there).
Then there’s “Siege of Power,” the band suddenly dropping a four-minute song amongst all this, a song that says, look, we’re not just a blinders-on one-trick grind pony, and shows what this band will be capable of on upcoming albums.
And, of course, “You Suffer.”
Side B features Harris, Lee Dorrian on vocals (you, of course, know him from Cathedral, and I maintain that although Napalm Death’s early era and Cathedral are worlds apart sonically, they are next-door neighbors on a philosophical level), Jim Whiteley on bass and the one and only Bill Steer on guitars. Recorded in May 1987, the songs are heavier and lean less on crust than they do on early extreme metal. Opener “Life,” for example, is a killer example of this, the song definitely having crusty roots but also a heavier, death-leaning sound.
“Prison Without Walls” takes punk riffs and chaos and filters them through a death metal framework that barely existed at that point, and “Point of No Return” grinds hard, fast and concise.
Songs like the awesome “Success” continue with the no-frills grindcore, and it’s, well, a success. The passion and youthful enthusiasm that so obviously comes out of every note of this song and of every song here is amazing, and it still connects with the listener, even as the listener has grey in their beard and is juggling trying to write this with a two-year old running off with their Speckmann Project LP (hey, get back here with that; also, forgot I had that).
Even though in general side B feels more death metal, the songs are all grind-length; there’s no “Siege of Power” here, even though it would fit in better on this side. The riffs on cuts like “Divine Death” are caveman in the best of ways, but the band was cultivating some serious smarts here even on their early material.
The production was always a stumbling point for me really loving Scum, everything a bit too blocky and stiff on both sides, which is, of course, fair enough, considering when this was recorded. Still, it stops it from connecting completely with me, but we’re talking a 99 percent connection rate instead of a 100 percent connection rate, and that’s just because I’m, admittedly, a bit fussy over production sounds. Also, there is a bit of a compilation feeling here given the two sides having different lineups and coming from different recording sessions, something else that has always sort of got in the way of the record feeling fully realized to me.
That aside, it’s just an incredible album, a steamroller of forward momentum, with the drumming in particular being noteworthy for the era, and still a pleasure to listen to, and air drum along with, today. This record created shock waves still felt—and used for inspiration—by grind bands the world over to this day. All told, it’s Scum, and I love grindcore, so it doesn’t get much better than this.
Repulsion – Horrified
With less of a crust-punk anger and more of a burbling gore-grind festering sore kinda thing going on, here comes Repulsion’s Horrified, with cover art just as iconic as Scum’s (really, we do need to take a second to give hails to both these covers right about now). Recorded in 1986 and released as the Slaughter of the Innocent cassette that same year, Horrified didn’t see an official release until 1989, on Necrosis Records. But not because it wasn’t worth releasing: Horrified rules from the get-go, opener “The Stench of Burning Death” a grind classic, and it’s followed up by, oh, about 17 other grind classics before the album is done 29 minutes later. But, seriously, take the first five songs here, put on headphones, and let the grimy grind just take you away.
Then there’s “Radiation Sickness,” a song that takes the best of first-album Terrorizer and second-album Carcass and out of that creates an absolutely perfect two minutes of music. “Splattered Cadavers” is to-the-finish line speedgrindmayhem, somewhere between high-school joke band and ultra sophisticated high-art grind, of course ending up way smarter than the former and way stoopider than the latter, that sweet spot where the best grindcore lives; I mean, Repulsion kinda created that space with this record.
As the album goes on, the hits just keep coming: “Pestilent Decay” grinds and starts and stops and here’s a batshit solo and this fucking rules; “Driven to Insanity” has a victorious punk gallop to it; “Six Feet Under” is successful borderline noisecore. “Bodily Dismemberment” works a fast punk tempo with much success, and the song “Repulsion” starts the beginning of the album’s end with a beautiful grinding maelstrom.
The guitar work on this record is awesome, the solos in particular adding a sideways sense of chaos to the proceedings, the drumming a stellar example of early blasting.
The title track ends off and totally rules, it’s epic, it’s crazed, it’s a great way to end this record, one that, we tend to forgot, has more atmosphere to it than most gore-grind that would follow, the band sort of walking us through the labyrinths with some of these songs, taking us to the house of horror at the end, but doing a pretty good job at blindfolding us and turning us around in circles a few times first. And it’s mainly through those wild guitar solos it does that, but the songs themselves, while simple, manage to create tons of feeling. From upbeat punk to blinders-on grind, there’s not a second on this record that makes you want to stop listening—every song brings you to the next, which brings you to the next, which brings you to the end in a blaze of gory glory.
With a better production sound than Scum and songs that feel a bit more fully realized, Horrified is an incredible document of early grindcore, leaning heavily into what will become goregrind.
I love Horrified. It will always be a rewarding and satisfying listen, and it’s actually aging wonderfully, everything fermenting exactly how it should, the album serving as inspiration for scores of goregrinders but also showing its head in stalactite-searching death and even cosmic DM, if you stare into the void long enough. And for good reason: with this album, the band didn’t just lay down goofy blasting grindcore songs, they actually crafted something quite individual, much like Napalm Death did with Scum, both albums singular at the time and both only getting better as the years march forth.
Scum is righteous anger in the squats; Horrified is a disorienting gore flick. They both are classics in the genre. But a winner emerges through the blinding blasting, and it wasn’t easy. Napalm Death are one of our favorites, but today the ultimate classic grindcore champs emerge as Repulsion with Horrified.
Horrified is just straight-up a ton of fun to listen to, the album all at once gory, frantic, and enveloping, the sonics crushing, the atmosphere consuming, the grinding totally perfect, the horror continuing year after year, decade after decade, forever and ever providing us the soundtrack as we stumble forth into the dark, terrible, horrifying future.