Revolver has a limited-edition white vinyl variant of Carcass' new record Torn Arteries — plus an exclusive gold version Bill Steer's final album with grindcore pioneers Napalm Death, From Enslavement to Obliteration. Get yours before they're gone!
In 1988, British grindcore pioneers Napalm Death dropped their sophomore album, From Enslavement to Obliteration. The record, which came on the heels of the previous year's trailblazing Scum LP, was a full-force vicious assault — an alternately trudging, grooving and breakneck statement that has become a quintessential example of the grindcore style and one of the genre's most celebrated records.
From Enslavement to Obliteration was also a pivotal moment for the group, as it marked the first album with current longtime bassist Shane Embury and last with vocalist Lee Dorrian (later of Cathedral and Rise Above Records fame) and guitarist Bill Steer.
Shortly after its release, Steer left Napalm to focus on Carcass — and went on to solidify his position as one of extreme metal's greatest guitarists on their seven albums of gore-grind-turned–melodic death metal excellence: from 1988 debut Reek of Putrefaction to this year's Torn Arteries.
We recently caught up with Steer to look back at his early, formative days in Napalm Death. Below, the guitarist revisits the "odd" experience of witnessing the underground erupt into the mainstream, what he learned from working with Napalm's "force of nature" Mick Harris and much more.
YOU PLAYED ON THE FIRST TWO NAPALM DEATH RECORDS: SCUM AND FROM ENSLAVEMENT TO OBLITERATION. YOU GUYS WERE REALLY PUSHING THE LIMITS OF EXTREME MUSIC BACK THEN. I'M CURIOUS, WERE THERE SPECIFIC BANDS YOU WERE LISTENING TO THAT INSPIRED YOUR APPROACH?
BILL STEER Well, I think around then we were all immersed in the underground. And when I say all of us, I mean not just the lads in Napalm, Carcass as well and other people in the social circles we moved in. So never mind albums, we were really fixated on what was happening in the tape-trading scene, some of our favorite bands were groups that were still making demos.
THESE DAYS YOU'RE KNOWN AS AN OPEN-MINDED MUSIC CONNOISSEUR. WAS THAT SPIRIT IN PLACE BACK THEN? OR WAS IT, LIKE, DEATH DEMOS AND FUCK EVERYTHING ELSE!
[Laughs]. No, so back in 1988 I would have been 18, I was starting to open up again about music. I would have been listening to a bit of Joni Mitchell or the Sweet. I was definitely open to those things. But in the context of those bands — especially on the long van journeys we were undertaking — you had to have some common ground. And that would tend to be stuff like Death or Repulsion. That stuff was very influential on all of us, and also with a couple of the Napalm guys there was a bit of Japanese hardcore like S.O.B. coming through.
IN GENERAL, WHAT DO YOU RECALL ABOUT YOUR TIME IN NAPALM DEATH? WAS IT INSPIRING, CHALLENGING OR …
It was all those things. [Laughs] You only get that naiveté once in your life. It was brilliant, I feel very fortunate. It felt then, and it still feels now, that I was in the right place at the right time. There were times that were difficult … for one reason or another. [Laughs] But generally it was very good vibes, very exciting. That kind of extreme music was relatively new. Or at least it was new to people that weren't tape-traders or underground folk. Some of the stuff we were doing was creeping into the mainstream. So, yeah, you got to feel like there's an element of luck in that. Because we were by no means the first band to play fast. [Laughs] That had been going on for quite a number of years.
YOU WERE VERY YOUNG WHEN YOU CUT THOSE ALBUMS. DO YOU RECALL BEING NERVOUS GOING INTO THE STUDIO?
Um, let me think … When we went in to record the B-side of Scum I think we did that off the back of one rehearsal. So, yeah, there would have been some nerves. [Laughs] But it was tempered by pure excitement. I had been a fan quite some time before they asked me to join. I didn't take the situation lightly at all.
DO YOU HAVE A STANDOUT TRACK OR PERFORMANCE FROM EITHER SCUM OR FROM ENSLAVEMENT?
Oh wow, you know I haven't listened to those records in so many years! [Laughs] … That's difficult as hell. That's funny … now that you've point it out, I can't even remember the last time I heard that Napalm stuff. But if somebody was to play it to me now I'd be all-ears because it has been so long. I don't think I would have any kind of mixed feelings on that, it would just be joy … and maybe a bit of hilarity. [Laughs]
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY WAS YOUR BIGGEST TAKEAWAY FROM PLAYING IN NAPALM DEATH?
Mmm, goodness. It's hard to separate all of it. There'd be a bunch of things. I think from working with [drummer] Mick Harris — who was the guy who brought me into the band and was completely the driving force of that group in those days — just the sheer intensity with which he attacked things. I was going to say "approached," but that would be the wrong word. [Laughs] He was tenacious. He was a force of nature. We were just hanging on to his coattails, quite frankly. I was honored he'd asked this little kid from a tiny town in the North to join the band. I didn't have any world experience. The other guys were a little bit more urban and worldly. So, I was grateful to him for that opportunity.
And the other things were more, just … being put in bizarre situations. Because this was an underground band that was supposed to be difficult to listen to for most people. Then occasionally we'd turn up on national radio or television. So, it didn't feel extremely comfortable, to be honest, it was surreal. I'm not sure what I took away from that. [Laughs] It's probably something I can't articulate. But it was very odd.