Live Review: Napalm Death @ Rolling Hall, Seoul, South Korea, 01/09/12

My associates and I began the long and not exactly direct journey to South Korea a month prior to Napalm Death In Seoul, the capital. I have always found traveling to be tedious and agitating, with many an opportunity for something to go horribly wrong, this journey was no different. The beer we drank to get to sleep for the last and longest leg our flights wore off only a couple of hours in the air.

I woke up with a bad head to the terrible noise of a baby screaming and a desperation, to be somewhere other than the two square foot I was confined to for the next 8 hours. The rest of this time consisted of falling asleep in discomfort and sporadically jerking awake 2 inches away from an elderly Korean woman’s face or the trolley running over my foot, both of which can be startling in the first moments of consciousness.

The reason why I tell you this is that you appreciate the time and grit taken to bring you this review. Why not review them in England you say? Because its not the same, also I cant spend a month before hand in England in a hedonistic haze of food, Buddhism, monolithic neon cities and alcoholism.

1 month later, having returned from Japan that same day and with a string of flights home to follow in the morning, grindcore had become a little less appealing. We had been up all night drinking and leaving the relative comfort of our cheap sleazy motel, with a bath, a bed and a free softcore channel was difficult. In spite of this, we got ourselves ready, walked out onto the busy neon streets of Seoul and got a taxi to the venue. We eventually found the place called the “Rolling Hall” hidden in a backstreet by a “7-11” convenience shop across from one of Seoul’s many 4-lane death traps.

Korean cities are generally not aesthetically pleasing. The buildings mainly consist of high-rises, rearing their ugly heads as far as you can crane your neck, with only a few of the newer built buildings being of interest. Neon signs face you everywhere, perpetually advertising the bustling bars and restaurants. While there is always something interesting to look at, this does not put a fragile mind at ease. One other sensory shock is the possibility of walking into a solid wall of choking noxious gas. The haste to build when Korea gained independence from Japan after the war meant that sewer system was built shallow in the ground. The sweltering heat and humidity of the summer means that the smell of rotting shit hangs heavy in the air over drains, waiting to hit you in the back of your throat like a horrid, stinking, lead pipe.

As predicted there were plenty of foreigners at the venue. The first to meet us while we drank outside the shop were a group of loud humongous Americans comparing how metal they were and pretending to be in BLS. We made our way through the crowd to pay around the equivalent of around £30. Despite this blatant extortion, we walked down the stairs into a dark and surprisingly large basement venue.

Curiously, there were large amounts of Koreans present. Although the capital has a little more in the way of alternative culture, what passes as desirable in South Korea seems to be very linear. A superficial orgy of high street brands, male cosmetics and sculpted haircuts. Couples frequently wear the same sickening matching outfits. Every song heard in a street club or bar sounds like a ripped off version of “Riverside Motherfucker”. One of the more prolific male model’s frequenting the cover of billboards would not have to persuade you he was a woman. My friend swears to bludgeon his face to a pulp every time we see his stomach turning dreamy gaze upon us.

After some checking levels for a while, Mitch and Napalm’s sound guy, standing in for Shane (Embury) make themselves visible. The sound that suddenly erupts is an undistinguishable mess, but as Barney flies on stage, all flailing limbs and fists, the local crowd become wild and it’s easy to get in the mood all the same. It can’t be often that a band with Napalm’s repute visit and the crowd are visibly giddy in the good natured violence. The Koreans seize every opportunity to fly into someone or off-stage, the rareness of the occasion leaving no room for reservation, which meant keeping one eye opened for a well built mohawked man that landed on some poor bastards head every couple of minutes.

I’m not sure anything would dampen the spirit for the local crowd but the terrible sound made it hard to tell what was going on at all. The only clarity came with the vocals, which caused the rest of the mix to melt away entirely. Mitch’s attempts to correct this are lost in translation, “Turn the bass down”! he says in a way that you might negate with a deaf man issuing you a parking ticket.

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A few songs later, as the sound man was dragged outside and shot, the clarity seemed to be improving vastly. The viscous groove could be made out from the blasting madness giving the much needed distinction between riffs.

What makes Napalm Death great live became strikingly apparent, like a reflection of a flash camera off the top of Shane Emburys head, had he been there. ‘The Wolf I Feed’ from their newest album Utilitarian‘ is a slab of crusted aggression that utilizes simplicity with awesome effect, sitting alongside personal favourites’ from ‘Smear Campaign‘ easily, and proving that the strongest days of the veteran beast that is Napalm death continue.

Barney is true to his good and honest form, telling a Korean manically waving a flag on stage that he was “about people not flags”. The Korean got off stage looking not too dejected, unfamiliar with the stronger English dialects.

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The Brummy frontman always seems refreshingly eager to let the audience in on the concepts of the songs, like the corruption of the music industry, politicians, or racism, as is always brought up with the now staple Dead Kennedys cover ‘Nazi Punks Fuck Off’ which is later in the set. It should also be noted that they are one of a few bands that make it so far around the world, and consider their movements ethically; for example touring South Africa avoiding apartheid supporting venues and areas. Barneys predictable rant on religion arrives on cue for ‘Practice what you Preach’. I have always this a little simplistic and off point, but its certainly more relevant than when playing England, every Korean cities skyline is adorned with neon crosses, Christianity’s not struggling here.

Grinding relentlessly onward, the mic is passed across the front row, subject to guesswork and beaming faces for, ‘All is Said and Done’. ‘Suffer the Children’ is the one everyone knows and gets involved to, the chugging monster that leads into some of Napalm’s and less refined work. I cant say the ‘Scum‘ era is my favorite, but there is an appeal in its honest raw sound and the band have obviously decided to hit the crowd with a shovel load of gravel and finish on a primitive hateful note, which the venue is only too grateful for.

Barney sticks around and talks to some of the fans who clamour to get in sight before the band finish packing up; one Korean fellow squeals “I love you”, with an ecstatic smile and no reserve. Before long a large man in a suite ushers us outside and we all disperse, heading to the bars to become helpless victims of Korean drinking culture for another night.

Michael Collins

Images courtesy of Popkorn Music – more images from the show can be found here

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