Everyone knows about Birmingham’s heavy metal roots. The city’s love for it is so huge that it recently named the Commonwealth Bull after Ozzy Osbourne. But fewer know that the Second City was also the birthplace of another, much heavier and more brutal, genre of music. One that makes Black Sabbath sound like Lana Del Rey. We’re talking about Grindcore.
An extreme fusion of heavy metal and hardcore punk – with many tracks often lasting less than a minute – Grindcore is not for the faint of heart. Since originating in the mid-1980s, this British export has conquered all of Europe, North America and beyond with its shrieking and growling voices, blasting drums and thrashing guitars. But Grindcore had humble origins. Starting in a pub here in Birmingham.
The Mermaid in Sparkhill at the time was a hub for all kinds of noisy music. Heavy metal, anarcho-punk, post-punk, thrash, you get the idea. Basically, if you liked your music loud, this was where you went. But one band were about to push things further than ever. A Midlands-based band (amazingly) called Napalm Death made their debut at The Mermaid in 1985.
Soon they were playing regular shows here in Sparkhill, becoming the pub’s defacto house band. Developing a musical style that pulled from post-punk, hardcore punk and thrash metal. Essentially becoming the sole creators of Grindcore in front of Birmingham’s very eyes. (A distinct characteristic of this ultra-heavy, ultra-fast sound was the “hyper-speed” drumming of Birmingham-born Mick Harris.)
Of course, they weren’t the only band responsible for shaking the walls of The Mermaid nightly. The likes of Conflict, Antisect, Swans and Circle Jerks were all known to have played here. While The Mermaid’s DIY aesthetics – a hub for homemade fanzines, tapes and posters – made it visually stand out in the city. But it is still Napalm Death we mostly fondly associate with these all-day gigs – attracting punks and weirdos from all over the West Midlands to rock out.
The line-up of Napalm Death has changed countless times over the years. In fact, Napalm Death’s debut double album Scum features two distinct lineups – with Mick the only consistent. Barney Greenway, from Great Barr, who joined in 1989, is currently its longest-serving member. One thing that has remained consistent, however, is the band’s dedication to churning out some of the most brutal music Birmingham has ever heard. Thousands, if not millions, of record sales later, Napalm Death has spawned countless copycat bands across the world too.
Sadly, The Mermaid is no longer with us. But its importance to Birmingham’s music history is not in doubt. Recently Home of Metal ran a four-part podcast series on The Mermaid, which you can listen to here. Once again proving that no one does it harder, faster or heavier than Birmingham.