“A guy was drinking fluid out of the dry ice machine”: Inside Shane Embury’s new autobiography

Napalm Death bassist Shane Embury’s new autobiography is an unbelievable ride. In this exclusive extract of Life…? And Napalm Death, we find the band in America where they witness wild gigs, violence and odd drink choices…

“A guy was drinking fluid out of the dry ice machine”: Inside Shane Embury’s new autobiography
Shane Embury

They say everyone has at least one book in them. American journalist Christopher Hitchens added to this that this is where most of them should stay. In the case of Shane Embury, this is absolutely not the case.

As a teenager in the Midlands during the 1980s, he was part of and witness to an exciting underground musical movement where punk and metal were striking out in ever more exciting and often extreme directions. Since landing the job of bassist in Napalm Death in 1987 – as well as doing time in Lock Up, Brujeria, Venomous Concept and many, many other musical endeavours – Shane has helped sculpt the heavy music world, while travelling around most of the real one. As lifers go, he's up there with Lemmy.

Now, Shane has documented his life, travels and music in a new autiobiography, Life…? And Napalm Death. Taking in his early life, first bands, the rise of Napalm Death, the mad things you see clocking up so many miles – violence, political divides, laughs with similarly legendary bands – as well as the struggles and challenges of being one of music's long-servers, it's an enthralling read.

Here, in an exclusive extract, we join Shane and the lads on Napalm Death's first tour of America in 1991…

Napalm Death played our first proper U.S. tour in the spring of 1991. It was about as unglamorous as touring gets, but it was beyond exciting. We met people I knew from the tape-trading scene, but I also met loads of new people, and I’m still in touch with a lot of them today.

There were some crazy gigs on that tour, and the craziest was our very first show in Los Angeles. It was at a place called the Country Club in Reseda, with us, Godflesh and the American death metal band Nocturnus on the bill. Jesse’s dad was on the bus and Mitch’s parents had come down from Vegas, so it was a pretty big night for them.

There were a lot of Mexican and Latin American kids in the crowd. Grindcore and death metal are big in that community – I guess they got off on the speed and aggression of it all because it lets people burn a lot of energy and frustration. We were trying to play, and there were a bunch of people literally lining up to stage dive. We had a bottle of fluid for the dry ice machine, and at one point this guy picked it up and started drinking it, then he just ran off and dived into the crowd. I remember Mickey standing up on the back of his drumkit, going, “This is a fucking doss” in his Birmingham accent while all this insanity was going on around us.

Napalm Death on our tour bus with Andy Baker of Sacrilege UK

There was a serious edge to it as well. I’d heard rumours of how violent LA shows could be. At one point, this guy named Danny came up to us and said he was a friend of Jesse’s. He told us, “You need to go backstage, somebody’s going around with a knife, stabbing people.” We found out later that there had been three stabbings, and one guy had died. It was gang related rather than anything to do with Napalm, but it was still pretty heavy. The guy who came up to us and warned us to go backstage was Danny Herrera – funnily enough, he’d end up joining Napalm a few months later.

That American tour marked the end of an era in a way. Not long after that, Mickey Harris quit Napalm Death. Looking back, I think I’d seen it coming. Partly because he had just had a kid, but also because I could sense he was getting restless. Mickey liked hardcore and metal, but he loved mad experimental music too. Industrial bands like Ministry and Nine Inch Nails were in vogue at the time, and he wanted to do something like that. I was all for experimenting, but not every five seconds. Going from death metal straight into that would have been one turn too many, even though I was into that kind of music too.

Jesse Pintado and myself meeting Scott Carlson and Aaron Freeman of influential band Repulsion in Detroit

It’s funny, people sometimes think that because I’m a member of Napalm Death, I only listen to extreme music. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I’d grown up listening to bands like Slade and Sweet, then graduated to Sabbath and Dio and eventually to more extreme metal and punk. But coming into Napalm’s world really opened me up to a lot of stuff I’d never listened to before, and Mickey was a big part of that.

When I met Mickey, he said, “Have you listened to John Peel?” I knew who John Peel was – this DJ who played all this weird music – but he’d never really come onto my radar before. When you’re a young metalhead growing up in the early 80s, you listened to Tommy Vance’s Friday Rock Show on Radio 1. You might occasionally see Saxon or Judas Priest on Top Of The Pops, but the Rock Show was where you could hear ‘Satan’s Fall’ by Mercyful Fate.

When I got know Napalm, I realized there was this whole world of music going on that I didn’t know about. I started listening to Peel’s late evening show on Radio 1, and because of that I got into bands like Swans and the Birthday Party, stuff I never would have heard a couple of years earlier.

Most DJs have a playlist they stick to rigidly, but Peel played whatever he wanted to play – you’d get Napalm Death or Extreme Noise Terror followed straight after by some mad African percussion music. Not everything was great: you might get a song where you’d think, “I love this”, then it would be followed by something where you’d go, “This is utter bollocks”, but maybe you’d slowly come to appreciate it.

Shane Embury's book Life…? And Napalm Death is released on October 10 via Rocket 88, More info here.

Check out more:

Now read these

The best of Kerrang! delivered straight to your inbox three times a week. What are you waiting for?