In 1981 Napalm Death started out with a completely different sound then we know today. Needless to say, by the mid 1980s they had absorbed Punk and Thrash Metal influences to develop a Harcore/"Grindcore" sound.
Their debut, Scum (1987), was a recording consisting mostly of two-minute blasts of noise dubbed over with Dorrian's vocal tirades. The lyrics dealt with social and political injustice, but were so unintelligible that it sounded like roaring, shouting and coughing. It was released on their own 'Earache' label, a record company that would eventually grow a life beyond the confines of the band. Their debut album featured Justin Broadrick (guitar), Mick Harris (drums) and Nick Bullen (bass/vocals) on side A, but on the B side the line up had apparently changed to Bill Steer (guitar), Jim Whitely (bass) and Lee Dorian (vocals), with Harris being the only successor. Broderick would go on to join Head Of David and Godflesh.
It was BBC Radio 1 DJ John Peel who was widely considered as the "discoverer" of this act when he took a liking to the 0.75 second track You Suffer from their debut album, and played it only three times before inviting them to the studio to record a session for the show in September 1987. This was later declared as the "classic sessions" referred to by Ken Garner's book on the subject. It also introduced new bass player Shane Embury (also of Unseen Terror, who split after one album and an EP in 1988).
Napalm Death would become known as more then just another Death act but also music innovators by creating what is known as the "blast snare technique", a method of drumming whereby the beat tempo is held at the maximum of human tolerance for extended periods of time. They quickly went on to form a strong following in the underground Heavy Metal scene. From Enslavement To Obliteration (1988) easily flew past previous extremes in music; all 54 tracks of it on one disc! (The first 27 featuring actual titled music). After a Japanese tour in 1989, both Dorrian and Steer left to form Cathedral and Carcass respectively; Mark "Barney" Greenway (ex-Bendiction) and U.S. guitarist Jesse Pintado (ex-Terrorizer) would replace them. The European Grindcrusher tour, with fellow style purveyors Bolt Thrower, Morbid Angel and Carcass, followed. By this time it was clear that the sound they had pioneered went past simple Death and Grindcore to influence others. Shortly after, they played their first U.S. dates in New York. The Peel Sessions (1989) was the publication attempting to cash in on their earlier BBC Radio 1 sessions. Further cashing in was achieved with the Mentally Murdered (1989) EP, Harmony Corruption (1990), Death By Manipulation (1991) "best of..." compilation and Mass Appeal Madness (1991) EP.
Harmony Corruption (1990) saw second guitarist Mitch Harris (ex-Righteous Pigs) added. This release, along with the Suffer The Children 12" (1990) would see Napalm Death form into the modern Death Metal we know them as now. During a 1992 tour, the only original band member, Mick Harris, was arrested for a jewelry shop robbery and opted to leave to join Scorn, making room for Danny Herrara, a friend of Pintado's from LA.
Their touring schedule continued in earnest while their fourth album, Utopia Banished (1992), showed their remarkable staying power. In 1993 they toured the usual U.S. and European venues, as well as the off-the-beaten-track places like Russia, South Africa and Canada. That same time they covered the Dead Kennedys' Nazi Punks Fuck Off as a single to reinstate their political intentions. This Punk influence would be taken to extremes on their Fear, Emptiness, Despair (1994) set. At least on this release they managed to generate an album that was, for the most part, coherent and consistent giving it the distinction of being their most successful. The mini-album Greed Killing (1995) followed, as did Diatribes (1996). More recently, their titles have included Inside The Torn Apart (1997), Words From The Exit Wound (1998), Leaders Not Followers EP (1999) and the subliminally titled Enemy Of The Music Business (2000). They then left 'Earache' and re-emerged on the 'Dreamcatcher' label drifting back toward their original style with Order Of The Leech (2002).
Due to personal problems, Jesse Pintado left in early 2004, overdubbing was used for the past album and next one. On his departure, he claimed he had tired of Napalm Death and wanted to start something new.
Leaders Not Followers: Part 2, the sequel to their earlier covers EP followed in 2004 containing covers of old hardcore punk and heavy metal bands, including Cryptic Slaughter, Massacre, Kreator, Sepultura, Siege and Discharge.
2005 saw The Code Is Red...Long Live the Code released. It also featured guest appearances from Jeffrey Walker (Carcass), Jamey Jasta (Hatebreed vocalist) and Jello Biafra (ex-Dead Kennedys, and Lard). Smear Campaign followed in June 2006.
Napalm Death released their fifteenth studio album, Utilitarian, on 27 February 2012.
Napalm Death were scheduled to play a special one-off show at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, on 22 March 2013 but the show was eventually cancelled due to concerns that the noise levels could damage parts of the museum; it was soon after re-scheduled to the De La Warr Pavilion.
Their sixteenth studio album, Apex Predator - Easy Meat, was released on 26 January 2015.