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Grindcore has always had a rather ambiguous relationship with heavy metal. With an aesthetic and political orientation drawn as much from the crustiest of hardcore/punk as from the most extreme of extreme metal, this style of music has consistently reaped a harvest both brutal and bountiful by playing one part of its dual heritage off of the other. While some bands favor the punk/hardcore element, others focus their attention on the more metallic aspects of that legacy. In many ways, Nasum's three full-length studio albums 'Inhale/Exhale', 'Human 2.0' and 'Helvete' (all on Relapse Records), exemplify how grindcore negotiates its manifold heritage: by keeping the superlative savagery in the forefront while constantly tinkering with the ratio of metal to punk/hardcore, Nasum has distinguished itself as a grindcore band that is not only at the top of its genre, but a grindcore band that understands how best to profit from the peculiar qualities of this musical style.

Nasum's current album 'Helvete' (Swedish for "hell") has some mighty big shoes to fill. Its predecessor 'Human 2.0' was among the best grindcore albums to emerge in recent years. Clearly, there was little point in following the same formula and writing Human 3.0. At best, this model would be redundant and, at worst, it would be little more than a pale shadow of the original. From a creative standpoint, neither option would be ideal. The best option is to expand and explore, without making any sacrifice in the quality department. And that is exactly what Nasum accomplishes with 'Helvete'. A thicker, cleaner guitar tone, a few more mid-paced breakdown passages, and more pronounced chord progressions provide a boost to the metallic factor, yet without sacrificing the explosive outrage that is the hallmark of grindcore.

As drummer Anders Jakobson reveals, the changes heard on 'Helvete' are reflective, at least in part, of Nasum's more rigorous touring schedule in the wake of 'Human 2.0'. "It's been three years since the last album, and naturally some changes have happened; both in our style and sound, and in our roles as musicians and songwriters. I think that we subconsciously have written songs that are better suited for the live show than before," Jakobson hypothesizes. For the band, the demands associated with performing live had an important (if unplanned) effect on how and why 'Helvete' assumed its particular shape. "We've done a lot of touring (for us, at least) and we kind of know what we can do live and what we can't, and I feel that this has affected the songwriting subconsciously, because we didn't think much about it [while writing the new album]. We just wanted to create a kickass grindcore album. So we did it, without any plans or goals set in advance." Anders continues, explaining how some of the difficulties involved in performing Nasum's over-the-top musical extremity in a live environment may have encouraged the band to script its songs with the stage in mind, even though that quality was not a conscious objective during the songwriting stage.

"I believe this adjustment in the songwriting happened just by itself, because we sure didn't think about it," he affirms. "Since we never rehearse new songs with vocals, we never really know where the song is heading, from a live perspective. Many songs [aren't included in] the live show because we've written too-complex vocal structures in the studio, stuff that is virtually impossible to play and sing at the same time. For example, on our first album we had a song called 'Shapeshifter,' a groovy little number that many people said was their favourite. But every time that we tried to play it live, we just couldn't manage to get it right. But it's not only the vocal [arrangements] that decide if we can play a song or not; it can also be the way the song is structured for me, as a drummer. Some songs really are too tough for me to play live. Of course," he admits, "it's a matter of practice-some of the songs off of 'Human 2.0' I remember being very exhausting and tough to play when we first started to play that stuff live, but now the same songs are really easy to play (it also has to do with where we put the songs in our set).

"From that point of view, I feel that we have put ourselves one step ahead with the 'Helvete' songs," the drummer explains. "So far, we have played five of the songs live and they've turned out pretty good. A song like 'Scoop' I thought would be really tricky to pull off, and although I like the song a lot, I was a little bit reluctant to put it so early on the record [it's the second track on 'Helvete'], but it works out really good on stage. In the end, I think that this subconscious change is more evident for us as band members than for the average listener."

Nasum - Helvete CD Cover

As mentioned above, the production on 'Helvete' has also occasioned some important developments in Nasum's sound. With guitar tones that are more robust and cleaner than that heard on previous albums, Nasum now boasts a much more metallic delivery, though without losing even one iota of that all-important crusty aggression. For the band, this shift in the production values was very much a conscious decision, based on their views of the previous album.

"We've always wanted to have a heavy and good production on our recordings," Anders asserts, and then concedes that the realization of this objective "hasn't always been the final result" on past releases. He divulges: "'Human 2.0' felt really good while we recorded it, but it ended up [sounding] a little bit strange in the mix, and got even stranger after the mastering. I personally think that it has a kind of odd and cool sound that I know many people really hate because it's impossible to hear what we're playing or because it hurts their ears when they listen to it in headphones or whatever. So the big decision was to create the best fucking production that we could get. So we got the warm drum sound, and the big, fat guitar tones, which makes the album sound more metal. I've always seen Nasum as a hardcore/grindcore band with a metal sound, and that description should be even more fitting on 'Helvete'," claims the drummer.

And what of this line that musical convention has rather arbitrarily drawn between hardcore and metal? The abstract line that grindcore, and Nasum in particular, seems to flagrantly disregard, if not completely obliterate?

"We've always had one foot in the punk scene and one in the metal scene, which we've never seen as a disadvantage. Actually quite the opposite," Jakobson claims. Revealing his pragmatic side, he outlines some of the tangible benefits that can come from hybridizing two forms of music: "This way, we can attract more people (and maybe cross-connect with people from different scenes) and also tour with both punk/hardcore bands and metal bands. There used to be an old name for the hardcore bands that mixed their music with metal. During the '80s, this was called 'crossover' and, in that sense, I think Nasum is the ultimate crossover band. I don't know if this makes us unique or not," he cautiously explains, "because many of the grindcore bands that inspired us-such as Napalm Death, Terrorizer and Brutal Truth-mixed hardcore and metal in pretty much the same way as we do.

"What makes us different," Anders says, "might be that we have our doors open to other kinds of influences as well." His point is interesting, because it gestures toward that elusive quality that really allows Nasum to stand apart from many of its peers: an appreciation for balance and even-gasp-catchiness in its songwriting that is difficult to capture in a musical style known more for its uncompromising ethos than its ability to script catchy little ditties. Owing to the subtlety with which Nasum's openness to different influences is integrated into its total sound, the particular inspiration for any given song or passage is nearly impossible to infer simply by listening to the music in question. But indirectly, the band's sundry influences play an important role in shaping the band's music.

"We listen to a lot of different kinds of music, and everything we listen to and everything we like inspire us in some way or another, even though it might not be that obvious in our songs," the sticksman discloses. "It can be everything from jazz to pop. Of course, we're never going to put a straight jazz or pop part in our songs, but we will try to think about what it is we like from that certain jazz or pop source, and try to capture that feeling and fuse it with our style. We can do that by using strange chord progressions, strange chords, strange harmonies, strange rhythms and so on."


Returning once again to the punk/hardcore side of the grindcore coin, Nasum demonstrates a socio-political consciousness in its lyrics that firmly accords with its punk lineage. While Nasum's lyrics can be quite penetrating in their criticism, the band thankfully does not indulge in the temptation to adjudicate between right and wrong in a sermon-like fashion, as is often the case with politically informed bands. In other words, Nasum's lyrics don't tell you what to think, but they do suggest things that are worth thinking about. Unfortunately, the state of the world does not offer a whole lot of positives to ponder. "I'm afraid that I have to say that many of the lyrics deal with stuff that has happened in the world during the last couple of years, since George W. Bush started to rule America. After 9/11, a lot of Americans projected some really sick and twisted views upon the world. And the sickest person is in charge of the whole country. Mr. Bush and his ideas and deeds are a huge source of inspiration for our lyrics. But we write about other stuff as well, such as the situation in Israel and the growth of right-wing extremism in Europe."

Jakobson then turns to a topic of contemporary relevance: the recent U.S.-led war on Iraq. With a note of tragic irony, Jakobson observes that "the U.S. called the recent war in Iraq a way to free the Iraqis, which was a quite disturbing way to put it. Why is the U.S. so anxious to free the people of Iraq, and is bombing the whole country to pieces the right method to 'free' the people?" Anders queries. "I don't believe that the little children growing up in Iraq right now feel especially glad to be 'free' when their homes and relatives have been bombed to shreds. The oil is the big issue here. Jello Biafra already put it clearly on a spoken-word 7-inch during the 'first' war in Iraq with the other George Bush: 'Die for oil, sucker!' I think that we will experience some disturbing and unstable times until there are new presidential elections in the U.S. Let's hope the votes get counted right this time, because the world doesn't need George W. Bush."

It is probably safe to generalize that every artist hopes that his or her art affects an audience in some way, shape, or form. Indeed, it is the ability to provoke and to affect that signifies a powerful, accomplished work. Given Jakobson's above discussion of world politics, it should come as no surprise that he places particular emphasis on his hope that Nasum's lyrics may stimulate some critical thinking about the world, and our place in it. "I hope that our lyrics have some effect on the listener. Just the other day, I received an email from a guy who wanted me to know that one of my lyrics ['Understand: You Are Deluded,' from a 7-inch release] stopped him from giving up his vegetarian lifestyle. That was really cool to hear. I hope that other people have similar revelations from reading our lyrics. For the typical metal fan, I hope that we can help them to discover the world of grindcore and hardcore. I think that especially young metal fans really have shut the doors to everything but metal. I know it myself; for me, metal was everything until I was 16 and discovered hardcore, and from then on I've discovered a lot of good stuff that I probably wouldn't even look at when I was 15."

Ultimately, the world may be going to helvete in a handbasket, but that does not negate the personal responsibility of every individual to approach life with an open mind and a willingness to think critically. And really, what better vehicle for accomplishing this than Nasum's latest album? Opening minds and bashing skulls - 'Helvete' is the paragon of both.


review of Nasum 'Helvete'

review of Nasum 'Human 2.0'






c/o Adam Wasylyk
3150 Spring Creek Crescent
Mississauga, Ontario

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