Nasum – Inhale/Exhale

Nasum’s first album isn’t as great as some of their later works, but it is one of the most archtypical modern grind albums I can think of.  It’s lean and ferocious; it makes sense that it was made by only two people as it has a harsh minimalism about it that seems to make the idea of a full band composing it an impossibility.  It is brackish and raw yet professional and intelligently composed, despite the natural primitivity of the style showcased on this release.  ‘Inhale/Exhale’ is easily Nasum at their most primitive and purest state, and while later albums are artistically more developed and ‘important’, this is a very necessary component to the collection of any fan of the band or modern grind in general.

Some people make an informal distinction between ‘grindcore’ and ‘grind’.  The sharpness of that distinction varies from person to person.  In essence, though it verges on splitting hairs, it makes sense; you can’t compare the material on this album very much to early Napalm Death.  You can’t see much of a relationship to Siege or Sore Throat or much in the crust/hardcore field in general.  There aren’t really any d-beats, shouts, or crust riffs.  It is ‘grind’ minus the -core, which really just means minus the crust.  And so what remains is decidedly more minimal.  The riffs are fast and dirty collections of chords spun into violent tremolo, occasionally bursting into a quick flair of surprising but restrained technicality.  Drumming emphasizes power and speed over precision, with blast beats erupting into snapping snare fills and savagely pounded crash cymbals.  Vocals are a hoarse scream with occasional growling backing.  Production is messy but representative enough that nothing is really obscured.

Most of the differences between songs are structural in nature more than by individual musical elements.  Most of the riffs are rather one-size-fits-all and not especially memorable on their own.  What’s memorable is the particular fill that starts the song, the way a vocal rhythm bursts into a scream at the end of a phrase, general length or repetition; in short, the relationship of parts to the whole.  It works like that as far as the whole album goes, really.  The tracks on their own aren’t very significant and only gain meaning when strung together in the larger context of the release.  It’s not a very metal way to write an album at all, and in general this probably isn’t a ‘metal album’.  It is pure, modern grind.

For modern grind, though, I enjoy it a lot.  Like many albums in the same style, it is carried mostly by its aesthetic.  The vocals are particularly vicious and the high/low alternation comes in roughly enough to be convincing and not plain.  The riffs have a certain Disfear style catchiness in places, though these are mostly displaced by straightforward grind tremolo without much to catch the ear.  The lack of memorability in much of the music doesn’t negatively affect the listening experience, though; it necessitates coming to the album from the perspective of grind rather than extreme metal, but that shouldn’t be difficult for those versed in the musical style.  In a nutshell, what separates music of this style from typical ‘metal’ is that it is music of isolated moments rather than narrative structure.  What comes before and after the individual songs is essentially meaningless, and the end result of the album is a collection of isolated fragments piecing together a greater story of societal alienation.  It’s told in no particular order or logic; it’s simply told.

Those who dislike grind will find nothing to recommend in this, and those who’ve listened to modern grind have heard this material before, but it doesn’t do anything to reduce the achievement of the album itself.  It is quality grind, and while it is overshadowed by the later works of the band, it is still worthwhile for any admirer of the genre.

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~ by noktorn on October 19, 2008.

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