t 152 tracks, Grind Finale outnumbers the total LP-format output of Nasum’s four albums by several dozen songs, collecting everything the band ever released and many things it didn’t. With an 80-page booklet featuring an essay by Albert Mudrian, author of the recent book Choosing Death: The Improbable History of Death Metal and Grindcore, as well as detailed, copious liner notes by founder, bassist, guitarist, vocalist, and drummer Anders Jakobson, numerous photos, and complete lyrics, Grind Finale is indisputably the most lavish grindcore album ever released.
It’s also one of the best, delivering an epic story—a bildungsgrinden, if you will—of Nasum’s climb from excellence to sheer greatness, as it moved beyond its audible influences to masterfully transcend the rules of grindcore without breaking them, planting interstitial snitches of melody between torrential bursts of distortion and blastbeats, while crafting fully-realized songs with complex, shifting sections and 30-second run-times. In short, Nasum represented the purest distillation of the grindcore ethos ever committed to tape, interrogating the human condition as thoroughly as Sartre, but reaching its not dissimilar conclusions in ten seconds instead of 800 pages. You want writing degree zero? Lyrics don’t come much more degree-zeroed than those of “Corpse Flesh Genitals,” which declare, “Corpse, flesh, genitals,” and nothing more. Nasum understood the pointlessness of elaborating.
Disc 1 of this double-disc set contains the Swedish band’s output up to the 1997 effort that got them signed to Relapse; 90 tracks in 63 minutes. Nasum began with the 1993 7” Blind World, recorded as a side project by Jakobson and Rickard Alriksson, then in a death metal band together. Alriksson’s vocals reflect their background, with the scarred-vocal-cord rumble of Obituary. Indeed, the nascent Nasum wore its influences on its sleeve, with a first photo shoot that modeled the band’s name on Napalm Death’s logo, and several songs ranging from 3-15 seconds a la that group’s infamous two-second “You Suffer.” There’s even a sort of micro-Motorhead riff on “Uneventful Occupation,” but as the band searched for an identity it still produced powerful songs of the highest caliber, from the lumbering “Think” to the searing, claustrophobia-inducing “No Chance.” A typical Nasum effort sounded like a three-minute song, complete with verses, choruses, and bridge, compressed into one-sixth that length.
Never the most technical band, Nasum stayed close to its hardcore roots, best seen on the 1996 7” World in Turmoil (in addition to predictable Napalm covers, the band also offers up surprising takes on the Refused and Propagandhi elsewhere on the collection). By this point Alrikkson had left, and the band consisted of Jakobson and singer/guitarist Mieszko Talarczyk, who holed themselves up in the studio and recorded as a duo initially. Like some kind of inverted Steely Dan, the duo cared less about sound quality than raw aggression; “I really like this recording. The sound is really harsh and quite shitty,” Jakobson writes of the 7” in one of my favorite liner-note comments of all time.
The band continued its hyper-hardcore phase in its contribution to 1997’s Regressive Hostility compilation. It’s surprising that this was the effort that drew Relapse’s attention, since it begins with one of the few weak tracks on Grind Finale (“Dis Sucks,” whose lyrics sound like some skate-punk band opening for JFA in 1986: “Discharge rules—you don’t!”), but it nonetheless launched Nasum into the metal stratosphere and its first American tour in 1999, which it commemorated with the tribute “God-Slave America.”
By this point Grind Finale has entered its second disc, which runs the risk of falling short of the first, since instead of the heart-and-soul 7”s of a hungry upstart it deals in album outtakes. But even Nasum’s leftovers prove stunning, as the band began to experiment with miniscule flashes of melody. “Silent” spills into a catchy riff after its second chorus, abandoning it quickly before returning to the chorus one final time in its taut 66-second existence, while Human 2.0 outtake “Supernova” runs through a pleasing chord progression that might well make a decent folk song if played in quarter-time. Jesper Liverod, brought in on bass to fill out the band, even brings a little of that old Maiden/Priest gallop to his own 2001 composition “X Marks the Spot.”
Evidence of Nasum’s careful policing of its artistic consistency is apparent on “Fury,” left off Helvete in 2003 for sounding too melodic; it’s a great song, with a captivating guitar sway, but it failed to meet the Nasum aesthetic and was thus cut. When the band recorded its final album Shift in 2004 they returned to it, revamping it to lower the guitar part in the mix, hiding it between drum crashes and a maelstrom of distortion (for that matter, Shift contains many such moments of concealed beauty made manifest only on repeated—and concentrated—listens), but the Grind Finale version stands out as an example of the potential pleasures of compromise.
Nasum refused to make those compromises to accessibility, holding a tenacious philosophical commitment to the abrasive sound that best complemented its critique of contemporary society. Like s/m or steamed asparagus, grindcore is an acquired taste, dependent on negotiating a delicate balance between pleasure and suffering, but Nasum understood the intricacies of that equation as well as any. Of course, before it could pursue the sonic vistas opened on Shift Talarczyk was killed in the 2004 tsunami tragedy, and Grind Finale is intended as a loving epitaph of sorts. As such, it’s a towering monument to a band felled before its time, who produced the strongest body of work grindcore is likely to see and would surely have continued to surpass its own precedent if allowed. Relapse has honored its dead well with this colossus of brief wonders.
Reviewed by: Whitney Strub
Reviewed on: 2006-03-29