Contempt for Man. Now there’s an album name I can get behind. I drive down the road and pull my hair out at drivers for whom “turn signal” is a foreign concept. I go to Walmart and see writhing bits of humanity shuffling around, eyes glazed over and blood pumping furiously to their heads as they attempt to operate a self-checkout machine. I think to myself that these people are breeding. These people are voting. These people are sharing their opinions on the internet. Such horror can only be properly conveyed via a grindcore album, and that’s exactly what Axis of Despair deliver on their Contempt for Man debut.
Given that Swedish law requires every citizen to play in at least four bands before their 30th birthday, it comes as little surprise that this quartet has deep roots in their country’s scene. Grindcore aficionados will recognize drummer Anders Jakobson from his Nasum days, while the rest of the lineup features veterans from other grind and death metal acts like Coldworker, Infanticide, and Volturyon. But given the revered status of Nasum in the grind community, that’s really the only name that matters here. So often I scramble to keep my reviews under the 750-word limit, here I could sum up things up in two: Nasum-core.1
As anyone who’s heard Helvete will tell you, that’s not a criticism. If Contempt’s 32 minutes prove anything, it’s that Anders can still blast and abuse his kit like a madman, and the rest of the band are no slouches either. Vocalist Joel Fornbrant sounds even more furious here than in his Swedeath band Overtorture, evoking the rebellious mania of Napalm Death’s Barney Greenway with his frothy roar. The man sounds like he wants to shove a grenade down the throat of the nearest politician, and the moments of double-tracked vocals in songs like “The Wolven Law” only add to the fury. Likewise, guitarist Kristofer Jankarls sounds less like he’s trying to come up with interesting riffs and more like his guitar is trying to eat his fingers in some sort of Stephen King-esque nightmare. His abrasive chords, frantic clean picking, and supercharged thrash riffs make Contempt feel like a runaway bulldozer. Even for hardcore grind fans, it’s quite a goddamn ride.
The first half of Contempt largely delivers nonstop blasting, frantically veering between riffs with machine-gun precision (read: it’s like a less diverse version of Nasum). There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s the second half where things get really interesting (read: get ready to be skull-fucked by a jackhammer). “Pre-Emptive Nuclear Strike” lives up to its name by kicking off with an absolutely destructive groove that sounds like it wants to blow up your car and crack the prints on your graphic tees. “A Life of Ceaseless Grind” and “A Brutal Truth” feature their own earthquake chugs amidst their inflammatory riffing, but it’s “Crush the Empire” that stands out the most, staggering to a sludgy lurch before concluding with vast chords that recall those Wormrot occasionally employed on Voices.
Through it all, the production is explosive but not exhausting. The guitars are beefy and sharp as hell, like a nail bomb stuffed down your ear canal. Likewise, Joel’s vocals sound so clear you can practically hear the spittle and food particles shooting from his mouth. It all serves as the perfect delivery mechanism for my favorite thing about Axis of Despair: the sheer sense of conviction. Contempt is far from the most rhythmically diverse album out there, and in the future, some more notable bits would certainly help. Yet the amount of passion crammed into these twenty tracks puts Contempt up there with Human Cull’s newest as one of the best grindcore albums of the year. The onslaught of flaying riffs and enraged vocals are sure to please fans of Rotten Sound, Brutal Truth, and, of course, Nasum. And for someone with the same Contempt for Man as myself, there’s no better soundtrack for this revelation: when it comes down to it, we’re all just human slugs shuffling around Walmart. We just have better music than most.