Interview: Nasum Celebrate 20th Anniversary of “Inhale/Exhale”

Nasum’s landmark Relapse debut, Inhale/Exhale, is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. The highly influential album began the band’s trajectory as one of the cornerstones of the international grindcore scene in the early years of the 21st century. We sat down with drummer Anders Jakobson to discuss the album’s legacy and impact.

It’s honestly hard to think of grindcore existing before Nasum; your band was so incredibly influential in so many ways. What was the sound Nasum originally was going for back in 1992 and how did that change over the next six years leading up to the release of Inhale/Exhale?
The origin of Nasum was the death metal band Necrony that had been around for a few years and done a demo and a 7”, and, following that, ended up as a duo with me playing the guitars and Rickard Alriksson playing the drums and doing the vocals. Grindcore in general was a source of inspiration for Necrony but the songs were long and ”complicated” and while we were writing and rehearsing material for an album, Nasum was born between the songs. It just happened, we made a few simple riffs and wrote some songs. They were never intended for Necrony, so it really was a new band that took form there and then. Some time before the first recording, Mieszko [Talarczyk] joined the band.

The first recording was the split 7” EP with Agathocles and if you listen to those tracks today you’ll find that it’s a pretty diverse collection of songs. The six songs are quite different from each other and I can’t really say that they sound like any other grindcore band. We liked grindcore in general and just wrote some stuff.

The next recording for Nasum was for a Swedish hardcore compilation and every band got 3.5 minutes to fill with music. Since this was the 9th volume of the compilation, I had a look at the previous volumes to see what band had crammed the most number of songs in the provided time limit. Many years earlier a band had five songs, so we figured ”Let’s break the record with six” and wrote short and-to the-point songs with a hardcore touch. They got so short and to the point that we had 30 seconds to go, so another three songs were written.

This efficiency was a very important step in the formation of the Nasum sound. By the next recording, we tuned down our guitars for a heavier sound but kept the hardcore element, thus getting closer to what we ended up with on Inhale/Exhale. The last piece of the sound puzzle was the departure of Rickard, which left us without a drummer and singer. I pushed myself to be a grindcore drummer (drums was my first instrument) and we shared the vocal duties.

One of the album’s crowning achievements is that it sticks so true to the traditional grindcore formula while also incorporating a large emphasis on groove. Was this a conscious choice? What inspired this?
We had a lot of groove even in the early days but it became more of a natural part in our sounds in the two recordings prior to Inhale/Exhale when I got to be the drummer of Nasum. My style of playing was different to Rickard’s so it was my way of adding a personal touch to the drum parts between the blasts. Apart from that, it was fun to add the groove!

When doing all the many songs for Inhale/Exhale, it got very apparent that we couldn’t write in the previous efficient way when it was a matter of filling the given time limit of the format with as many songs as possible. The contract we got from Relapse asked for “45 minutes of music,” which we took literally, and by our old standards that would have meant 60 songs or something. That wasn’t really happening, so we let the songs breathe a little by not cutting down on intros, repetitions or longer parts. And it was also obvious that we needed to have something else than just pure grindcore songs, so a few non-grind songs were added, of which many provided that groove. We used to call them “break songs,” as they functioned as breaks between the blast attacks. There are a few break songs on each of the four Nasum albums.

There are also strong melodic/crust elements on many of the album’s songs. You guys were doing splits with Crust bands around this time, did they influence your sound in any way?
Crust and hardcore was a natural part of our influences from early on. Sweden had a good and early crust period with Anti-Cimex, Mob 47 and a number of other bands that inspired us. Those bands also inspired the early Swedish death metal bands like Carnage and Nihilist, so we got that inspiration from many different directions at the same time.

How did your band catch the attention of Relapse Records at the time?
Relapse was there from the very start. I remember sending out a tape of the first Nasum recording back in 1993 to a bunch of addresses I collected from other records and flyers and such. “Hello, we are Nasum. This is our first recording, would you like to release a 7” EP with us?” – something like that. I remember sending a letter to some American label but got a reply from Relapse who said that they would happily distribute our record. Not exactly the reply we wanted! A few years later, Mieszko released the “Grindwork” CD with Nasum and three other bands and I guess he sold a few to Relapse so we started to have a discussion of doing something on their label. Yet a few years later, we sent them a tape with the last recording we did before Inhale/Exhale and then we got a deal.

Personally I love the drum sound on the record, the cymbals in particular have this perfect level of splash and cut. How involved was the band with the mixing and production?
100%. From the time the band transformed into a duo with Mieszko and I being the only members, we also did all our recordings by ourselves. Mieszko and his friend Mathias of Millencolin slowly built a recording studio starting with an 8-track that was used on the World in Turmoil 7” EP and The Black Illusions split 7” EP. By the next time, and the following recording that was Inhale/Exhale, they had bought a 16-track and a mixing console and built a very small studio.

I am not particularly fond of the drum sound of the album, but it certainly has a character of its own.

Which songs on the album are your favorite? I personally consider “No Sign of Improvement” to be one of my top-ten favorite Grindcore songs of all time.
Yeah, that’s a good one. Well, it’s hard to pick and choose because many of the songs have a strong meaning for me personally. Not only from my point of view as a composer of half of the tracks, but also as a performer. Many memories. But “The Masked Face” is a very strong song that always was played live and always was a track that felt great to play. I like many of the strange songs like “Feed Them, Kill Them, Skin Them” and “The World That You Made” that are relentless grindcore songs but not your average grindcore song. And obviously it’s impossible not to mention the title track, “Inhale/Exhale,” that became the signature song of Nasum. I’ve struggled over the years on how to label that song, as it’s not a grindcore song. It’s not crust or metal. It’s not the typical “slow” grindcore song. It’s just a song… Weird.

In retrospect, there are two things that I think of when I hear the album. One is that we should have killed a few darlings and perhaps only have had 30 songs on the album and let the extra eight be an EP ofrsomething. It’s too long and not all of the stuff is good enough, to be very frank. The other thing is that I actually wished we had played the songs live before we recorded them (which really was not an option since we were a duo and became a three piece about a year after the album was released), as many of the songs went through some changes when we played them live. A few details and accents were added; some tempos were changed and stuff like that. Also, when we became a live band, Mieszko did all the vocals and he should have had more vocal parts on the album.

When the band was recording this album, did you guys have the feeling you were onto something special? Something that would stand the test of time?
In all honesty, I think it’s very hard for a band to feel or think that when you are in the studio. Not if you are The Beatles or something that basically invented music. We didn’t think or feel that for sure, and I firmly believe that if you record an album thinking, “This will stand the test of time,” the songs will most certainly NOT do that.

Seriously speaking, I guess we were just happy that we were able to record an album, or perhaps that someone wanted to release an album with our music. It’s pretty hard to try to return to yourself 20 years ago to find out what went on in your mind at that time, but I guess that if the deal with Relapse hadn’t happened, I’m pretty sure that we [wouldn’t have made] made an album at that point. It wasn’t really something that we were aiming for. I believe the first idea was to make a mini-album for Relapse but it was expanded to an album and we were fine with that. We just wanted to create music.

When the album was released and the first reviews came (on paper, obviously), we were surprised with the positive reactions. Grindcore wasn’t that hot at that time. Napalm Death had made a few non-grindcore albums and it was evident that we filled a void. There was a hole in the extreme music world that we happened to fill. Many of the reviews had passages like “I don’t usually listen to grindcore, but this album is something special.” Then we got word that Napalm Death were listening to our album and getting some inspiration to return to the grind. Barney had the brown Inhale/Exhale t-shirt in a video and we even heard some whispers that the legendary Mick Harris had gotten the album from Relapse and liked it. There were these little bits and pieces that slowly made us realize that we had done something special.