Fight Fire with Fire is an ongoing series on our site where we pit two classic genre albums against each other to definitively figure out which one is better. We’re taking two albums that are basically 10s, two albums that just might both be in our Hall of Fame, and trying to figure out which one is that much better, which one is a 10.1 out of 10.
“But they’re both great!” you’ll say. Yes, these albums are the best of the best. But one is always better. Plus, we love these sort of exercises, and also love watching you battle each other to the death in the comments, so how could this possibly end poorly?
In today’s Fight Fire, there’s no way it’s going to end any way but poorly. We’re pitting up two kinda-modern-era grindcore classics against each other in a showdown that only a fool would attempt to judge. Nasum‘s Human 2.0 and Discordance Axis‘ The Inalienable Dreamless are two grind records that are peerless, are absolute genre turning points and timeless classics. They’re two of my favorite records of all time. One is a crust-fueled political rager from a band that kicked Napalm Death’s ass into making great grind again and features one of the best grindcore productions ever; one is a personal and poetic take on grind featuring some of the genre’s best drumming and lyrics, ever, period.
It’s a fool’s task, which is why it’s me writing this, this article nothing if not a great excuse to listen to these albums multiple times yet again, with much attention to detail, and have my life changed bit by bit by both of them, again and again, forever more.
Nasum – Human 2.0
Swedish grindcore new jacks Nasum caused a huge stir with their 1998 debut, Inhale/Exhale, the album dropping on Relapse at a time when the label was really delivering quality, progressive extremity at new levels of professionalism and maturity. Inhale/Exhale was massive, from the crushing production to the surprising whiplash groove of the songs.
Two years later, Human 2.0 took everything and turned it up a notch, making it one of the greatest grind records ever.
The outrageous groove and use of haunting melody as “Shadows” climaxes is a very good summation of what makes this album so great: this isn’t just balls-to-the-wall grind: this is actually great songwriting. This is the song right here, and although it comes early on the album, it’s not like it’s all downhill when the dust settles. Actually, “Corrosion” might even be better, which almost seems impossible.
“Multinational Murderers Network” is Tragedy-loving d-beat filtered through the heaviest of Napalm Death; “Resistance” is a huge call to arms with borderline death metal riffs and a massive, His Hero Is Gone amount of heart and soul, something that “Words to Die For” also has no shortage of. And that’s one of the keys to Human 2.0: this is political grind—at times it feels like bulked-up political punk—but there’s soul, there’s feeling, it hits in more places than one.
“The Professional League” also works that aforementioned groove to great impact, and “Sometimes Dead Is Better” is a fantastic, powerful closer.
My main—and only—complaint about Human 2.0 is its length. This album is so powerful that 38 minutes of it is just a bit too much. Even if it clocked in at 35 it would have made a big difference (if it was 29, it would be perfect). But then the songs swarm me with one of the most perfect production sounds I’ve ever heard on an extreme metal record—seriously, buy me a beer and try and talk me off this cliff, I’m not budging—and I think, well, 10 extra minutes of this isn’t exactly the worst thing that’s ever happened to me. (Also of note is the album’s bright cover art, a smart move that I think helped give Human 2.0 some extra depth; even if the relationship between cover art and depth of music is mainly psychological, it works on me every time.)
I feel like people talk about the debut a bit more than this one as far as impact goes, but for me, it’s Human 2.0 all the way, the sound of a band at the top of their game, total sonic perfection, this record coming close to approaching what perfect music sounds like to me (file next to the fourth Propagandhi record and please play me both as I’m dying). This is going to be a very, very difficult album to even come close to beating. But The Inalienable Dreamless is a very, very unique album.
Discordance Axis – The Inalienable Dreamless
Maybe it’s the sky-blue art, or maybe it’s the fact that this came packaged in a DVD case, but it was immediately apparent that Discordance Axis’ 2000 swansong The Inalienable Dreamless was a different kind of grindcore record. And it is, and it has stood the test of time incredibly.
“Castration Rite” starts this off perfectly: wild banshee screams and grinding drums, labyrinthine guitar work. “Sound out the Braille” is one of the greatest 30 seconds in grind history, the riffs clashing with the vocals perfectly. “Angel Present” is the best kind of chaos.
“Compiling Autumn” is just one huge cathartic release of grinding noise, “Jigsaw” is almost, yes, a jigsaw of riffs, but it works, the band taking those jagged edges and corners and making them fit together, with one of the most memorable riffs on an album that actually has no shortage of them. “A Leaden Stride to Nowhere” takes up a full four minutes of this album’s runtime with its sludging grind, and is a great way to almost close things out before “Drowned”’s 58 seconds lay waste to everything and everyone.
This album is also a showcase for Dave Witte’s incredible drumming, the man absolutely on fire here, bringing a clarity and style to grind drumming that was, literally, something you’d talk about with other freakies on the weekend; it was that game-changing, that important. Witte is a monster, and his drumming here is phenomenal.
What really pushes The Inalienable Dreamless over the top is the personal approach to the lyrics: if this were 80 or whatever songs about zombies, I don’t know if I’d be sitting here typing about it 20 years later. Instead, vocalist Jon Chang delivers lyrics that are intensely personal (or maybe about video games; either way) which helps give the music an incredible impact not often found in grindcore.
The production isn’t huge like the production on Human 2.0 is—it features a more treble-heavy approach (makes sense, all things considered) that plays to the band’s strengths well: hi-hat and snare, shrieking screaming, piercing guitar work.
And, importantly, 23 minutes is the perfect length for an album of such intensity.
Sound out the braille: Clearly, this is no easy victory, but the edge has to go to The Inalienable Dreamless, Discordance Axis’ twisted masterpiece, a grindcore album that went where no grind album had gone before and where no grind album has gone since, to the outer reaches of inner turmoil (or maybe video games!) and back again, to musicianship pushed to the extreme, to a sound that will live forever. Alone.