Before attempting to listen to Axis of Despair’s debut LP, Contempt for Man (Southern Lord), make sure to wear a helmet and bite down into your mouthpiece as you may experience all manners of sonic trauma. Sure, it reads like its bordering on hyperbole, but these Swedes really hammer out tunes befitting of the album’s name.
First, you must understand that every riff, beat, note and breakdown on Contempt for Man is charged with white-hot rage, malice, disgust and ugliness. From ‘Värdelös’ to ‘Det går aldrig’ every track here is tasked with bludgeoning the listener into the dirt and keeping them down boot firmly upon neck. The deceptively titled ‘Crush the Empire’ is the closest the listener (or victim) gets as far a break in the action. Don’t get that twisted and think they’ve written their ‘Stairway to Heaven’ as the first minute or so is the same grindcore firebombing we’ve grown accustomed to, but the tempos cool and allows for some discordant guitar lines. We’re finally given a chance to reassess our psyche, but it doesn’t last. Grind waits for no slave.
After that oasis of song, we’re dragged back by the ankles right into the furnace again with the musical beatings of ‘Pre-Emptive Nuclear Strike’ and ‘A Life of Ceaseless Grind’, two songs that when played in succession, even on modest Sony earbuds like mine, can leave you shaken. And as ‘Streams of Sludge’ rolls out you can’t help but wonder what’s coming next or how is Axis of Despair going to top itself again in the noise department? Why does this band sound like Napalm Death if they had paper wasps in their trousers? Can the average metalhead carry these 20 metallic smart bombs all in one listen?
Not for the faint of heart, but those who dare venture it will find an album that will reward constant listens. But remember safety first.