Interview: Axis of Despair
It’s as simple as this. It's really fun to play grindcore! You get a kick out of playing fast and extreme music but under some kind of controlled form. It’s also slightly challenging to be creative within this music style, at least if you want to keep your sound strictly grindcore.
Axis of Despair is a new band featuring members of Nasum, Coldworker and Infanticide amongst others who having released a couple of EPs over the past few years are ready to unleash their debut full length on the world. The album which will be released on Southern Lord Records on the 27th July is entitled Contempt For Man and is a blistering collection of grindcore that is relentlessly intense from start to finish and a must have for grind fans. Gavin Brown had a chat with drummer Anders Jakobson to hear all about Axis of Despair and Contempt For Man as well as talking about how Axis of Despair differs from the members past musical endeavours, the bands live plans and playing at the Obscene Extreme festival, life changing albums and grindcore in general.
E&D: How did Axis of Despair get together?
Anders: Coldworker broke up in July of 2013. Joel (vocals), Oskar (bass) and I (Anders, drums) instantly got talking about starting a new project together. Joel and Oskar already had plans for a grindcore band with some other guys, so the band we thought of starting was supposed to be a slow and heavy band as that was a style we hadn’t been exploring that much previously. While talking to different people about doing the guitar work without getting any luck, we got in touch with another Anders who was more into the idea of playing grind, so all the heavy plans got canned and we merged the different grind ideas into one project. This was around Christmas 2013 and we wrote some songs and rehearsed for a while until Anders decided that he wasn’t cut for playing grindcore and left the band. Then we got in touch with Kristofer and restarted the band for real a few months into 2014. And it’s been the four of us since then.
E&D: How would you describe the music of Axis of Despair?
Anders: We are a grindcore band that follow the styles and traditions developed by bands like Napalm Death, Terrorizer and Nasum, i.e. a blend of blistering blastbeats, hardcore attacks and some heavier parts with a good serving of groove on top. We are not the fastest or noisiest band around as we value a production where you actually can hear what we are doing and an equal distribution of the instruments and vocals.
E&D: The members of the band have served time in Nasum, Coldworker,Livet Som Insats and Infanticide amongst others. Do you think that all your time and experience in those bands allows the music of Axis of Despair to be even more intense?
Anders: Well, sure, we have many years of playing extreme music under our vests so it is not like we are starting from scratch with Axis of Despair. There will always be previous bands unless you are fifteen years old and just started your first band. But: Axis of Despair is what the four of us do together and it really doesn’t matter what we have done before. It’s about what we do now.
E&D: Do you think that the legacy of those bands is beneficial to the music that you are making as Axis of Despair?
Anders: I guess I have to say that it is a marketing factor, but in all honesty it feels much more like a press release line than something that we would say ourselves as a description of the band. We are Axis of Despair, not our previous or other bands.
E&D: Your debut album Contempt For Man is out soon. How did the creation and recording of the album go?
Anders: The major part of the songs was written during a year. Some songs are actually the first songs written for the band, even before the band was formed, while others were the last songs we have written, so it is actually a few years of material on the album. The recording started in July 2017. I recorded the drums on my own over a few days and during some nights we recorded guitars and bass just to get the most out of the studio session. We pay for 24 hours a day so why not try to use as much as possible of them? The instruments took about ten days to finish and then we recorded vocals during a few sessions until we had finished all of that stuff.
E&D: Is the sound of the album in a similar style to your first two EPs Time And Again and Mankind Crawls?
Anders: We basically recorded the album the same way, doing the instruments in Soundlab Studios and the vocals in our rehearsal room, but then we had different mixing engineers. Johan Berglund, who did the album, really got the best out of the basic sounds, creating a hard and powerful production with a clear natural foundation. So there are some factors that differ, but they are quite similar in their basic approaches: We wanted a good production.
E&D: Was your goal with Contempt For Man to create as heavy and manic an album as you possibly could? If it was, I definitely think you have succeeded!
Anders: Hehe, well, thanks for that! Of course we wanted to do the best we could, which is why it took quite a time to write and rehearse the songs. We worked on the material for a year or so and some of the songs have been reworked a few times until they found their ultimate form. We did five pre-production demos during the writing process, with 5-6 songs per demo, and ultimately we recorded 26 songs and picked 20 for the album to keep it focused, aggressive and to the point. The six remaining tracks will be released as a 7” EP later on 2018.
E&D: As well as the heaviness, there is, at times a heavy groove with a catchy nature with your music, was that something you wanted to being through with this album?
Anders: Yes, that is something that we like as well. Grindcore can have a few different types of general sounds. Some bands go for the blistering fast, noisy approach, which is great, but we feel that our songs benefits from some nuances where the blastbeats and fast madness is mixed with groovier parts where the songs can breathe a bit. That, and a good production where you actually can hear the riffs, rhythms and vocal patterns clearly.
E&D: What drives you as musicians to create such intense music?
Anders: It’s as simple as this. It’s really fun to play grindcore! You get a kick out of playing fast and extreme music but under some kind of controlled form. It’s also slightly challenging to be creative within this music style, at least if you want to keep your sound strictly grindcore. Obviously you can mix it with whatever you like, but I prefer grindcore to be quite old school. Aggressive, to the point, and sprung out of hardcore in some way.
E&D: How did the offer of signing to Southern Lord come about and how is life at the new label?
Anders: We self-produced the album and sent a few songs from an early mix to a bunch of different labels around, and Southern Lord were interested at once. That was a little bit surprising but also very flattering in many ways. I wouldn’t say that Southern Lord is a grindcore label in any way, so to be recognised as a band not particularly close to the main sound of the label actually feels better than to be liked by a genuine grindcore label. That meant that they saw some kind of a quality in the songs that they liked. We signed a contract for this album only, so hopefully we will be equally satisfied with what comes out of Contempt For Man so we can work together on a new album in the future.
E&D: How did you get into grindcore in the first place?
Anders: In 1988 I was at a Metallica show in Stockholm. After the show I found a catalogue from a mailorder on the ground, picked it up and brought it home. The mailorder was called CBR, Chickenbrain Records, a Swedish label and also the main distributer of Earache Records at that time. In the catalogue I read about a bunch of bands that I didn’t know existed, like Napalm Death and Carcass. A few months later I bought the Grindcrusher compilation LP along with some other records and discovered those bands plus Morbid Angel, Terrorizer and the top Swedish grindcore bands at the time, Filthy Christians and G-Anx. That how I got into grindcore!
E&D: What grindcore bands and albums are the most influential to you?
Anders: I would way that Napalm Death’s 12” EP Mentally Murdered along with Repulsion’s Horrified and Terrorizer’s World Downfall are the holy trinity for me. Records that I can put on today, 30+ years later and still get a massive kick and direct inspiration from. Assück is also a very inspirational band for me, especially when it comes to playing the drums.
E&D: How do you feel about how widespread grindcore is around the world nowadays?
Anders: I can’t say that I am a grindcore expert in any way, but I have a slight feeling that the style is much more worldwide these days compared to 20 years ago. And that is obviously great. It’s still a very underground grounded style, but it is still quite healthy.
E&D: What was the punk/grind scene like in Sweden when you were first starting out in bands and what are your favourite memories of that time?
Anders: By the late 1980’s when I started to listen to underground music and get my first bands together there were basically two Swedish grindcore bands: Filthy Christians and G-Anx. They had been around for a few years and done a few recordings. Filthy Christians got signed to Earache and released their Mean LP, while G-Anx made a few “out of the box” 7” EP’s. Both bands were hugely influential, both as a general inspiration but also musically. A few years later both bands were gone and Nasum and Retaliation had started and were the most active grindcore bands for a few years until bands like Sayyadina, Assel, Gadget and some others expanded the scene. My greatest memory might actually be a Filthy Christans show in my hometown. I am not sure that it was a particularly good show, but I was really into the band and totally feeling it then, being approximately 18 years old and loving every minute of it!
E&D: Is the grind scene in Sweden today still as active as it always has been?
Anders: I don’t know, to be perfectly honest. There are a few bands around but it’s not like there’s a huge grindcore scene that everyone talks about.
E&D: What newer grindcore bands are you feeling at the moment?
Anders: I guess my latest find is the Australian duo Meth Leppard. Their name and logo is great but obviously I dig the music as well. I need to get a bit up to date with what’s going on, though.
E&D: What album has had the single biggest effect on you in your life and what was it about that album that inspired you so much?
Anders: Not the easiest question to answer. There are so many musical moments in your life where a specific album has had an extraordinary effect at that time. I mean there is music that is deeply connected to your first love of another human being, or that has helped you discover a completely new genre or something else that has had a great impact on your life. I have a few of those albums. Just name one? Carcass – Symphonies of Sickness really opened the door for a new world of extreme music when I first heard it in 1989, and it has inspired more or less every band I’ve had since then. So that one is really special, but it’s just one of many life-changing/life-effecting albums out there.
E&D: You have only played three gigs prior to releasing Contempt For Man. How was the experience of playing live in this new band?
Anders: It’s been good. I remember people coming up to me after the first show and saying that it didn’t feel like our first show. That was a good review as we felt that the show was good as well. We have yet to have a real fanbase as a live band. It’s been quite tough just playing stuff from 7” EP’s that very few have heard. So the response we have gotten so far has been polite more than people really appreciating it. Hopefully that will change once we do shows after the release of the album.
E&D: At those gigs, you played with Black Breath, Facebreaker, Riistetyt, and Crutches. Was sharing the stage with such great bands a good first experience and how did the gigs go?
Anders: Yes, as seen by that collection of band names we have played with both death metal bands and hardcore/crust bands, and that’s really the beauty of playing grindcore. You are in between two big genres and work well with both. So that part has been good and as mentioned in the previous answer the shows has been good.
E&D: Axis of Despair are playing at this years Obscene Extreme festival. Are you looking forward to that and is it a festival you have played at previously in your other bands?
Anders: Yes to both questions. All of us have played at the festival before. I played there with Nasum in 2012 and together with Joel and Oskar we did the absolutely final Coldworker show at the festival in 2013. Kristofer has played there twice, with Infanticide in 2013 and with Livet som insats in 2016. It is the ultimate grindcore festival in Europe so we are quite excited to do our very first show outside of Sweden at the festival this year. Also, since the show is quite close to the release of the album we see it as a release party of sorts.
E&D: Do you approach playing live at a big festival in exactly the same way as you would playing a club or squat show?
Anders: There are some obvious factors that you have to think of when playing at a larger arena than a smaller one (not that we have had that much experience with Axis of Despair – yet), but I would say that we generally have the same approach: To do our best no matter the size of the show.
E&D: Who would Axis of Despair love to share a stage with in the future?
Anders: I don’t have any ultimate band to name in that sense. As I said, we can play with both metal and hardcore bands so any band is fine really. But, of course, sharing the stage with Napalm Death once again wouldn’t hurt us at all…
E&D: What has been the best gig that you have ever witnessed as a fan and what made it so special?
Anders: Hmm, the first thing that comes to mind is seeing Tool at the Hultsfredsfestivalen in Sweden back in 2001 when they toured on the Lateralus album. I had been a fan of the band for a few years but never seen them live and that was one of those five out of five shows where the whole experience were great.
E&D: Do you find that playing live acts as a cathartic experience?
Anders: Well, it sure can act as a release in some way, at least when everything works as planed. Sometimes the experience is affected by stupid things like bad monitors or equipment that doesn’t work or in some other way affects your playing. Then playing live is an annoying experience. But sure, when it works it comes really close to a cathartic experience.
E&D: Do you have any more live dates coming up and will you be making it over to the UK to play live this year?
Anders: We have nothing booked at the moment but we are looking at different options both in Sweden and outside of our borders. There are some options for UK that might lead to a mini tour or something like that after the summer.
E&D: What has been your proudest moment in your career as a musician so far?
Anders: Well, my biggest musical legacy is everything I did with Nasum, and there are a lot of moments to remember and be proud of. It’s hard to pick a specific moment, though.