There is a ton of grindcore out there right now and it seems I've run into more good than bad this past year or so. Sweden's EXHALE falls firmly into the "good" category. The music on "Prototype", the band's Emetic Records debut (and second release after the 2004 "…Die Inside" demo) is not only ripping, it is varied, entertaining, and often darn catchy. A sound mix that brings out the edge in the riffing and a woofer-busting kick drum attack constitute the icing on the cake.
Stylistically, many won't be surprised that the core sound borrows from NASUM, but more so in the screaming side of Ulf's vocals and the moments of full on blasting. The strength of "Prototype" is found in the band's skill at developing a song, making it interesting for the listener and offering enough of an identity to give him/her a reason to come back for more. Songs like "Decapitate", "Die Inside" and "Selfdenial" are raging and fairly tuneful. The alternating screams and death growls are perfectly executed, making the songs that much more memorable. Mixing Swedish and English lyrics add flavor as well.
There are plenty of opportunities here to enjoy a case of whiplash too, especially when the band stops on a dime and quickly slams into a hard-ass groove. "Humans Own Defeat" is a great example of the group's knack for rattling a few screws loose with up-tempo grindcore bursts and then slamming into a groove that's akin to being grabbed by the throat and thrown to the ground. Gurra's drumming is far from machine-like, his playing full of feeling and his ability to move from eight-armed insanity to in-the-pocket (if ever so briefly) toughness is very well done. The guy's percussive style on "Hatet" is the song's X factor, the textured approach giving the tune a big groovy boot in the ass.
I had no expectation or preconceived notion about EXHALE's "Prototype" and came away rather impressed and thoroughly satisfied. It is obvious that the band puts a lot of work into its arrangements. This isn't to say that "Prototype" is some kind of cutting edge experiment in grindcore; it's just a damn solid grindcore album that will keep your interest the entire way.