Greetings and welcome to another edition of EINthology, a feature which delves deep into the timeline of our favorite long-standing musical heroes, and fills in the gaps you may have missed. Like that band, and that album, but didn’t realise they’d made all that as well? We’re here to help.
For this particular round, I’d like to take you back on a personal encounter. It was 2006. I went on a pub crawl with some friends. When I woke up the next morning, my head was a little fuzzy. After making us a light breakfast, the friend whose sofa I slept on just so happened to switch on his computer. On that computer, he played the damnedest piece of music I’d ever heard.
I guess at the time, it was almost like seeing a brand new color. The song was wildly heavy, possessing a level of sound and technicality so efficient, it might have come from the future. On hearing it, my jaw hit the floor. Hangover time was over. I was wide awake, and with one burning question:
‘Who… the hell… was that?’
My friend’s response was ‘Why, Ash, it’s the Yiddish word for ‘crazy‘.’
Only kidding, he didn’t really say that. Just a fun fact for you.
On hearing the band’s name, I’d found my newest musical obsession. It started that morning with I, Meshuggah‘s 20-minute single from 2004, and continued with a long-lasting delve, which took me forwards and backwards through the timeline of these increasingly prolific Swedish metal innovators. I was surprised to learn that the devastating and wholly fresh sounds of I were made by a band who started out in the late 80s. That was the same decade that gave birth to thrash metal. Mind blown.
Following on from this, my next discovery was that, even though Meshuggah were blazing a fresh trail with some amazingly iconic and creative stuff in the 2000s, they also had this whole swathe of releases from the 90s which were also cool. Past and present, every Meshuggah record had worth. My catalog grew from nothing (no pun intended) to everything, with marked efficiency.
It’s 13 years on, and now everybody knows Meshuggah. They are basically gods or something. They are cited as the undisputed grandfathers of a transitional shift in the sound of metal music. Through a casually experimental process, they pretty much invented a new type of guitar which is now largely taken for granted. So are there now a thousand bands who sound like Meshuggah? Well, not really.
There is still only one Meshuggah. In spite of their legacy, they still appear to take their career in their stride. They don’t rest on their laurels and they don’t overly showboat their success. With any significant length, they don’t take a break. They work, they innovate, they create, just like they did way back in the 90s. Behind the dazzlingly cataclysmic music, there is an extremely down to earth dynamic.
Let’s cover the founding moment before we go deep into the timeline. Meshuggah formed in 1987, and released their first EP Psykisk Testbild in 1989. It consisted of three tracks, titled “Cadaverous Mastication” (to later reappear on Contradictions Collapse), “Sovereigns Morbidity”, and “The Debt of Nature”. Jens Kidman and Fredrik Thordendal split guitar and vocal duties down the middle. For one record only, Nicolas Lundgren took to the drums, and Meshuggah‘s first of three different bassists, Peter Nordin, covered the low end. This rustic three-track foundation is now 30 years old. Dig deep and you’ll find it somewhere. It’s rather fun.
After that, came this…
Contradictions Collapse (1991)
Contradictions Collapse is almost not at all like the Meshuggah we know and love. I stress ‘almost’, and ‘primitive’ is a descriptive word we can only really use when putting it up against later Meshuggah albums, otherwise I might have said that too.
It was a new decade, and on January 1, 1991, four Swedish dudes with a flair for technicality made their contribution to the rapidly changing thrash movement. Did I mention they had a new drummer, a superbly talented gentleman going by the name of Mr. Thomas Haake? Anyway, thrash was giving way to groove. Many bands saw value in utilizing both, Meshuggah included. Just to put into another context, Contradictions Collapse was released just six months after Pantera’s Cowboys from Hell, eight months before Metallica’s self-titled ‘Black Album’, nearly ten months before Megadeth’s Rust in Peace, and over one year before Sepultura’s Arise. Think for one moment about those albums, and then think about this one!
Doesn’t seem quite so dated now, does it? Production may be a little more ropey, but that’s about it.
Jens Kidman and Fredrik Thordendal took on guitar duties on an almost mutual footing, as they also did with vocals. Though not impossible, it’s actually very difficult to tell the two voices apart. Musically, Contradictions Collapse is a near-obtuse display of technicality all the way from the guitar work to the drumming. Meshuggah liked speedy, scaly, low-end riffs, chuggy palm mutes, punchy stops and starts, and they sure as hell loved kick drums.
It’s fast when it wants to be, and slow in other places. But mostly it’s, er, fast. There’s no real relent in its content. What you hear in the first track is pretty much what you get for the rest of the album, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I believe a more optimistic word to describe it would be ‘purist’.
Contradictions Collapse has no shortage of a cult following. One can easily find an abundance of axe-wielding YouTubers who homage the heck out of this record, on both guitar and bass. This is no surprise as, if nothing else, Contradictions Collapse can serve as an underground technical handbook for budding guitarists. Though challenging, the riffs are clean and easy to understand. I will also speculate this much: somewhere out there is a contingency of thrash/90s metal enthusiasts who will claim that this was Meshuggah’s best album. I’m certain they exist in some faculty and, though we may disagree, we must respect their perspective.
In retrospect, this album has also become the chief whipping boy for Meshuggah’s own self-criticism. (you come across it a lot when hearing them talk about their own stuff). Naturally, it is the only album they have fully whitewashed from their live repertoire, stamping it as a kind of show-off record that they laugh at when they listen back. I guess when you’re the band who went on to write “Shed” and “Perpetual Black Second”, you have a fair claim to that criticism.
Fact: Meshuggah were onto something. In the early 90s, they wrote and played metal like the best of them. Thomas Haake’s drumming was blistering, Fredrik Thordendal’s solos were wild, and the rest of Contradictions Collapse was an undeniably solid work in progress.
Three years later, five new tracks, and a whole new Meshuggah.
None is very special. It’s the ultra raw foundation of what Meshuggah are today. The tempo of the opening track, “Humilative” essentially has the same pulse as 2002’s “Rational Gaze” and 2008’s “Bleed”. For the first time, Jens Kidman took full control of vocals, and it showed. He’d passed guitar duties over to new band member, and Meshuggah’s permanent resounding rhythmical workhorse, Mårten Hagström. In their new positions, the band were extremely comfy, and so None emerged as a naturally cool record.
Serving as a miniature byproduct of their later second album, Destroy Erase Improve, None had fully absolved itself of the technical philandering of Contradictions Collapse. Its focus was all on the heavy, which Meshuggah clearly decided to lay in the slowed-down model of song structuring. Much of what you hear is markedly simple. The most brutally appealing elements of opening tracks, “Humiliative” and “Sickening” are the straightforward palm mutes, which are unleashed with a beefy and nicely balanced resolve. They rocked in a way that was completely absent in the band’s previous work.
When you break it down, you’ll unearth the first example of Meshuggah’s remarkable talent for achieving a hell of a lot with very little. Production, for its day, was slick, and the low-end on guitars and bass were devastating. None had pulse, mechanical grit, and most importantly, originality. Fail to bang your head to at least one section of this EP, and you’re possibly not the Meshuggah fan you think you are.
Can I also get a ‘hell yeah’ on “Ritual”, Meshuggah’s one and only angsty anthem song, a component which many may have actively chosen to forget exists? Some may even call it nu metal. Seasoned listeners of the band’s eight-string saga might actually find it a little upsetting because, yes, Kidman sings in that one. Well, I for one love that goddamn song, and I don’t care who knows it. Should they have ever attempted it again? You decide! Ultimately though, it was a one-shot deal.
In any case, it showed Meshuggah‘s willingness to experiment. Take the enjoyably over-the-top final track “Aztec Two Step” as a further example of this. During None’s five-track tenure, not everything is sensible, and some of its endeavours fall a little bit flat, but the parts that do work count for a great deal. Meshuggah were no longer a thrash clone band, and it was kind of hard to gauge what they were. It’s even possible that they didn’t really know either, but they had conviction and passion. Reaching out, and stockpiling a sense of momentum that would serve them for the rest of their career was the name of the game with None, and that makes this EP an essential milestone. Even in their most modern years, “Humilitive” still finds its way into their live repertoire, meaning None is a record that fans can wear with pride to this day.
Destroy Erase Improve (1995)
It was 1995, and Meshuggah’s difficult second album didn’t appear that difficult. It was effortlessly superior to Contradictions Collapse in every single sense. It quite literally destroyed, erased, and improved everything the band were about up until that point.
Four years might seem like a seismic gap, but many of these songs had been in Meshuggah’s stockpile since their first album. They had simply not been recorded yet. Even so, they were in a league of their own. Everything on Destroy Erase Improve was leaner, tighter, and more inventive, plus a whole lot heavier.
From the very second that those ambient factory noises subsided and Fredrik Thordendal began blowing down his distorted klaxon kazoo (that might not be the technical name for it, but for the sake of time…), listeners knew that the Meshuggah machine had upgraded. Opening tracks, “Future Breed Machine” and “Beneath” were ultra-smart powerhouse juggernauts, and led into a further eight tracks of intricately crafted industrial metal that, even nearly 25 years on, still make for a hugely impressive listen. If it weren’t for everything that followed, this could well have been Meshuggah’s finest moment. The settled band line-up also showed a newfound sense of refinement. Jens Kidman had matured as a vocalist, Thordendal’s lead guitar work was the most enigmatic and enthralling it had been up until that point, and Thomas Haake’s drumming had honed a fine balance of speedy and steady, intertwined.
This album also saw fruition of a highly understated element of Meshuggah’s music: the melodies. The interlude of “Future Breed Machine”, the intro to “Beneath” and the entirety of “Acrid Placidity” (to mention a mere three) displayed a previously hardly touched-on ability to add emotive elements to their music. These moments were, and still are, mind-blowingly good. ‘Harmonious‘, ‘elegant‘, and ‘haunting‘ are just a few words I can lay down before I get mentally tongue-tied. I can’t sell them enough within this write up, suffice to say that nobody does melodies like Meshuggah. There, I’ve said it.
I even wish that one day, they’d drop a whole record, if just an EP, comprised of nothing but ambience. It would be brilliant. I know all you seasoned fans are thinking the same. You are all thinking that… right?
Anyway, to summarise the album as a whole, it was the mid 90s. The genre of metal had gone bat-shit crazy, and was heading in all directions: fast, slow, upbeat, downbeat, safe, notorious, commercial, and underground. Amidst all this, Destroy Erase Improve stood as a solid labour of love, oozing not a single bead of pretentiousness or shallowness. It was as true to itself as every other record of that era, and a lean, mean rival to its more renowned peers.
Destroy Erase Improve is still a long way off from the game-changing Meshuggah of later years. As far as the rest of the metal genre is concerned, it is a long-standing masterpiece. There really is not a single bad thing about it.
It was also the last ‘normal’ record Meshuggah would ever make.
Kidman’s vocals in “Neurotica” are my favourite vocals in a metal song ever.
Sorry, just needed to get that off my chest. So back to our scheduled programming, it was the late 90’s, and after Destroy Erase Improve, Meshuggah were unable to push their music any further…
You laugh, but there may well have been a time when people actually thought that to be true. After all, what next for a band who’d appeared to have nailed industrial prog metal to a fault? A few notable events followed. Long-term bassist Peter Nordin had handed his duties over to Gustaf Hielm. In 1997, fans were treated to a remix trinket EP called The True Human Design. It opened with a rather interesting new studio song titled “Sane”.
One year on, Meshuggah unleashed Chaosphere.
8 strings? Nope. Still not there yet. Chaosphere was a transitional state, and the anomalous warcry of Meshuggah‘s timeline. It rounded off their 90s catalogue in monstrous fashion, and cemented the roadwork for what was to follow. Meshuggah took everything they knew, hacked it up, poured it into a powder keg, and fired it out of a cannon loud enough to dishevel even the most seasoned of ears. Gone were the melodies. Cue eight tracks with zero respite. Chaosphere was pure noise embodied in technicality, and there was no other album like it in the world.
The polyrhythmic saga of Meshuggah’s career was in full swing. The tempos were reliably steady, but the riffs blazed across the rhythm and danced anarchically between synchronicity and disorder. It’s possible to listen to this album a million times (trust me) and still not know quite what the heck is going on, but everything starts with a perfect fit and ends exactly the same. What happens in between is largely too complex for my tiny brain. There is no word more apt to describe this record than ‘Chaos’.
For this reason, Chaosphere is the maddening musical puzzle that gives out with fresh resonance each time it’s played. Though exuding an artisan level of technicality, it packs a punch of fortitude which empowers ten out of ten listens. I believe “Corridor of Chameleons” and “Neurotica” embody this strength the most. Though slow in essence, they do not relent or fail to surprise. To me, they are hardcore metal harnessed in the cleverest faculty.
There is something else decidedly magical happening in this album. Jens Kidman’s vocals are pure fire. He growls so fast that he practically raps, firing out his lyrics with such rapidity that he is almost machine-like. I already mentioned that “Neurotica” is my favourite example, but you can also check out “The Mouth Licking What You’ve Bled” and the chorus segments of “The Exquisite Machinery of Torture” for further evidence of his vocal wizardry. For whatever reason, Jens would slow his verbal repertoire for every album which followed, making Chaosphere the only time he sung in this style. It may have been for his own well-being in the long run, but this one-shot display of vocal brilliance could be argued as the highlight of his tenure. It’s definitely my personal favourite.
Equally astounding is their music video for “New Millennium Cyanide Christ”, which was produced on a budget of six billion dollars and required a special effects team of no less than 400 people, each of whom was sworn to secrecy during the video’s five-year production. The result speaks for itself:
Nothing planted a seed. Welcome to the rain forest of metal as it’s known today.
8 strings, djent, who did what first, and when… the facts are out there. Keeping this within the confines of Meshuggah’s sole timeline is probably the best way for me to not fall sideways out of the context of this write-up. The influence the band and this album had on the world is the stuff of legend. So let’s stick to what it did for Meshuggah.
Like pretty much all of Meshuggah‘s albums, it was an experiment. The band were far from done, less than satisfied, and striving ever forward to find ways to push the boat of their own sound out further. Ultimately, Nothing was as far away from Chaosphere was one could imagine. If Chaosphere was an overcharged missile, then Nothing was a super-intelligent tank. It was slow, steady, foreboding, droney in many ways, and none of it would have worked were it not for the newly birthed guitar sound they created on their path to creating this strange, ominous, and ultra-brutal opus.
However it was achieved, they achieved it… almost. Musically, the band’s rocky road to the eight-string low-end effect was the perfect marriage for Nothing’s songwriting. The polyrhythm formula had really come into its own on this one. Remember how I said that Chaosphere had the ability to perplex no matter how many times you listened to it? Well the same could also be said for Nothing, despite it being more patient in tempo. The fluidity of the riffage meant that they were able to create complex time signatures in a more subdued kind of way. The low-end relied less on palm-muted chords and more on singular notes.
This newfound breathing space also meant that they were able to reintroduce a melodic standard completely absent since Destroy Erase Improve. Those entrancing leads and emotive interludes, though a great deal more eerie, had made a welcomed return. It might have been divisive to the fan base, but it was a new brand of triumph for Meshuggah’s creativity.
Nothing is part-mechanized and part-possessed. It’s mechanized in the sense that each song finds a way of ringing out the maximum amount of punch a pioneering band creating a new sound in 2002 were capable of. It’s possessed in the sense that it amplifies the musical heart and soul Meshuggah had since their songs of ten years prior. It all goes back to the voice, the emotion, the adventurousness, the style of beauty within the chaos patented solely to them. As always, despite all the many musicians who found inspiration in its wake, nobody but Meshuggah could have made Nothing. It was completely different to them, yet it was unmistakably them.
Can you believe this album was also considered ‘rushed’? Touring schedules meant they had to snap up production prematurely, causing Fredrik Thordendal to engineer a re-released, audibly souped up version of the album, which is identical in every sense, but with that extra bit of chug. You decide which is the superior product. Both are Nothing. Both are awesome.
Fractured Transmitter/ Nuclear Blast
It was the first Meshuggah thing I ever heard. Maybe you can understand why it took me a while to figure out what these guys, er, were.
The out-there saga of their career began in 2004 with an anomalous thing which wasn’t really an album, or an EP, or a single. I guess you could say that I’s biggest departure was in the fact that the drums were programmed, or more specifically, a live recording which was then programmed. Largely engineered by Fredrik and Haake, this one-off 21-minute behemoth was a studio cut-and-paste job created in a vein later mastered in its 2005 big brother, Catch Thirty Three: to create one big song. It wasn’t about showcasing stamina or technical flair. Meshuggah have never been inclined that way, and as I said, it was pieced together mostly by studio magic and a great deal of patience.
Though a mechanical process in a broader sense, I somehow, someway, takes on a life of its own. As a listener, concentrating on the rhythm and the riffs can be a disconcerting process, as everything exists for longer than nature surely allows it. Yes, I’m going deep in the descriptive here, but it was my first exposure to Meshuggah, I had no idea what the band even looked like and so I had to assume they were a congregation of celestial reptiles with hundreds of fingers on each hand. Imagine being me at that point, trying to work out exactly why the intro riff on its own was no less than 90 seconds! The same goes for the rest of it. It’s like somebody had accidentally dropped a reasonably sensible prog metal song into a vat of radioactive ooze and had it emerge mutated, super-powered, and out for blood. I talked before about certain Meshuggah releases being like puzzles. Well, good luck solving this one.
Emotionally however, there is good reason why I keep going back to I (and vice versa). For all of their confusing relentlessness, the heavy parts are agonisingly satisfying. They merge the complex with the brutal, and they seem not to dull with age. There is also a lot else to consider on this record. When it’s not smashing eardrums, it’s meandering between dark, somber, and mysterious, in that all too classic Meshuggah style. Industrial prog, this record is, and let’s feel free to place emphasis on the term ‘prog’ because its 21-minute movement has you enraged, through to deflated, and then to emotionally bombarded, all via means of musical substance. Attempting to reflect on the beginning, when hearing the ending often makes you wonder where in the hell you were in the middle. Now that’s true progression folks.
Is I one big studio hack or is it a musical masterpiece? The correct answer is the latter, darn it! You’re under no obligation to like it, even if you’re a Meshuggah fan, but you have to at least respect the ambition behind it, the diligence in creating it, and the potency of the end result. If you love I, then good for you. If I drives you completely off the wall, then just remember, that was probably the intention.
Catch Thirty Three (2005)
The out-there saga, chapter two: This Time It’s Really Out-There. Or an alternative title could be, When the Untrained Patient Listener Realises He’s Already on Track Four.
Catch Thirty Three is the weirdest, most experimental and arguably most fun album the band ever did. It was the peak of their boundary-pushing endeavours. In case the fact escaped you, I have a great deal of love for all things Meshuggah, but pound for pound, Catch Thirty Three could well be my most personal and treasured record. Alongside I, it was one of the first Meshuggah works I’d heard front-to-back, and their first CD which I went out and bought. Yes, you guessed it. I had no idea what to expect.
The 13-track breakdown is a mere formality. The album is one 47-minute song. There is no fade in and out. The only pauses are at the band’s own behest. What Catch Thirty Three is, why it exists, and what it means are something one will never truly suss out. I’d go as far as to say that it’s possible to forget that it was actually made by people, and that it’s more like the artifact of a lost civilisation found in the more cursed regions of space, maybe the poetic musings of a disgruntled sentient computer… with a hangover.
The full breadth of its content is remarkable, but there is one element which strikes me the most. I’ve already touched on my love of Meshuggah’s ambient melodies. Allow me to elaborate on that by saying that I think the minimalist, vacuous, drumless, closing act of “In Death- Is Death” is one of the most spellbinding pieces of music the band has ever created, low-end riffs ‘n’ all. Within its elegantly haunting plucks is proof that Meshuggah weren’t tech-heads. They were musicians first and foremost.
There are so many ways a project like Catch Thirty Three could have turned silly and there are a few negative positions you’re welcome to take on its sound: it’s mundane, it’s overlong, it’s so droney it’s irritating. Fine, fine, and fine. I’ll admit, that’s kind of where I was too… once, but that’s not how it gets me any more. Every segment of Catch Thirty Three, be it heavy or eerie (it’s often both), carries a resonance so engrossing that I find the modern version of me drawing a very different conclusion: it’s perfect.
Hot take, I know. My justifications goes as far as to momentarily criticise everything Meshuggah did afterwards (criticism falters when I actually hear those records).My point is that Meshuggah invented a new sound and it was a highly monolithic, otherworldly, and sinister sound, which they then used to simply write, er, songs. I consider Catch Thirty Three perfect because it’s more than a song. It’s a work of art, polarizing as art may well be. Sound and substance infuse in a once-in-a-lifetime event which the band were to never replicate again. I don’t think they could, even if they tried.
Catch Thirty Three is beyond special, and in my book, one of Meshuggah’s crowning achievements.
2008, and Meshuggah were a band again.
Of course, they never stopped being a band. They’d just taken a holiday to the event horizon. Now they were back home and writing songs and records in the more traditional sense, except they’d brought all their new toys back with them, including new bass player, Dick Lövgren.
obZen could be seen as the definitive rebirth of Meshuggah. They seemed to have taken stock of everything they’d done before, learning from the highs and lows of their career to create a refreshed Meshuggah sound. Tired, strung out, and lacking in new ideas, this 20-year-old band were certainly not. obZen is traditional in one sense. It’s arguably the true formulaic follow-up to Nothing that fans might well have been anticipating for six years. Those who took a disliking to the far-out digital hollers of I and Catch Thirty Three were now able to breathe a sigh of relief. ‘Accessible’ is probably a misleading term, but you get the idea. This was the new Meshuggah album with no real experimental strings attached.
As is very much the same with their mid-90s tenure, obZen goes through the motions. It is fast and slow, progressive and straight to the point, oozing with the old school but pushing forward a reinvigorated sense of purpose. The most renowned point of this album is the return of something that Meshuggah hadn’t created in a long time, and that was, in their own unique way, the anthem track. In this case, the anthem was “Bleed”, and is now perhaps the most well-known Meshuggah song of all time (I recently heard it on a UK TV commercial). There is good reason for this. For all of “Bleed”’s bafflingly technical and unashamedly brutal prowess, it is also markedly catchy. Its ‘wow’ factor landed an equal punch for fans and newcomers alike, which is a damn impressive feat. In terms of album structure, “Bleed” also leads into the monstrously groovy “Lethargica” and the album’s ultimate highlight, (for my money, at least) title track “obZen”, which has everything a good Meshuggah track should have, all squeezed into one lean fit.
These trinkets and more make the album a hell of a charismatic ride. It was a musical principle on which Meshuggah would build the rest of their career right up until now. It was also great to see the band hitting the road with new songs and playing them like they were the same brazen young whipper-snappers of pre-90s fame.
There is a natural sense of energy which bedsits obZen from start to finish. It crackles with charisma from the very start, and it rocks through and through. Yes, I’ll admit, on hearing it, there was still that part of me that remained trapped in the warp with Catch Thirty Three, but in that space-happy mindset, I also seem to recall saying that particular experience could never be repeated, so I shouldn’t complain. Meshuggah were always a thing, but I think it’s fair to say that obZen caused an explosion in their popularity, which was high time for a band who started in the 80s. You can’t say they didn’t work for it.
My riot shield is ready, so I’ll go ahead and say it: I think Koloss is the superior record to obZen.
It might be because I am a sucker for groove and there is a lot of that on Koloss, more so than on its predecessor, but I’d like to think there is a little more substance to my preference than that. Don’t get me wrong, I love obZen like the best of ‘em, though a lot of the time, I listen to it and think of it as a test run for the next, more audibly settled album which followed it. That album was Koloss.
Easy on the projectiles guys, my shield is made of polycarbonate, not diamond! Okay, maybe I should stop comparing it to obZen. You’ll either agree with me or not. I’m simply stating the case that it is a mega slick record, containing some of the coolest moments in Meshuggah’s post-90s, eight-string tenure.. As soon as that opening pelt of the first track, “I Am Colossus” kicks in, you’re assured it means business, and that Koloss will exude a low-end air of superiority in the production department. Not since the days of Nothing did we get a Meshuggah record so reliant on heavy riffs as opposed to technicality, but also remember we are dealing with an older and wiser version of that band, which shows.
Throwing new ideas into the pot could not have been easy, given everything the band had already accomplished since the wacky thrash wallops of Contradictions Collapse back in 1991. Koloss proves infallibly that there has never been a typical Meshuggah album. That fact that each one is its own treasure is a concept the band worked really hard to maintain in this release. Here are just a few highlights; the ultra boomy doom chants of “I Am Colossus”, the galloping onslaughts of “The Demon’s Name is Surveillance”, the relentless aggression of “The Hurt That Finds You First”, and my personal favourite, the unconquerable, nasty, and brilliant “Demiurge”, one of my absolute all time Meshuggah favourites in fact.
Oh yes, there’s one more, the final track “The Last Vigil”. There they go again, serenading ears with beautiful melodic ambience. Seriously guys, make that melodic EP! Nuclear Blast trust you, so there’s no harm in asking them.
As a whole, Koloss is dark, ominous, and effortlessly cool in parts. It has a pulse, it bares its teeth, and in many ways, it’s one of the meanest records the band ever did. It came at a point in Meshuggah’s career when making a nonplussed copycat of their own influential sound would have been a partly anticipated next move, especially for a band so long in the game and with so much critique riding upon them. I know that some people think that’s exactly what Koloss is. To those people, I say, please hear it out! The truth of Koloss is that it’s fresh and bursting with energy. It reinvigorated a concept that ran the risk of stagnating, and like all other Meshuggah works, It needed no outside influence to tell it what to do.
The Violent Sleep of Reason (2016)
The Violent Sleep of Reason carries on its shoulders a burden of quality the size of a planet. What does a band who have done virtually everything then go on to do? Get back into the studio and do one more of course!
Times were a-changin’. I had been a loyal disciple right up until, and during, Koloss. I then fell out of the Meshuggah-sphere, during which they dropped a new album, and their last studio record to date. For me, with everything else going on, The Violent Sleep of Reason was a bit of a pick-up-put-down affair, and only now am I giving it the due time and attention. I have no real retrospect on this one, so the experience is a lot more objective.
That’s okay though. Hearing it outside of the context of its 2016 hype is beneficial, as this album had the same problem as Koloss; there was an overwhelming amount for it to live up to. Meshuggah were no longer obscure or underground. They were more or less ‘The Man‘.
Well, I certainly ain’t gonna say this album is bland for the sake of it, yet it seems a bit repetitive for me to say that this is another great Meshuggah record. Soaking it in with fresh ears does however lead me to lean towards the latter. I’m calling it as honestly as I can. The Violent Sleep of Reason isn’t just a ‘not bad’ record. It’s a ‘good’ record.
Have you heard many of its ideas in previous Meshuggah albums? Of course you have. But the stuff they carried over into their latest opus is mainly the good stuff: the darkness, the crunch, the baffling synchronicity, the ambience. Tracks like “Clockworks” and “Monstrocity” do their level-best to freshen up the riff energy and, through a down-to-earth sense of diligence, manage to achieve it. Even with everything before it, they are still cool songs. Title track “The Violent Sleep of Reason” is a titanic album mid-point in its own right, and so the record maintains muscle through out.
Admittedly, the majority of its best ideas occur in its first half, and I guess the last few tracks are the few in the band’s roster which could be considered ‘samey’. But there is still the odd nice surprise. There is a recurring ambience used in the lead guitar work, which adds some zest to the low-end, and the final track “Into Decay” contains glimmers of the vintage proggy motions last heard way back in Destroy Erase Improve.
Their drive for experimentation may have been put to rest, but Meshuggah did not cease to be solid when making their ninth full-length album, and they certainly didn’t bow to any newly acquired peer pressure. It was better that they made a substantial record rather than a ropey one, and being someone who has heard all of their stuff a lot, I can fully validate that they did not lose their fiery passion for making music.
All things considered, they did it again.
Their live albums ain’t bad either. Go find ‘em!
It’s been a privilege backtracking through these records. My personal memory lane ran in tandem with an up-to-date and objective perspective. It isn’t 2006 anymore, and my knowledge of music has expanded 33-fold. Meshuggah however, still remains at the core of my listening passions. That will never change.
I hope my incessant ramblings have helped you in some way. If you disagree with my preferences, good on you! So, what exactly have we learned about Meshuggah? For Meshuggah, it was clear that the music always came first. Be they underdog thrashers or genre-forging pioneers, a prevailing standard of creativity kept them making songs for the right reasons, all the way up until now. You know the dynamic is special when two guitarists, a drummer, and vocalist have worked solidly together for as long as these dudes have. You know there’s humility in a lead guitarist who rarely does interviews, and a singer whose lyrics, by about 90 percent, have been written by the rest of the band, and not him. It’s the kind of down to earth level-headedness that can only come from an outfit who, despite the enigmatic nature of their sound, would often roll up to the stage wearing Faith No More and Red Hot Chilli Peppers t-shirts. Image is nothing. Sound is everything. Case in point: most of their music videos.
That insight in itself reveals what else stopped them from being a generic clone of their numerous peers: a wealth of influence which spread way past a subgenre of metal, or even metal as a whole. Rap, electronic, classical, to name only a fractal, came into play. They also used art and literature as an incentive. From this, I believe came the ability to disregard the rules of convention, to scoff at the prospect at taking their human selves seriously, and in doing so they were able to make the most seriously sick music imaginable. There is good reason why all those other bands were unable to sound like Meshuggah. To sound like Meshuggah, you gotta be Meshuggah. There is no band like them, and there never will be.
For these reasons, I can officially dub their music timeless. I’m extremely grateful to have seen them live twice, to have discreetly headbanged to “Corridor of Chameleons” on my headphones at a train station, to have discovered None when I thought I’d heard it all, to holler at my friends with low-jaw revel on hearing “Bleed” for the first time, and to stand in that flat at the age of 24, innocently Meshuggah-less, and have I end my world with permanent resolve.
Anyway, enough about me. What about the band themselves, those string-adding, genre-bending, tempo-ruffling hall-of-famers? Given all those lovely, astounding things they brought to the world of heavy music, I’d say they have earned themselves the privilege of hanging their hats and living out the rest of their days in subdued comfort, having never again to board a tour bus, conceive an idea, or play a single solitary riff…
Oh, no, wait! They’re working on a new album.