Meshuggah – obZen

April 2, 2008

In a nutshell, Meshuggah are the heaviest metal band I have ever heard, and arguably the most sophisticated. Each of their albums has something to be said for it individually, but their style of being reliably unpredictable has kept up without being much different. It sounds strange, I know. It is a bizarre contradiction. In that way, stylistic differences between obZen and Meshuggah’s previous records are subtle. The album shreds with tonal spikes, crushes with breakneck beats, and booms with growling vocals in the same way that the previous albums did. But now, they occasionally pull a hint of mysticism out of their bag of tricks. The difference is almost negligible.

But it doesn’t tire me out. ObZen is the culmination of Meshuggah’s style thus far. All of the band’s good aspects are rolled into a single, compact album that doesn’t waste much time. In terms of production, the guitars still sound very heavy, and are still as far as I know the same type of guitars used on I and the Nothing re-release, that is, downtuned eight strings. Fredrik Thordendal has created some of his most instantly memorable riffs here. Tomas Haake is back on live drums after a break during the recording of Catch Thirty Three, which used a drum machine. Haake is the centerpiece of the band. His rhythms are considerable at the very least because they are complex and take an unfathomable degree of talent to produce, and the drum production is heated and inward. Thordendal’s guitar parts seem to ride along Haake’s heavy low-toned rhythms like a menacing crow resting on the head of a rhinoceros, except both animals are on crack and are charging forward at full speed.

Somewhere along the line, I stopped trying to count rhythms. I mean, in general. When listening to music. I did not think about them. When playing a song, it would come naturally to me, and I became more at ease with music that features complex rhythms and syncopation. Breakbeats from Aphex Twin and Squarepusher, for example, are one of the numerous hurdles I cleared to reach the point where my rhythmic comfort zone exploded. When I first listened to Meshuggah, I had not reached this point.

I have clearly become comfortable with Meshuggah’s rhythms by now, by realizing that there is no way I could possibly keep up with them. That said, the signposts for any Meshuggah songs are difficult to pinpoint. The drums and guitars are too huge and complex to be signposts, and all of the vocals sound the same. It isn’t easy getting acquainted and comfortable with Meshuggah, but it is a battle worth winning. The opening Combustion is one of the band’s most memorable and adrenaline charged songs. It is followed up by comparably moody Electric Red, and then the sonic firestorm of Bleed. Although obZen pulls its best cards first, it rarely slips up. Pineal Gland Optics is also a standout, and Dancers To A Discordant System rounds everything off quite nicely.

ObZen differentiates itself by simply being of high quality. Although there isn’t a hell of a lot new going on for the band, they have at the very least constructed their tightest collection of songs to date. ObZen ties the experimental EP I for the most representative Meshuggah release, and in full album form. All of Meshuggah’s trademarks are here. Crushing, geometric storms of drums and guitars are periodically interrupted by guitar solos, some of which are fast with complex modes, others that are slow, unaccompanied, dissonant noises which contrast impending doom.

Although it seems as if Meshuggah have reached their stylistic boundaries, that did not stop them from making an awfully good album to kick off 2008. Fans will find familiar excellence, and new listeners would be encouraged to start here.

One comment

  1. dude i bought this cd as soon as i got back from utah and i was blown away by the total metal riffage in every single song

    my favorite is bleed, i find it unimaginable to play that fast that complicated
    they totally outdo themselves on this album
    i love it

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