Meshuggah
obZen


4.5
superb

Review

by Jom STAFF
May 17th, 2008 | 1664 replies | 216,443 views


Release Date: 2008 | Tracklist

Review Summary: While sounding homogeneous in spots, 'obZen' is a potential metal album-of-the-year candidate thanks to Haake's triumphant return behind the kit and a hearty combination of new ideas interspersed with allusions to each of their previous albums.

With obZen, Swedish metal mathematicians Meshuggah have delivered their best release this decade. This assertion stems from two definitive characteristics that give the album its identity. To begin, Tomas Haake is back behind the kit, a welcome return after the Drumkit from Hell-driven percussion heard on 2005's Catch Thirty-Three. While obZen may or may not win Album of the Year credentials at year's end, Haake's performance on this album is absolutely stunning and easily cements him as one of metal's finest drummers. Haake's triumphant return, while significant, is slightly overshadowed by Meshuggah fulfilling its affirmation that obZen is an amalgamation of their previous works. Prior to a significant release, most bands taunt listeners by claiming that they are taking their music in a new direction (and not changing a damn thing about it or completely alienating their fans with too drastic a change), but with these Swedes, they deliver on their promise while simultaneously introducing new songwriting ideas into their repertoire.

Throughout their existence, opinions on Meshuggah have been divisive: one listener's idea of repetitive, trite, and over-saturated noise may be another's consistent, complex, and technical aural assault. Of note, however, is the band's undeviating ability to evolve between each release, and obZen is no exception. The evolution found on this album can best be illustrated by Meshuggah's maturation in song arrangement and style. The trademark Meshuggah tenacity is omnipresent throughout the record - Jens Kidman's vocals are continually abrasive and menacing, guitarists Fredrik Thordendal, Mårten Hagström, and bassist Dick Lövgren are constantly delivering extremely heavy riffs (Lövgren's performance is particularly astonishing, and his bass resonates clearly throughout the album), and Tomas Haake is always being Tomas Haake (going absolutely insane) - but the composition of obZen's nine songs sounds more cohesive and fluid while retaining the polyrhythmic scaffolding that characterizes their past work. Where albums like the homogeneous Nothing or the scattered Chaosphere had bouts of choppy songwriting, obZen's entire runtime is very smooth and uniform. In introducing this more fluid structure of songwriting, it is important to note that Meshuggah's technical skill is still remarkably stunning, and their relentless, unparalleled sense of thrashy groove has not been eliminated completely. Additionally, obZen is arguably the band's most melodic release; at least, the most melodic since 1995's Destroy Erase Improve.

The track that is the ultimate manifestation of the above characteristics is the seven-minute "Bleed". obZen's third track starts off with an absolutely killer intro, reminiscent of 2004's I, and Kidman's enraged vocals immediately follow with "Beams of fire sweep through my head / Thrusts of pain increasingly engaged / Sensory receptors succumb / I am no one now - only agony" resonating over Haake's frantic kicks and hits, complemented with a mechanized, runaway-freight-train guitar sound. Just past the song's halfway point, a short ambient period segues into one of the best Thordendal leads on the album; afterwards, the song rips open into another heavy passage that carries into the track's conclusion. As such, "Bleed" is arguably Meshuggah's best song to date. I am also a firm believer that an album's opening track officially sets the tone for the album, and "Combustion" does a memorable job in introducing the old-and-new Meshuggah sound that symbolizes obZen. Again, an aggressive Kidman delivers a dominating performance, guitarists Hagström and Thordendal absolutely shine, namely in the song's introduction and bridge, and Lövgren's rumbling, steadfast bass perfectly complements madman Haake's machine-gun bass-snare-cymbal onslaught.

Kidman's execution on obZen is noteworthy when delivering Haake's lyrics. As always, Meshuggah's lyricism pinpoints a fascination with human physiology and psychology. For example, the pineal gland excretes a hormone called melatonin, which regulates one's Circadian rhythm and is essentially the human body's timekeeper. Haake's lyrics on "This Spiteful Snake" and "Electric Red" are stellar as well. In the former, Haake symbolizes consciousness with a serpent ("Reality: this spiteful snake, rearing its ugly head / Venom dripping from its grin as it tosses yet another obstacle in our way / . . . Reality: this spiteful snake, shedding its smothering veil / A shroud to asphyxiate, exterminate, eradicate"); in the latter, an almost-Orwellian theme seeps into the track, as evidenced by lyrics such as "So meticulously machined into these obedient devices - puppets - fine-tuned submissive drones / Replicas of each other - clones - we're dormant accumulations of flesh in a crimson filtered twilight / Mute witnesses to the game / Wrenches to keep the bolts of lies tight." To match the technical and intense musicianship, Meshuggah's vocalist needs to be just as domineering and impassioned; in short, Kidman succeeds on all accounts.

In keeping with my claim that each of obZen's nine tracks has its own distinctiveness, it is crucial to point out the stamina of the album's two concluding tracks, the strong "Pravus" and the nearly-ten-minute epic "Dancers to a Discordant System", as well as the title track. "Pravus"' intro is incredibly frenzied, characterized by a spastic opening guitar riff and a pulsating groove from the band's rhythm section. The shifts in tempo and tone throughout the track keeps the listener engaged, especially as the guitars reverberate and ring out between hard downstrokes and bellicose drumming. Both "Pravus" and its preceding track, "Pineal Gland Optics", suggestively allude to Catch Thirty-Three, especially from a rhythm section and vocal standpoint. While "Pravus" loses some of the introduction's steam, obZen's closing track is a test of endurance: not for the listener, mind you, but for the Swedish quintet. "Dancers'" introduction, again reminiscent of Catch Thirty-Three's whispered vocals in that album's middle section, begins on a tranquil note, but as is the case with Meshuggah, placidity does not last long. While some of Meshuggah's longest songs throughout their discography have been trying listens, "Dancers" continually keeps the listener absorbed and interested through each movement. obZen, while more moderate in pace compared to the rest of Meshuggah's discography thus far, is still a refreshing listen.

What makes obZen such a phenomenal record is not just Haake's long-awaited return behind a drum kit, as opposed to the programmed Drumkit from Hell percussion heard on 2005's Catch Thirty-Three, but the fact that Meshuggah hinted at each of its past works - especially Destroy Erase Improve, Nothing, and I - while simultaneously adding new and exciting elements to their core sound. The album's seemingly streamlined, fluid sound is an impeccable quality, even with the polyrhythmic structure that defines Meshuggah's sound, and obZen's songs flow into each other even better than the schisms that divided their 2005 LP while retaining their unique and distinct identities. Haake is a legendary drummer, and his steadfast execution only expounds his talent and cements his elite status in the metal community. As the principle lyricist, Haake's writing is typical Meshuggah fare, but nevertheless intriguing. Vocalist Jens Kidman is time and time again a model of consistency, and guitarists Thordendal (his tremendous leads and solos on obZen are some of his best to date) and Hagström (whose heavy riffs and downstrokes complement an assertive but never domineering Lövgren as the backbone of Meshuggah's sound) are spectacular as well. While some of the slower sections on this album are a bit burdensome to sit through, the listener is alleviated with the frequent transitions and explosions in sound. In all, obZen is a thoroughly enjoyable and engaging record, and is without question an early contender for metal Album of the Year.

Jom recommends:

Bleed
Combustion
Pravus
Dancers to a Discordant System



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Comments:Add a Comment 
Tyler
Emeritus
February 29th 2008



7924 Comments


I started off liking this a lot more than past Meshuggah, and I sort of still do, but it starts off so strong then sort of grows really tiresome. I think they'd be best as an EP band.
Solid review though

rattlehead42147
February 29th 2008



1345 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

I'm interested in getting this eventually. Great review.

Eliminator
February 29th 2008



2067 Comments


what coke said pretty much

Mikesn
Emeritus
February 29th 2008



3709 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Big improvement over Catch 33.

I think they'd be best as an EP band.
Probably.

south_of_heaven 11
February 29th 2008



5426 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

These guys really annoy me tbh (their music, that is).

Altmer
February 29th 2008



5652 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I dig Catch 33 but this beats it for me. Meshuggah are like Coke said, an EP kind of band: but their newer releases are somehow more streamlined. Amazing album.

Combustion rules.

Crimson
February 29th 2008



1935 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Terrific review, I've never checked out any Meshuggah material, I think I might start with this.

Willie
Moderator
February 29th 2008



15774 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I think they'd be best as an EP band.
Before this album I would have agreed, but this is the first one I can actively listen to from start to finish (on Myspace, of course).

Digging: Teramaze - Esoteric Symbolism

rattlehead42147
February 29th 2008



1345 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

I really dont like I but I like everything else that I've heard, which includes from Destroy Erase Improve through Catch 33. i've got Nothing waiting on me at the library so I'm about to check it out.

gasmaskman
February 29th 2008



1006 Comments


This album is fantastic.
Dancers is my second favorite to Bleed.

hermitspancho
February 29th 2008



277 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

I like this.Heavy ,technical and the vocal is superb .

Foodforthegods
February 29th 2008



425 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

This album is phenomenal!

Dancers is the best song! Bleed, Combustion and Pravus are great songs too.

Wizard
February 29th 2008



18784 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I am also a firm believer that an album's opening track officially sets the tone for the album


I also agree with this too!

Wow, fantastic review Jom. I was certainly captivated for the enitre read!

Meshuggah's lyricism pinpoints a fascination with human physiology and psychology. For example, the pineal gland excretes a hormone called melatonin, which regulates one's Circadian rhythm and is essentially the human body's timekeeper. Haake's lyrics on This Spiteful Snake and Electric Red are stellar as well. In the former, Haake symbolizes consciousness with a serpent ("Reality: this spiteful snake, rearing its ugly head / Venom dripping from its grin as it tosses yet another obstacle in our way / . . . Reality: this spiteful snake, shedding its smothering veil / A shroud to asphyxiate, exterminate, eradicate")


The way you embed the lyrics into your ideas was done extremely well.

Digging: Triptykon - Melana Chasmata

Mendigo
February 29th 2008



2299 Comments


yeah, great review.
I usually don't listen to that kind of music and I was really surprised to find out how much I like it.

jrowa001
February 29th 2008



8749 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

great review. ill be getting this soon for sure

Sound
February 29th 2008



3838 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Excellent review, looking forward listening to this when getting it next friday.

Is it me or are they getting a little closer at being mainstream? 'Thought I heard what seems like a verse-chorus structure. At least sounds like it in the first few minutes of Combustion and Bleed. Not that it's bad in any way cause it sounded killer, but it's still strange to hear Meshuggah playing that kind of structures.


Edit: Of course they do not sound mainstream on this. If I'm not mistaken DEI has a couple of songs like Future Breed Machine and Soul Burn that have like a chorus part going on.




combustion07
February 29th 2008



5303 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Combustion rules


Thank you.
This is probably a 4 from me, I liked it and it doesn't drag too much.

TheStarclassicTreatment
February 29th 2008



2909 Comments


Haake's playing is impeccable

HighandDriving
February 29th 2008



3232 Comments


Combustion is such an amazing opener.

gasmaskman
February 29th 2008



1006 Comments


Dancers is such an amazing closer.



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