Review Summary: Everyone's favorite Swedish math metallers return with a solid, yet slightly repetitive album.
Meshuggah come out swinging on their seventh full length since their formation in Umeå, Sweden two decades ago. The thrashed-out opener “Combustion” harkens back to the quintet’s origins as a much simpler band than the genre bending collective they are today. Independently limbed drum god Tomas Haake is finally back behind the kit after programming the drums for 2005’s Catch 33, and obZen is a stronger album for it. Haake’s ability to lead his band through otherwise jarring time signature shifts is a major strength of the band as a whole, and though “Combustion” is actually the most straightforward song Meshuggah has put to record in years, it is a welcome return to form after the Swedes’ past few release.
The same goes for the following eight tracks. Each track seems to cull the best moments and ideas from their past albums, with the band mercifully trimming the fat where needed. “Bleed” leads off with a constantly looping double bass pattern, while Fredrik Thordendal and Mårten Hagström abuse their custom eight string Ibanezes until a brief ambient break that harkens back to 2004’s 21 minute single track EP I. The calm doesn’t last for long as Thordendal tears through the silence with a trademark atonal solo. “Lethargica,” too, cuts off halfway through a bouncing, Nothing-esque polyrhythmic jam for even more ambient respite, but this time when the band comes back the riffs are even more crushing than before as they follow Haake’s feet through a climbing and falling pattern that fades away until the titled track appears and introduces what is easily the best coupling of riffs in the entire album, while vocalist Jens Kidman delivers his monotone scream behind the chaos.
Meshuggah’s appeal has always been its ability to mix dizzying time changes and strange tonality with catchy rhythms and occasional, unexpected breaks into straight 4/4 beats. To this extent, the band has succeeded yet again with their seventh full length, but as the album’s compositions duck in and out of varying riffing patterns, the tracks begin to blend together and many of the riffs seems as though they could fit with any of the tracks on the album. Closer “Dancers to a Discordant System” cuts the monotony a bit with nearly 10 minutes of recurring tom fills and an extended jam session in its last three minutes, but it’s tough to shake the feeling that Meshuggah’s idea pool just may be running dry.