Review Summary: Headphone destroying and technically baffling, Meshuggah recapture their groove with some considerable class
For some bands, recapturing your roots is what an album is all about these days, not trying to break new ground and create something that just doesn't fit the bill. Meshuggah are most certainly the case. What "ObZen" does is mix Meshuggah's thrash influence from "Destroy Erase Improve" with the heavy grooves and complicated double bass drumming of "Nothing" and "Chaosphere". What it produces is an album that at times sounds fantastic, and manages to do nothing but confirm that Meshuggah are now rightly among the kings and queens of extreme metal, and pushing even further to the edges of the genre.
What "ObZen" opens with is one classy track, "Combustion". Here, the thrash influence is immediately obvious, launching into a jutting, angular opening riff and an absolute barrage on the drums from Haake, who for several years has proved to be one of metals most consistent drummers. The main riff here is a classic, mixing the likes of "Future Breed machine" with "Stengah" and producing a song that sounds more technically proficient and refined than both of them mixed together. Jens Kidman's voice fits the music perfectly here, pushing his vocals, as usual to the limit, and displaying, that he like the rest of his band-mates are far more proficient musicians than quite a few metal acts. "Electric Red" certainly has the atmosphere, but for me as a track doesn't really work, due to its main riff in the beginning sounding a tad monotonous. And all it really does is prepare you for the rest of the album.
"Bleed" is one hell of a song. Plus it sounds like the perfect soundtrack to add to a horror movie. A riff that sounds like the thoughts of a stalker channeled into a song, plus an insanely complicated drum line and some beautiful mellow parts make it the best song on the album. On this track, Meshuggah join the rare elite of metal and create a riff that is basically used for the whole song and not once does it sound boring, not once does it sound repetitive. In fact, they build upon it throughout the song to end up with a true masterpiece of extreme metal. Next in line is "Lethargica", and this for me is the only real letdown of the album and stops it from a higher rating. Featuring the classic groove, but sounding drab and a tad dreary, this is a poor track.
Things resume nicely with "ObZen" that is probably the heaviest track on the album, containing a deep-down groove and drums akin to "Bleed". Sounding like a machine punching a hole through sheets of steel, this is one of the albums best tracks. "This Spiteful Snake" does a better job than "Lethargica", but still pales when compared to this albums highlights. "Pineal Gland Optics" sounds just like the whirring of a drill being shoved down your throat, with a spiraling harmony and riff to some true thwacking of the drums from Haake that mean it is a very accomplished song, and one of the records best as a result. This thread of thought is carried on into "Pravus", a song that contains some heavy laden guitar tunings, and an exceptional attempt on the vocal accompaniment with Kidman. On this track, more so than any other, he sounds absolutely furious, spitting bile into the microphone and with considerable force that keeps the songs pace up and barreling forwards. The final track on the album, "dancers to a Discordant System" is not only one hell of a good title, but is a nine minute epic to boot, going through all the motions of the album in one fell swoop. A part of the track truly worthy of mentioning is the breakdown some three minutes from the end, containing some of the best heavy guitar work on the album, just due to the fact it sounds so simple, yet so refined and punishing.
And there we have it, an album that is more than worthy of staking a claim as the best heavy album of 2008. The band not only sounds tighter than on previous record "Catch Thirty-Three" but they recapture the magic and the sound that helped them become such a genre breaking act in the past. If only "Lethargica" and "This Spiteful Snake" weren't on the album, this would have easily scored higher.
5. Dancers to a Discordant System