Review Summary: you'd think that after 12 albums, any other band would be getting bored. Not Meshuggah...
Jens Kidman (Vocals)
Frederik Thordenthal (Lead Guitar)
Marten Hagestrom (Rhythm Guitar)
Dick Lovgren (Bass)
Tomas Haake (Drums)
Having been in existence since as early as 1989, Swedish “Avant-Garde” Thrashers Meshuggah have a mind bogglingly vast back catalogue that stretches out over 12 separate releases (including B-side compilations and demo EP’s). this fact brings you to two interesting thoughts; one being that it will cost a hell of a lot of money to truly get your head around the sheer complexity and ambition of the band (at this moment, I possess only “Destroy, Erase, Improve and this album that I am reviewing, with “Chaosphere hopefully on its way), and the second thought being that after all this time, you may have thought that Jens, Tomas and Co. May be getting a little bored of making music.
However, the very fact that they are still churning out music of what must be consistent quality is a real credit to the bands energy, stamina, and commitment to their loyal hordes (of which I am fast becoming a member of).
The introduction is the trundle of moody potential that Meshuggah seem to have made a trademark with most of their songs. Once the vocals and instruments really kick in to the meat of the track, the evolutions that have been made from Destroy Erase Improve stick out like a sore thumb, but in a good way. Jens grates and screams his way through the doom inspired vocals in the way only he seems to know how to, whilst the backing from the instrumental four piece is suitably crushing. A very good start.
2. Electric Red
Once again, more of the same apocalyptic introductory riffs, before Jens bulldozes his way into the vocals with a frighteningly machine like quality. And, in keeping with the end-of-the-world feeling that Meshuggah seem to invoke, Jens growls about the collapse of humanity and the coming about of artificial existence with unapologetic urgency. Musically, the song is a solid thumper, with the steady tempo of Tomas’ drum work complimenting the siren-like rhythm guitar and brutal lead guitar beautifully before fading out. Not quite as good as the opener, but still a very quick start out of the blocks.
Clocking in at 7:22, this is the first of the two behemoth standard tracks on this album that Meshuggah are renowned for. More of the same doom inducing lyrics and robotic vocals from Jens, who is still ripping in to the subject matter with the fresh faced enthusiasm of a debut vocalist. Although I am a big fan of the whole “beat the tar out of your instruments until they break” mentality of most thrash bands, the bridge at 4:11 is a nice little turn that allows for a quick breather whilst still maintaining the sheer menace that Meshuggah have, before pelting right back into the audial battering that is being delivered to your senses. Of course, no track is perfect, but for this album so far this is just about perfect.
This track starts off in what I can only describe as a slightly (and it is VERY slightly) more upbeat manner, and both the lyrics and tempo are markedly slower than the first three tracks. After chugging along in a somewhat unremarkable manner for the first half of its running time, we reach another bridge of lulling guitar solo, before exploding back into the mid-slow tempo that was taken before it. Although a good track in its own right, it is one of those where the title seems to match the overall feel of the song despite Jens standard screaming’s and the pounding drums and guitars. Only a minor step down, but a step down nonetheless.
Were in to title tracks-ville once again, and thankfully it starts off very well. Brimming with intent, the standard introductory guitar is well complimented by the almost air-raid siren like rhythm guitar. Also on this track, we have a surprising switch in mentality from Jens in that his singing is almost clean in the verses to the degree that you can comfortably hear what he is saying. This in turn gives you the realisation of how morbid the band’s songs can actually be, although true to form Jens does revert back to his maniacal growling later into the track. Musically, the mid fast tempo of the song is swimming with a malevolent energy that makes you pay attention until the abrupt conclusion. Another wonderful track to listen to, if your ears aren’t already bleeding that is.
6. This Spiteful Snake
Of all the tracks on this album up until this point, this is the track whose analogies are most obvious. I.e.; the spiteful snake in question being the oppression that we vest upon ourselves in the real world. Much like the last track, Jens gives us machine gun barrage of cleanly sung venom that is ideal for what is a fairly mid-slow tempo song for Meshuggah. However, before the track itself can slip into a comfort zone, there is a major switch in mood as we hit a dead stop for a second, before relaunching with a slightly more controlled but equally as brutal riff and pacing, that includes the old Meshuggah cliché of a guitar solo that seems to remind you of a computer processing information (that’s what it sounds like to me anyway. If you have any suggestions, Answers on a postcard please ;-)). All in all, another solid head banger.
7. Pineal Gland Optics
The main criticism that is vested against Meshuggah is that despite the technicalities they display across their albums within the genre, their basic sound is somewhat samey. And, despite the fact that this is another decent track, it does sound very similar to a lot of what has been on offer previously. Jens does what he does best, whilst the drumming of Tomas is toned down slightly after the manic frenzy he was working himself into earlier on in the album. The lyrics are the strong point of this song, with the subject matter being presented by Tomas’ writings and Jens’ delivery being suitably unsettling.
A return to the more frantic, quick tempo style that was on offer earlier in the opening riff, which is nicely topped off by a creepy little Bass bridge. However, what is striking here is the sheer energy that the fivesome continue to show at this late stage of proceedings. In particular, Tomas batters away at the skins like a man possessed, whilst Jens’ vocals seem to become more and more shredded and guttural with every passing track. As the song reaches its conclusion, the breakdown is crushing as Jens vents his spleen with all the bile he can muster.
9. Dancers to a Discordant System
Finally, after ripping our collective faces off for 45 minutes, Meshuggah decide to get all technical on us. A remarkable opening riff eventually bursts into desolate life. Jens has transformed from growling robot to snarling demon, adding a new twist to the lyrics that regard the blind following of controlling power structures. Coming in at 9:36, this is the second rolling monster of a track, which like the previous eight grabs you firmly by the arm and batters you silly. The main section of the lyrics are over fairly quickly into the song (about 6 minutes in), leaving us with a 3 minute breakdown that allows Tomas, Frederik, Dick, and Marten to flex their technical muscle. And believe me, they certainly do that. Jens sees us off with a repeat of the final chorus before we are finally allowed to wind down and scrape the grey matter from the ceiling. Beautiful!
So after totting up the score, we are left with 4.27, which just about rounds up to an excellent score of 4.5 out of 5. This score is a real credit to the energy and enthusiasm that Meshuggah continue to show, the complex diversity they introduce into nearly every track they produce, and the awesome brutality and raw power they can unleash. One minor complaint could be that as a general collective it can sound a little bit samey as there is very little let up from the battering that the listener receives, but this is a minor niggle.
So, this album is a massive recommendation for any metal lovers collection, and it leaves us with two final questions to consider. Firstly, Will it be the top metal album released this year". There is still too much time left to say that confidently, but you can be confident in saying that ObZen will deservedly grace many a top 5 metal albums of the year lists come late December. And secondly, can Meshuggah top this offering with their next release". Well, if they can stay as enthusiastic about their trade as they are here, then the possibilities are endless.