Review Summary: A difficult experience to endure, and also one of the best.
It is no surprise to me that Catch Thirtythree has received a somewhat mixed reception, even within the Meshuggah fanbase. To say this album is peculiar would be a massive understatement. Meshuggah have always been known to be an oddity within the metal community and their shifts in sound between each album can be jarring to say the least. Just look back at the difference between the technical thrash style of Destroy Erase Improve and the chaotic, brain crushing insanity of Chaosphere. An even more extreme example would the difference between Chaosphere and their next album, Nothing, which is full of slow grooves that are mostly in odd time signatures. This leads us into Catch Thirtythree, which unsurprisingly is a very drastic shift in composition.
Their new approach is immediately noticeable upon listening to the first three tracks because they all share a nearly identical set of riffs. I have heard many people complain about this, which I find strange. To me, it was quite obvious that the only reason the album has this set up is to really prepare the listener for what will essentially be a 47 minute long track. I believe that splitting up the first three tracks was not just a smart move, but a necessary one. This album is not exactly what I would consider fun but rather a worthwhile experience, much like reading classic literature. This album requires a lot of patience and if you look for it there is an endless supply of material to analyze.
Though this is a different approach structurally, Catch Thirtythree still features what Meshuggah does best: complex overlapping polyrhythms, mind numbing time signature shifts and Kidman's appropriately inhuman vocals. But there are two major aspects of this album that separate this album from Meshuggah's other releases. The first, and most importantly, is the incredibly strong sense of atmosphere this album holds. Atmosphere is one of the most important elements in music for me, moreso than any wankery solo or even the fun, downtuned polyrhythmic sections. A strong sense of atmosphere is an essential quality for an album to maintain because that is what really sucks a listener in and plays with their emotions. Meshuggah accomplishes this mainly through their use of silence. For instance, the quiet section of In Death-Is Death with the occasional eerie notes thrown in both terrifies me and intrigues me more than any of their 'heavy' sections (though they have that in spades as well). Mind's Mirrors reminds me of both Ridley Scott's Alien film and various Edgar Allan Poe short stories. It doesn't end with these sections, though. The terror continues through the unique style of the rhythm guitars which are in a constant repetition over the rest of the music. The feeling of terror and thoughtfulness this album invokes in me is nearly indescribable.
The second aspect that separates this from all other Meshuggah albums is their lyrical perfection. This is not to suggest that the lyrics for their other albums, namely ObZen and Nothing, were anything short of brilliant but this is on an entire different level. The lyrical content is simultaneously straight forward and hidden. The themes deal with the paradoxes of life, death, and everything in between. The language is horrifying, beautiful, and intellectual all at once. The album artwork of the album compliments these themes quite flawlessly. Read the lyrics to In Death-Is Life/In Death-Is Death, as well as Entrapment and you will know what I am talking about. One must really experience the lyrical content themselves in order to understand what I am truly getting at.
I've heard a lot of people complain that this album is subpar simply because of the use of the "Drumkit From Hell." I'll just mention this briefly because as a huge fan of Tomas Haake, I find this to be ridiculous. The "Drumkit From Hell" serves its purpose flawlessly and only adds to the idea that this album is indeed an experiment. All of it was taken from samples of Tomas Haake himself. Haake also had a major hand in writing the album, and as I've mentioned before, the artwork so it is not as if he is at all absent from the album.
Everyone is at the top of their game here. Kidman holds notes far longer than any human being should be capable of, Haake's writing and art design are appropriately thought provoking, and the guitar work is nothing short of genius. I strongly recommend listening to this album at night with a cup of coffee, perhaps a cigarette or two to really lose yourself in the haunting atmosphere of this record. I must stress essential that one listens to this album straight through or else they will only be listening to a small section of a much larger piece. This album is not for everyone because it is a complex, intense beast which requires much of your patience and repeated listening, but I have found this to be true with the best of all forms of art. This is probably an album that I will continue to listen to and enjoy for the rest of my life. This gets my highest of recommendations.