Review Summary: Today's number is 0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0. Ah-hah-hah!
Water is wet, war is awful, Zuckerberg is a skinjob, and Meshuggah have been in competition with nobody but themselves since Destroy, Erase, Improve
. That these truths are self-evident provides me with no small amount of existential comfort in a world where complexities and grey areas are augmenting and compounding like Akira
's Tetsuo during his ghastly engorgement, obscuring our old friends Truth and Clarity in a twisted amalgam of weathered debris and slick sinew.
Meshuggah too have mutated. Their evolution up until Obzen
is the stuff of nerd mythos, and their twisted application of syncopated 4/4 is a signature move that nobody else pursues as doggedly or thoroughly. While plenty of bands have matched or exceeded Meshuggah's technicality and aggression to varying degrees (Car Bomb and Frontierer come to mind), their predominance—often maintained by way of grasping a deceptively difficult brand of accessibility— has remained absolute. Hence the necessity for every reviewer that's plumbed the depths of Meshuggah's catacombs and catalogued the cadavers to remind you that they have remained inimitable forerunners of their very own genre for an ungodly stretch of time. Perhaps they cannot be silenced. Are they, perchance, Imm
Meshuggah's time-earned mastery superseded their relative lack of innovation on Koloss
and The Violent Sleep of Reason
. While Koloss
succeeded in its career-spanning synthesis by providing a consistent and diverse tracklisting packed with insidious and infectious grooves, The Violent Sleep of Reason
snuck by on an atypically organic production job and a handful of superlative standout tracks. The unspoken rule here is that the band doesn't have much left to prove, and might even be running out of places to go. This creates a demand for at least one or two drastic shake-ups and/or compositional miracles per album in order for it to feel fresh and vital within their corpus. We must assume, then, that Immutable
has a gimmick or two tucked away in its fucking hour+ djunfest.
Hypothesis confirmed! 'Broken Cog' opens with chugs so brazenly heavy that they're effectively bereft of pitch, a sound which is revisited a few tracks later in 'Ligature Marks'; 'They Move Below' is a lengthy instrumental that starts gently and ends djently; 'Black Cathedral' consists of distorted, tremolo-picked guitars worming their way through a progression determined not to resolve over its two-minute runtime; and 'Past Tense' is exclusively clean guitars and melody. See, it's not all just two-fretted meathead fuckening and prime numbers or whatever.
Confoundingly, these shake-ups and innovations also account for the bulk of Immutable
's lowlights. It's not that any of these moments are criminally inoffensive or ill-thought through (some of them are pretty good!), but the manner in which they're implemented sort of negates their presence in the first instance and draws attention to the extended runtime. For instance, while the tuneless chugs are well-wielded in 'Ligature Marks', providing the hypnotically hammered semitones that form a good bulk of the song with a jagged counterpart and a destructive terminus, on 'Broken Cog' they grate as a mismatch with the sustained single note riffing that attempts to follow in its wake, frontloading the track with a filth that it quickly eschews. 'They Move Below' is certainly fun in a vacuum, but isn't quite explosive or nuanced enough to warrant a position as the nine-minute centerpiece at the heart of a rather protracted album. 'Black Cathedral' is pure cutting room floor material. 'Past Tense' feels like a retreading of 'They Move Below''s intro without any dramatic development to give it better context, and with little other connection to the twelve tracks that it's tasked with mopping up after.
Put your calculators away, nerds. There's no need to count bars and cite complexity in defense of such courageous criticism for yours truly, because the rest of this album is full fucking throttle. Here's an experiment that even the less musically-inclined should find achievable. During Immutable
's more direct cuts, try to tap along to that 4/4 backbone (feel free to hit quarter notes to stop yourself from getting lost). Feel how everything shifts around that pulse, where each part of the riff falls in each cycle. Fuck your staves; leave'em blank — this is important: it's not the counting that matters. It's the feeling
. It doesn't really matter that Meshuggah's songs encompass a Music is Math attitude that has Boards of Canada so fucking sheepish about their values that they only release one album every six years, it matters that they're this good at making that complexity seem secondary to a track's more primal, instinctual appeal.
Their trademark aggression has been maintained with equal gusto. Aren't these guys pentagenerians or something? How in the name of all that's syncopated do they still sound this heavy? Keep in mind, the legendary Tomas Haake has had significant injuries that have hindered his ability to play drums in recent years, including a presently undiagnosed dermatological condition of the hands that has him wearing gloves in the interviews he's had preceding this release. You certainly wouldn't know it from his playing, which ascends to insane heights at multiple instances across the tracklist, peaking during the breakdown that punctuates 'Phantoms', a track which Haake ventured to Little Punk People would not be played live due to its innate trickiness and the tempo it unfolds at. Sure, the end result is a blending of takes in the studio to account for its ridiculosity in practice, but I don't think this constitutes grounds for complaint—if anything, it's an example of just how persistently close to the redline Meshuggah are still operating during the tail end of their career.
The dilemmas that Meshuggah grapple with are almost exclusively the result of their own indomitable standards. Each step forward they take without stumbling is surely worthy of hyperbole. Of course, this standard applies to all of the performances here: Lövgren’s bass tones are varied but invariably monolithic; Hagström’s experiments in melodicism and harmony inject much-needed personality into many a track; Kidman is still propulsive with his comparatively direct sense of rhythm (and miraculously still isn’t softening his vocal approach nor choking up blood); and Thordendal’s leads are precisely as bizarre and perfect as they’ve always been, with even the shortest phrases containing more creativity than your average shred hero can arouse in a 20-minute prog epic.
Still we find ourselves in the mire, strangled by weeds, forced into admitting an unfortunate truth or two. Immutable
is as brilliant as it is clearly encumbered. While it has highlights aplenty, they seem the kind of highlights that would fare better outside of the context of Listening To A Whole Album In 2022—i.e *gasp*
in a gym playlist, or as an exhibition for a friend who you (mistakenly) suspect might enjoy metal if you proselytise them tenaciously enough. As a start-to-finish experience, there’s a tendency for things to melt together as momentum flags, the sequencing grates, or you find yourself paying less than your most devout attention to the swiftly passing milieu. In this light, Meshuggah’s latest expansion of their well-defined sound ends up feeling more exhaustive than definitive. For a band so enamoured with counting, it's a little perplexing that Immutable
adds up to less than the sum of its parts.