Review Summary: A carbon copy is the sincerest form of flattery
All art is influenced by art that preceded it. As is true of science, artistic creations invariably stand on the shoulders of giants. There’s nothing new under the sun. But let’s attempt to quantify this, at least conceptually, to some extent. It’s sensible to view influence as a spectrum, running from scarcely detectable hints of a prior band’s flavor in a ‘brand new’ piece of music to approaching virtually covering their music with no shame in downright plagiarism. It’s an interesting spectrum to explore. Where I’d like to point us today is the fully emulatory end of that spectrum. Examples may include early Greta van Fleet with their clear attempt at resurrecting the grandiose rock of Led Zeppelin (results may vary), or perhaps more tastefully the blatant Gojira worship in some of the later bits of Fit For an Autopsy’s discography. However, few bands in the metal genre are more frequently emulated than the Swedish juggernaut that is Meshuggah. As the contemporary philosopher Devin Townsend once noted, “While we all have lots of bands who influence still, we all rip off Meshuggah”. As I’m sure I have to explain to no one, their initially unique down-tuned highly percussive rhythmic style spawned so many copycats that it generated the genre we now know as djent (though the members of Periphery may have qualms with that statement).
Precisely here is where I’d like to introduce the UK band Poltergeist. Notably, when entering this band into the Sputnikmusic database for the first time, two other bands with the same name (from the US and from Switzerland apparently) were already extant. So we’re going to have to deduct a point for creativity. It’s chill, don’t worry about it guys, it was a movie too. On that note, when I tell you to put on those headphones and crank up the first song, “They’re heeereeee” would not be an insensible reaction. Immediately the opener “Berzerk” comes in swinging like a bat filled with nails, and not the finger kind (that’d be pretty wild though). This sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Ring any bells? If you’ve ever listened to The Abysmal Eye by Meshuggah, this initial rhythm is going to shove some peculiar familiarity right down your throat. This is where I want to make the case for Poltergeist.
One could argue that Poltergeist is so close to Meshuggah that it borders on plagiarism. In fact, I wouldn’t disagree with that statement. You can quite literally pick apart specific riffs and determine which exact Meshuggah riff influenced it, and this is largely true throughout the EP. To some extent this scales up to songs. Berzerk is The Abysmal Eye. Circadian Rhythm is DEFINITELY Nostrum. The Snake, Coiled and Irate is some Nothing-era *** mixed with some Violent Sleep of Reason-era ***. Etc. But somehow, this doesn’t actually matter. What matters is this *** slaps, and I do mean that in the most academic sense of the word. It may be full-on Meshuggah worship, as so many have done before them, but these guys actually pull it off. They have succeeded where so many prior have lain slain in their failures. These lads pull off the Meshuggah sound so well, with a tiny bit of their own flair, that it just works. There’s just enough distinction here, despite how similar it is, to make that tiny bit outside the center of the Venn Diagram shine in full brilliance. So let’s get into what makes them not-Meshuggah.
Likely the first thing you’ll notice that makes Poltergeist not-Meshuggah (which would be a sick band name in its own right) are the vocals. The sheer timbre of them differs substantially from Jens’ and adds a unique character to a familiar formula. He tends to stick to a similar mid-range scream but occasional nails some absolutely nasty highs (see House of Mirrors when he says “OF MIRRORS” around 1:00 in). Personally, I find that this vocalist fits the music very impressively. He occupies a frequency range that well suits the low-lying tones of the drudging grooves. Next, I’d like to note those tones themselves. The production and guitar/bass tones set this apart quite a bit. There’s a punch and je ne sais quois to them that makes familiar sounding riffs hit that much harder. The percussion fills its role perfectly, shifting the rhythm smoothly from one riff to the next while keeping you head banging to a nice common time (well, much of the time). Then there are the weird extremely not-Meshuggah surprises. The best example is the solo in opener Berzerk where the solo feels more like something ripped off of an early The Faceless album (Akeldama I’m looking at you, but like, in a good way).
Anyway, I’m running out of brain juice. This EP is an absolute slap in the face and it might tread on the toes of one of the metal greats in a way that is probably far too close for comfort for a fair number of people, but I think its differences shine through the tried and true formula and give us a release well worth a proper head bang. If I don’t see ya, good afternoon, good morning, and goodnight.