April 9, 2008

CD Review: Meshuggah - obZen

I do not know exactly when it was that I first heard Meshuggah. I do know that it was some years ago. I had a few friends who kept urging me to check them out. So, eventually I decided to pick up a disk, it was a combination disk with both Contradictions Collapse and None. I was impressed; this was a sound that I could get used to. Some time later I picked up Nothing after seeing a video for "Rational Gaze." This was even better. Then I saw them in concert and was blown away, I had never heard a band sound like that live, and I doubt that I ever will. Now, here we are, a few more years removed from my last album purchase and that live experience and a new Meshuggah release has found its way to my desk. The album is obZen and I cannot explain why it has taken this long between albums for me to hear more Meshuggah, I know there are other albums and I have no excuse. More importantly, I am back and this album has absolutely floored me.

To begin to categorize Meshuggah would probably end up being a column unto itself. They encompass elements of tech metal, death metal, thrash metal, math metal, progressive, and even a little bit of jazz fusion. The variety of sounds they bring together sound is impressive, varied, and when you put them together, they would not seem to make good bedfellows. Somehow, this Swedish five-piece have been able to bring all of these influences and more to the table in a cohesive fashion is nothing short of miraculous. If you are a fan of metal and do not know these guys, you are missing out on something special. On top of that, if you have not listened to what they have created here, well, you know what you need to do.

There are heavy bands and there are heavy bands, then there is Meshuggah. They bring an extraordinarily high level of technical prowess to the table, so high as to make your head spin. However, it is so much more than their ability to play their instruments. As we all know, there are a ton of players out there on each instrument that know how to use their weapon of choice to great effect. However, when you put them in a group environment, their ability to co-exist is diminished and if the chosen cast of characters is not carefully selected they, as individuals or a group, will never attain success. When you apply this to Meshuggah, the blend of talent and chemistry is near perfect, now combine that with their songwriting ability and you approach a behemoth that is near unstoppable. obZen is a great example of all the pieces falling into the right place.

Meshuggah was once described as Dream Theater if they went into extreme metal. It is an accurate comparison; although their sounds are worlds apart their skill levels are way above many others in their genre. Also, like Dream Theater, their influence can be seen in other bands, most notable, for me, with French metal act Gojira.

As for obZen, from start to finish, it is filled with some incredible songwriting, varied structures, deliciously complex arrangements, and is just flat out heavy. Even if you have no interest in structures and writing and you just want something heavy, this will fill the bill as it crosses demographics between heavy music seekers and musical aficionados who treasure quality music.

The production quality gives the album a crisp, clear feel that has an industrial, mechanical edge to it. I find it a little hard to describe, but there is definitely something factory-based in the overall sound. They are fronted by Jens Kidman, whose blood curdling growls lead you through some bleak and disturbing lyrical landscapes, when you can understand him (not that that is a bad thing). Next up is lead guitarist Fredrik Thordendal, delivering some wild solos that are ethereal and discordant and just add so much flavor to the overall sound. Joining Fredrik is Marten Hagstrom on rhythm guitar, adding some incredibly complex rhythms; together they lead you through a landscape of ever shifting time signatures and patterns that could not otherwise exist in nature. Bassist Dick Lovgren is an animal adding the low end to an already deep sound, expanding on what the guitarists and drummer are creating. Finally is the man-machine Tomas Haake on drums, his drumming is seriously otherworldly.

obZen is a haunting experience that really grew on me upon multiple listens. I found it very easy to listen to them and not listen to them at the same time. Yes, I am aware of how odd that seems, but hear me out. When the band is in the midst of their extended rhythmic dirges, with no vocals present, I found myself nearly hypnotized by the syncopated rhythms, shifting time signatures and discordant leads. It was to the point where I was taken away from the music on a layer of sound to a place where nothing mattered; I just floated along on the musical composition. It is hard to describe, with hypnotic being the best word to describe what I experienced. It almost makes me wish they did some completely instrumental work.

So, when you listen to obZen, and you will, you will discover a great album from start to finish. Still, allow me to point you towards a couple of highlights from y experience: "Electric Red," "Pineal Gland Optics," and "Dangers to a Discordant System."

Bottomline. This is an amazing album. It is a technical masterpiece that delivers on so many different levels. The music on display here will hit you upside the head and force you to pay attention and give it the attention it deserves. This is Meshuggah at the top of their game doing things that few others can even dream of.

Highly Recommended.


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