Released: 2008, Nuclear Blast Records
Reviewer: Lord of the Wasteland
In a refreshing departure from the long, difficult concept records, I and CATCH THIRTY-THREE, Meshuggah have released their most accessible yet also most involved and brutal album, OBZEN. What is also immediately gratifying is that OBZEN essentially takes a page from each Meshuggah album and crafts them into a cohesive volume of songs that represent where this genre-defining band is, where they came from and where are going. With the skull-crushing, eight-string guitars of Fredrik Thordendal and Mårten Hagström at the forefront, the snaky riffs and trippy, complex solos continue to puzzle even the most cerebral fan. At the same time, there is plenty of melody here with less focus on constructing quirky, off-time arrangements. Besides his super-human drumming (gone is the programmed “Drumkit From Hell” utilized on CATCH THIRTY-THREE), Tomas Haake’s challenging, thought-provoking lyrics provide a vehicle for Jens Kidman’s acidic bark that is crystal-clear and even more disconcerting than usual. OBZEN also introduces bassist Dick Lövgren into the fold as an official member, giving Thordendal and Hagström more time to focus on their respective task at hand.
“Combustion” is about as simple a track Meshuggah has released in years. Reminiscent of the band’s industrial thrash of DESTROY ERASE IMPROVE, “Combustion” kicks off with a riff many will liken to Tool, a band Meshuggah toured North America with in 2002. Straightforward in its delivery and execution, the listener is pummeled into submission early on but rather than being confused as was the case in the past, this is a well-placed kick in the teeth. Chuggy and with a slow-burning, off-time tempo, “Electric Red” is an immediate Meshuggah classic. Haake’s drumming settles into a tribal thump but with progressive touches dropped in here and there. Thordendal and Hagström lock into a hypnotic groove with Haake on “Bleed” and the opening battery is simply devastating. Thordendal’s twisting solo is laden with effects and the entire group becomes a concrete wall of instruments and sound. Kidman howls on the title track and with its gripping riff and shithouse-state-of-humanity lyrics (“A new belief system/Salvation found in vomit and blood”), the song documents society’s degeneration tellingly. Tempo shifts remain Meshuggah’s stock in trade, as well. Fluidly going from a rolling, percussion-driven beatdown (“This Spiteful Snake”) to a hard-hitting, wall of guitars (“Pravus”), to a slow-building epic (“Dancers To A Discordant System”), Meshuggah demonstrates how skilled they are as musicians and songwriters from beginning to end.
Sometimes less is more and where I and CATCH THIRTY-THREE boosted Meshuggah’s artistic credibility, the concept tended to overwhelm. On OBZEN, the band has chosen to remain on a more even keel without sacrificing its trademark sound. The musicianship remains top-level and Fredrik Thordendal and Tomas Haake have penned some of their most intricate arrangements to date but have also left the door open for people. This is hardly a “dumbed-down” sound for the masses, either. Meshuggah is as brutally heavy as ever on OBZEN but instead of shunning people with complexity, the band lures them in with accessibility and then levels them. Look for OBZEN to be the band’s “breakthrough” and they rightfully deserve it. Remaining genre-defining and genre-defying for nearly twenty years, Meshuggah’s reign as one of the most important bands in metal shows no sign of slowing down with OBZEN.
KILLER KUTS: “Combustion,” “Electric Red,” “Bleed,” “This Spiteful Snake,” “Pravus”