The Selection : Meshuggah reviewed by Michel Nienhuis (Dodecahedron, Our Oceans, Exivious) (E-mail interview, 2019)
The influence of Meshuggah on the Metal scene is so broad that its ramifications can even be found in Black Metal, like in the music of Dodecahedron. This Dutch act pushed the thing quite far, since they wrote a piece based on a song from Chaosphere to pay tribute to the album turning 20 in 2018. The main composer of the band Michel Nienhuis selected the best releases to (re)discover this unique band.
The best album to discover the band according to you : Destroy Erase Improve (1995)
Even though Destroy Erase Improve is a relatively old album, it perfectly embodies the fact that Meshuggah were way ahead of their time with what they were doing on multiple levels. First of all their approach to melody and harmony: not quite traditional or diatonic but an oasis of complimentary guitar parts that might be influenced by both contemporary classical music as well as a jazz/fusion. Secondly the style of lead playing that Fredrik Thordendal displays. I played a Meshuggah song to one of my music teachers once and he immediately recognized the similarity with Allan Holdsworth’s lead playing style, whom I didn’t know back then. If you listen to both players you can clearly hear there is a musical connection. Thirdly: the openess to an experimentation with rhythms, meter and all the things you can do with that. On this album they are close to establishing their signature rhythmic feature: patterns moving over a 4/4 beat, but so heavily accentuated that they suggest a different time signature than 4/4. This approach has inspired numerous musicians and about 10 years later when everybody caught up to their pioneer work, spawned a whole new genre. I think this album was the break through for them as I remember that they were able to tour with Machine Head and reach quite a crowd of metalheads.
Your personal favourite album : Chaosphere (1998)
By the time I was about 17 years old I was playing guitar and singing in my first band. We were trying some stuff with rhythms but also tried to capture quite an aggressive sound. I was pissed off at the world and felt the need to express it through music – corruption of power, entertainment over content, mindless consumerism etcetera, so there was much room for aggression.One day I walked into the record store in my old home town and heard Chaosphere’s opening track Concatenation. It was incomprehensible and mind blowing. This album and Concatenation specifically is the embodiment of extreme expression to me. I had never heard anything that was so extreme, dangerous and uncompromising on so many levels. Sure you could be faster, you could be more absurd, but this album and this song in particular is a sublime combination of terrifying accuracy and precision, extreme sound and seemingly incomprehensible complexity, resulting in an image of chaos. It took me quite some time to even begin to understand what was going on. In November 2018 it has been 20 years since this album was released, and I still consider it the most lifechanging musical experience I have ever had. I was an angry teenager already, but this album opened up all possible gates to any dimension of aggression and extremity that I would find within myself, and that gate still has not closed.
The album to delve into the band's work : Nothing (2002)
I was going to answer this question with Obzen first, because I think that album is a more versatile representation of what Meshuggah does this century. However Nothing is more representative of the change to their current sound, which stands solid for about 15 years now. I had a bit of a struggle listening to it the first month because it was way slower and less harmonic than their previous material and thus it came across at first as monotonous. You could argue that it is, but you also can’t deny the fact that the latter part of their whole legacy is built on this new approach of groove. Don’t give up too soon on this album, give your ears some time, do some research and you will find out that the decisions they made on this album spawned a new trend in the metal community (again), proving they still were innovating in the global metal scene. Funny side note: they (jokingly) apologized for the djent trend.
Their most underrated record : Contradictions Collapse (1991) and Catch 33 (2005)
Contradictions Collapse was released in 1991 and I didn’t know about Meshuggah until 1998 so this might not be factual but my senses tell me Contradictions Collapse never got the spotlight it deserves. It was released on Nuclear Blast though, a credible record label within the industry. Check out their refreshing way of implementing Metallica-like harmonies and melodies, an obvious inspiration of them at that time.
After Nothing (2002) came Catch 33 (2005). Now that was an album that got frowned upon by people in my vicinity. “Even more boring than Nothing, only this one song is cool, Meshuggah have really lost the magic now, the drums are programmed” et cetera. The increasing speed of media consumption and social media / the internet in general started to decrease people’s attention span I believe, and these responses seemed in line with that. Expectations based on previous material weren’t in favour of this album as well – which is basically one big composition but cut into 13 parts (maybe because of the abovementioned?). Take the time to listen to it. Highly recommended when doing a task that doesn’t involve brain activity, like doing the dishes manually.
A good recent album from them : Koloss (2012)
Koloss has quite a few features that make this album stand out for me. Producer Daniel Bergstrand returns after his great productional success with Destroy Erase Improve and does a great job again. I Am Colossus has a guitar ‘solo’ that resembles the falling off a colossal building or statue. Swarm features a guitar ‘solo’ that actually sounds like a swarm of insects. Break These Bones Whose Sinews Gave It Motion has a peculiar guitar stroke that doesn’t follow the regular up-down movement based on the 16th division in a 4/4 beat but has dead upstroke accents wherever they need them to be, resulting in some sort of new stroke style and sound. Even though their main sound has been more or less the same since Nothing, they keep inventing stuff.
To go a bit further : None (EP, 1994)
None is the first manifestion of their ‘90’s sound, the sound that led to their breakthrough with Destroy Erase Improve. In my opinion it is the first Meshuggah release where the vocals really work and where their groove (which since then has become their main feature) first was displayed. One of my favourite Meshuggah songs is on it: Gods Of Rapture.
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