'Meshuggah' Means Crazy.
That's the only real introduction needed for their music, but this Swedish band is cooler than that. Pioneers of the djent sound, they mix biting lyrics with music that sounds like transformers fighting an army of Godzillas. Their music uses things like
-free-form solos similar to modern jazz
-extremely brutal sound, almost binary in dynamic nature.
I don't really what know what any of that jargon means, but I do know that it means their music is really difficult to play. Meshuggah's older albums have a slightly different technical death metal style which gradually evolved into the djent-style snarling riffs and off-beat drumming that I associate with the band. They have pretty much perfected it in 'ObZen' which is an easier listen than their 2012 release 'Koloss'. Some may find Meshuggah's riffs repetitive or drawn out, but there are intricacies that emerge on multiple listens.
What Am I Listening To?
Vocals: Jens Kidman
Guitars: Fredrik Thordendal and Mårten Hagström
Drums: Tomas Haake
Bass: Mårten Hagström (studio), Dick Lovgren (live)
Each member plays his role well in the band; there aren't any weak links. For their last 3 albums, the guitarists have used downtuned eight-string guitars instead of the standard six-string ones. The bass used is a five-string. I found it interesting that the band's vocalist is involved in writing riffs while the lyrics are actually written by the drummer Thomas Haake. MASSIVE respect to this guy. Jens Kidman's vocals are usually screamed but unlike a lot of metal bands, his words do sound like words. Also a special mention to the bassist, his work is easy to miss among all the other awesome sounds.
Combustion: A good opening track. Nothing extra-ordinary by Meshuggah standard.
Electric Red: Slower and heavier than Combustion, Electric Red talks about one of Meshuggah's running themes- loss of individuality. A pretty good song on it's own, but it's outdone by another song on the album with similar subject matter.
Bleed: Starts off with some intense double bass and doesn't let up. Other than that, I couldn't find anything remarkable in it. Meshuggah released a video for it though, so I guess it must be technically exceptional. It's quite a long track clocking almost seven and a half minutes.
Lethargica: Shit just got real! Relatively slower and darker than the previous songs, this song is the soundtrack for destruction. All the sounds beautifully come together and create a spine-chilling atmosphere to which the lyrics add an air of fear by describing an abstract monster whose only purpose is to end humanity. We're told things like how the monster is an "omnicidal god-machine" with a "careless, lethargic motion to kill". But the reason for it's killing spree isn't revealed, nor is its physical appearance fully described. The song becomes ominously calm around the 2 minute mark and just when you think things are peaceful...the destruction begins again and just keeps going. Terrifying.
obZen: According to Tomas Haake, "If you haven't figured it out yet, obZen means that mankind has found its 'zen' in the obscure and obscene." Ob also happens to be the Latin word for 'anti.' A good hard-hitting song about the degradation of morals, but isn't extra-ordinary in the album's context.
This Spiteful Snake: Thematically a mix of Lethargica and ObZen, it uses the metaphor of a snake to talk about "reality" making people jaded. The "snake" coils us and slowly chokes away hope and ambition.
Pineal Gland Optics: The album's second peak after Lethargica. The pineal gland is often called the "third eye" and has some spiritual connotations. Meshuggah's take on the concept is a little different. The starting lines "How come I shiver, hurt and bleed / If in dreams I cannot truly feel? / Who would dare say? / Who would claim this hallucination isn't real?" set the tone for the rest of the song by implying that reality is merely a hallucination. The rest of the song builds on this idea and claims this hallucination isn't caused by something external, but by our own minds. Looking through the third eye in this context means to look at things rationally without clouding your mind with lies and delusions. Co-incidentally, the first time I paid attention to these lyrics was while waiting in line at an eye-care clinic.
Pravus: Similar to ObZen subject-wise, it's musically superior but lyrically inferior.
Dancers to a Discordant System: The last track on the album also happens to be the longest at nine and a half minutes long but it's not the only reason this track stands out. Tomas Haake provides spoken word vocals on the track which is a change from Kidman's screaming. In what is probably Meshuggah's masterpiece, every band member has gone all out to create a track that's mind-explodingly awesome. The first time I heard this track, the lyrics hit me so hard it looked like Pantera cover art. Once the lyrics start, you can sense an overwhelming feeling of frustration and anger that carries on for the next six minutes as Kidman rants about the illusion of freedom in society. After that mark, it's just instrumentals. This part works as a good ending to the album, but gets boring while listening to the track by itself.
ObZen is a great album which many outstanding tracks. Even the ones that aren't outstanding are better than a lot of music out there. I gained a lot of respect for metal thanks to this band, because I was of the view that good lyrics and heavy metal just don't mix.