Monday, March 10, 2008

Album of the Week - Meshuggah "obZen"

With certain bands, the single act of an album release comes on like an event, not only for that band's legion of fans, but also for the entire genre of music which they represent. It goes without saying that Meshuggah safely falls into that category. The gang at Hooks So Big have been spinning the band's latest, obZen, due in stores tomorrow on Nuclear Blast Records. Here's what we think:

Wayne's take:

Despite being one of the most adventurous bands on the planet, Meshuggah does have a general formula. The fun with each new album is listening to the ways that they conform to or pull away from it. They're justifiably lauded for their tricky time-signature work, but, unlike Dream Theatre or Protest the Hero, who tend to steal away to a new signature from measure to measure, there's an almost industrial quality in the in the way that Meshuggah employs their rhythm section in relation to polyrhythmic patterns. Over a bedrock of throbbing, spidery tension, vocalist Jens Kidman's throat-shredding howls provide cathartic counterpoint, and Fredrik Thordendal's Allan Holdsworth-esque guitar leads spin webs through it all. Uniting the ensemble is drummer Tomaas Haake, who supports the bottom-end with lightning quick double bass work, and accents the more fluid figures with snare drum, toms, and cymbals, often at a signature and speed different than his feet.

Which brings us to obZen. As with all the band's releases, it's difficult to apply some sort of grade or evaluation when it's so fresh out of the box. A new Meshuggah record is one to be listened to over and over again, put down, chewed over, read about, discussed, and listened to several more times before you truly have it figured out. That said, what sets obZen apart from previous efforts is that it feels fairly straightforward, even thrashy in spots. Not to make it sound like a 4-square platter without nuance or unique thrills-----it's surprising how effective slight gradations in texture and pitch can be (check out the last minute of "Bleed" for example)---but, for a band that has experimented with everything from the number of strings on their guitars to temporarily dropping live drums in favor of programmed percussion, it plays like an exercise in relative simplicity. With the exception of "Bleed" and the 9 and 1/2 minute "Dancers to a Discordant System", none of the tracks here break the 6 minute mark, and on ALL the tracks, the band has trimmed the fat down to just enough to pack a wallop and leave you begging for more. You already know if you're picking this one up, so my highest recommendation is pretty much useless. All I'm saying is that, once you have it, it's worth your time and money, many times over.

Mark's Take:
Yeah, the excitement I felt knowing that there was going to be a new Meshuggah album was great. What isn't there to like about these guys? They are fast, intricate, heavy, brutal, and they have that Swedish thing that just kind of makes me happy. And crave Swedish meatballs from Ikea. I listened to this once in its entirety, and got a quick feel of it. It doesn't stray too far away from the usual Meshuggah sound, but then the album started over and the song "Combustion" came on, and it was during this second listen that the album started to reveal itself to me. I got HOOKED by that riff. Then as I was typing my text to Wayne and QM telling him how much the first track was a jam, he sent back his pick of the song "Bleed." Gotta love Wayne. He could pinpoint a killer drum riff in ways that I am simply unable to. I tend to be more guitar based, and he knows all of the drummer's names and shit. He's awesome. But then he got me listening deeper into all of these tracks. Jesus, this album builds and burns. Easily one of the best releases so far this year of a good amount of great music released so far. Plus one of the guitarists is pretty cute. I love those goateed metal guitarists, as you know, faithful Hooks readers. I'm gonna make a list one day. I don't give a shit.

Back to the album. Sometimes this album gets a little samesies to me, but then again, most bands will have a style that is theirs. I feel Meshuggah sounds the same within their world, but can out fucking jam anyone trying to sound like them. I listened to "I" after I listened to this one, just to see how they have matured, and I tell ya. They are tighter now, and they were pretty triumphantly tight when they recorded "I" These guys SHOULD be big. They are big in sound, riffs, and stature. I cant wait to see them live, but I still cant get into Ministry. So lets hope they do a tour all their own. With like, The sword, and someone cool like Rager opening for them...

Myche's Take:
I'm finally getting on this - sorry it took so long. I've listened to the new album about three times. Pretty powerful stuff, and no real surprises from these guys. They just take care of business! Earlier on this blog I reviewed their previous album, Catch Thirty-Three. I would have to say that my review would basically be the same for this one. I think repeat listens will help me discover the nuances of the songs, but I usually feel it gets a little monotonous on a full album listen. And, quite frankly, exhausting. That's not meant to be as big a knock as it sounds - it's just such a auditory assault that I am fatigued after about 30 minutes. Trust me, I'm glad there's music out that that does this to me!

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