Release Date: March 11th, 2008
The little preview I got of “Bleed” a few weeks prior to receiving my promo copy of obZen was not enough to prepare me for the musical density of Meshuggah’s latest thrill-ride. It’s quite a task to accurately describe the musical content of a group like this. To say the least, fans will be pleased to know that the band has stuck to their sound and even incorporated some of their roots in this new album.
Though by this point most of us are so used to the crushing sound of eight-string guitars methodically playing in sync with mind-bending drum patterns, there are hints of some early “thrash” Meshuggah garnishing the material on this album. I use the term loosely, because Meshuggah sounds almost nothing like a thrash metal band. Compare the term to some of the riffs in Destroy, Erase Improve and None to get a feel for what I’m speaking of.
The opening track “Combustion” grants us a fast-paced introduction to obZen. Most of the track ditches the layered odd rhythms between the guitars and drums, which have become so common to Meshuggah’s writing style in favor of a straight-ahead approach. The 3-feel intro “Dancers To A Discordant System” really feels like what the title suggests. Similarly, the intro to “Pineal Gland Optics” features the guitars and drums performing a clever play off one another. Drummer Thomas Haake’s time feel is a lot less rigid than it was on Catch 33, most likely due to the drums being recorded live as opposed to sequenced.
The guitar tones have improved since Catch 33, and the drums sound better since it’s a real performance. The band is sticking to Line 6 gear, and they use it to the full potential for the most part. Some of their “semi distorted” sounds they get (such as the sound used at 0:15 in “Dancers To A Discordant System”) are a bit shrill, but everything else is brutal and heavy enough to accurately complement the music. The solo tones are rather quiet in the mix, and guitarist Fredrik Thordendal could be heard more on this album.
The performances on obZen are extremely tight and well-produced, especially considering how complex the music is. It’s always interesting when the band breaks to a soundscape or a guitar solo because of the exotic and contrasting texture it creates with the violent nature of Jens Kidman, so I would’ve loved to hear more. Like the rest of the band, Fredrik has firmly established his “sound” in terms of soloing. Some of his solos are full of his signature tapping licks, while others feature Holdsworth-like phrasing. His signature breath controller may be going through some technical difficulties, because it seems to be MIA for this album. Some of his coolest guitar sounds have been made with that device, so I hope we see it on their next work.
Overall, the new Meshuggah disc is violently heavy, full of groove, and thrashier than most previous discs. As far as material is concerned, it’s hard to separate this album as anything significantly diverse in comparison to the rest of their catalog, but having said that, more Meshuggah is always good Meshuggah, and it’s great to hear how they are developing as players.
- The verse riff to “Electric Red” (0:26)
- The soundscape and guitar solo to “Bleed” (4:10)
- “Lethargica” outro (4:35)
- Fredrik’s tapping solo to “This Spiteful Snake” (3:15)
- “Pravus” intro
- The guitar intro to “Dancers To A Discordant System” (0:15)
- Guitar solo in “Dancers To A Discordant System” (6:28) and the heavy modal riff right afterwards.