How can we have a throwback section and not say something about these guys? They’re incredibly skilled musicians, very progressive minded, and fucking heavy! Let’s go back and explore the progression they experienced throughout their first 15 years of existence. One band, Four albums, it’s time to go Meshuggah!
Released back in 1991, this debut is probably the most underrated album within their discography. Containing more elements of thrash than groove, this album has received a lot of unnecessary shit from fans of present-day Meshuggah. Are the riffs derivative? Yes. Is it somewhat sloppy in production? Yes. Is it fairly similar to “And Justice for All” era Metallica? Yes. With all of that said, what people often forget is that this is a debut album. It’s common for bands to let their influences completely bleed through the music, and that’s perfectly acceptable (as long as the band eventually begins to concoct a more unique sound in subsequent releases). Aside from the derivative elements, “Contradictions Collapse” still features a technical rhythm section and strong elements of jazz (both of which contribute to the signature sound of all Meshuggah releases). This is more of an album for open-minded fans of progressive metal, rather than diehard fans of “Obzen”.
“Destroy Erase Improve”
In 1995, Meshuggah released their sophomore effort. To only say that “Destroy Erase Improve” was an improvement would be an understatement. This album retained a good amount of their thrash and aggressiveness while expanding on the more latent elements of their debut. An emphasis on poly-rhythms began to emerge as the interplay between guitarists Fredrik Thordendal, Marten Hagstrom and drummer Tomas Haake became more focused. Most of the melodic riffs from their debut were ditched in favor for an atonal, somewhat free-form jazz style of soloing. This was also the first album to feature the guitar technique which would later be referred to as “djent” (a good example of this can be heard after the bass line toward the beginning of “Beneath”). As a whole though, “Destroy Erase Improve” was a truly experimental effort by these Sweedes, and one that paid off in the long run. At the time nothing under the extreme metal umbrella sounded quite like this; plus it is believed to have had a strong influence on both the math metal and djent styles common in the modern heavy metal scene. Regardless, in 2014 “Destroy Erase Improve” is still a mind-boggling work of art.
1998 saw the release of Meshuggah’s third album. “Chaosphere” appropriately sounds like a world of chaos, but in a sense its in a controlled form. Unlike many experimental bands that would follow in their path, the boys in Meshuggah demonstrated that they could create an aggressive, or “chaotic” sound while also retaining tight musicianship. In layman’s terms, it doesn’t sound like a pile of disorganized bullshit. While each musician is playing a distinct rhythm in varying meters, it all seems to come together in a way that is pleasing to the ear. Before this release it was apparent that Meshuggah were masters of rhythm and experimental vision, but “Chaosphere” also showed us that they had a strong sense of groove (one can’t help but start moving to the music upon hearing the opening to “New Millenium Cyanide Christ”). This is no doubt a result of the new direction of song writing and further expansion on the “djent” tone. Also, before ending this section I must say that Jens Kidman’s most terrifying vocals ever recorded were on “Chaosphere”.
The final release in the discography of classic Meshuggah albums is 2002’s “Nothing”. Still considered their best work by many fans, “Nothing” didn’t really expand on Meshuggah’s sound in as many ways as was the case with previous albums, but the few changes they did make had a significant impact on the future metal scene. Continuing with their emphasis on being a rhythm-based juggernaut, Meshuggah this time around also decided to slow down their tempos and tune their guitars down even further. It worked. This is the album that reinvented the groove for the next generation of metal heads to emulate on their detuned 7-string guitars. Some of the band’s strongest songs are featured on this album, such as “Straws Pulled at Random” and the fan favorite “Rational Gaze”. “Nothing” is easily one of the most original and progressive minded albums to be released in the 21st century thus far. Pull this one back out from your collection, play it, and move to the groove.