THE POWERFUL POLYMETRIC PROTO-PROG PUNCH OF THE ALMIGHTY EXTREME METAL MASTERS MESHUGGAH
Ahhh, alliteration… awesome, aye asshole? All literary snickers aside, this band is an absolute MUST for any serious metalhead, especially those folks who have more progressive leanings…but don’t go thinkin this is gonna be a walk in the park–getting into Meshuggah can be quite a demanding process for many, myself included.
The first few times I listened to Meshuggah (which incidentally means crazy in Hebrew), I walked away feeling more than just slightly ill; something about the stark, staccato, rhythmically assymmetrical (yet surprisingly largely in 4/4) sound made me noticeably queasy. As we have recently learned from the esteemed Rabbi Vincent X. Neilshteinawitz, vomit is occasionally induced by the sickest of bands (after VN’s infamous run-in with Blackwater Park in my Brooklyn apartment a couple weeks ago, my porcelain palace of puke will never be the same), and my first few experiences with Meshuggah were pretty similar. Except even without the dark demon whiskey lurking in my belly, I still felt nautious after a few songs. Then I grew a goddamn pair, and my musical bar for the tightest, proggiest (in a good way), and most syncopated metal was raised once again.
This band was introduced to me about 5 years ago as “the heaviest”–an assessment I initially agreed with–but as my threshhold for aggressive music expanded, I realized that that ain’t necessarily the case at all. Meshuggah is by no means light, or unheavy, but to me most grindcore bands take it to a much more extreme, or brutal level. Meshuggah just knows how to twist you into submission with rhythm. Which is quite a ridiculous feat, if you stop and think about it for a second.
The remarkable thing about Meshuggah is that the band gets so deep inside of each groove, and then turns that groove inside out, that it feels like you’re listening to a time signature that doesn’t even exist! But the more I go back and relisten to the Meshuggah albums, the more I realize that while many of their jams are certainly in the oddest of time signatures, a lot of the tunes only seem to be as such, and are actually really in standard 3/4 or 4/4 after all. It’s a TesTamenT (metal!) to the band’s unbelievable grasp on how to manipulate accents within the 4/4 construct that they can make every groove feel like a brain teaser.
After I wrote the previous paragraph, I went back and listened to a few tracks that are almost impossible to wrap one’s head around rhythmically, even for the most mensa-riffic musicians. Therefore Meshuggah are not only great players, but clearly amazing mathematicians as well, since you can add up their extremely intricate accent structures to get back to the time signature they started in.
Check out this description of their classic song “New Millenium Cyanide Christ”, courtesy of Wikipedia and try to follow along:
“[The drummer] beats a rather slow 4/4 rhythm with his hands, while the bass drums and guitars play a repetitive 23/16 rhythm pattern on top of it. As the subdivided pattern is repeated, the pattern’s accents shift to different beats on each repetition. After repeating the 23/16 pattern five times, a shorter 13/16 pattern is played once. These patterns sum up to 128 16th notes which equals exactly 8 measures in 4/4 meter.”
JEEZ LOUISE…Get yr thinking caps on!
After you trudge through the initial intestinal ruptures of the overwhelming and honestly off-putting heaviness of this band, you’ll find that it’s totally worth it, especially for the musicians out there who think that they know it all. Meshuggah are undoubtedly the masters of a very specific type of metal (dare I call it experimental proto-prog? I think I just did!), a sound they themselves created, and they are one of those bands that are SO – FUCKING – GOOD that they are in a class of their own. Much like Opeth (but for completely different reasons), these guys are superheroes.
Did I mention they’re also Swedish, and they usually play 7 and/or 8-string guitars? Holy moly!
And yet there’s more to discuss. Within the Meshuggalah catalog, there are several tracks that include some of the most unique sounding and resonant solo sections I’ve ever heard. I think it’s because of their creative use of melodic minor scales (or is it harmonic minor? Music theory, where’d y’go? Get back here, you little squirt!). In any case, the effect is truly arresting.
These moments transcend metal, and elevate the listener into not only heavy brain mode to process this likely new sound, but also a new emotional arena, as the way Meshuggah does it induces a sort of eerie yet hopeful beauty amidst the post-apocalyptic doomed darkness they purvey so well, and it feels like something precious to be cared for. Kinda like watching a toddler gleefully running amuck in a mine field. Or falling in love with a goddamn stripper.
I have enclosed one such track below that achieves this feeling, and a couple other favorites that exemplify my description are “Closed Eye Visual”, off of Nothing, and “Future Breed Machine”, off of Destroy Erase Improve. The moments I refer to are literally among the most perfect and beautiful sections of songs I have ever heard.
So if you have never checked out this band before, get ready to be pummeled into submission. If they were too much for you to handle in the past (as they once were for me, ’til I grew the aforementioned pair), give ’em another shot. Meshuggah are one of the very best, and I would give my left nut to see them play live.
Alright, your left nut, but I loves ya, and it wouldn’t be easy for me.