AM I EXTRA-SMART BECAUSE I “GET” MESHUGGAH? KmfW ON *OBZEN*, THE NEW OFFERING FROM SWEDEN’S PROTO-PROG-POLYMETRIC MASTERS OF SYNCOPATED M E T A L
Well, there once was a time when a question like that would’ve been met with a resounding hells yes, but as of late, the almighty Meshuggah has effectively “dumbed-down” its proto-prog-a-licious, heavily syncopated sound into something a bit more palatable, something that your younger brother’s dorky best friend can even get behind (when he’s through marveling at how bloody awesome “Achilles Last Stand” is).
Yes, it’s true — on Meshuggah’s latest album, ObZen (released in the U.S. today), the band has crafted a significantly more accessible (in a good way) sound. Rest assured, none of the staccato, asymmetrical profundity is gone, but the tunes seem constructed in a way that your hippest grandma could possibly get down to. I mean — don’t get me wrong; this aforementioned grandma would have to be a serious motherfucker in order to even enter the room that ObZen is playing in (let alone give the inevitable mosh pit a good go), but goddamn — if she’s got the proverbial ballz to be down, then let that bitch rrrrockit, nawmean?!?
Speaking of which, I’ve cleared many a room in my day, for many a reason, but my favorite experience as such by far was when I threw Meshuggah’s Nothing on my iPod at a party, and softies done been fleein’ like it was their muthafuckin’ jizznobbz!! To tout my old friend E. Chapman (allbeit talking about a completely different medium but who the fuck cares), “If you’re affecting them in some way — good or bad — you’ve done your job as an artist.” Truly. Dude was in the right headspace for influencing minds, and that is undoubtedly what Meshuggah has done extremely well over their 21 year career.
Seriously — the band does something that nobody before could; it’s a melding of a few different kinds of aggressive music, but the sound instantly became/becomes its own (from the very start and again and again every single time they bust out of the gates), and the band deserves its place in the formation of a new new genre hereafter to be known as proto-prog-syncopatriot METAL. Sure, I just coined that phrase right now but don’t it be fittin…son?!? The craziest part about Meshuggah is that even though the majority of their music sounds like it’s being played in time signatures that don’t actually exist to the common man, a great deal of the riffs/chord progressions do their thing in 4…mostly.
And the continually impressive ObZen does the exact same thing: the record wows us with technical prowess that ultimately is not as technical as one might think. Well — one without years of rhythmic training with Babatunde Olatunji and his life-changing Drums of Passion. But time signatures be damned! The pocket brought forth by the almighty Meshuggah is a force to be wreckened with… Who cares that they’re supposedly playing in an unheard-of count (which is actually quite often 4/4 turned around on its head and buttfucked by the one-ee-and-ahhhh) — at the end of the day, the pocket offered by Sweden’s darkest propagators of technical metal is almost enough. But as I mentioned in this Sunday’s re-post of my Fall ’07 examination on the band, the beautiful thing is, these dudes get seriously melodic as well, simultaneously in the most chilling and touching of ways.
ObZen starts out strongly with the chunky uptempo riffage of “Combustion”, and doesn’t let go for a single moment over the next four tracks, from the traditional Meshuggah-esque drony dissonant sound of “Electric Red” (complete with bare-bones harmonic breakdown section), to the fiery, relentless “single” “Bleed”, on to the slunky song with my pick for heaviest riff yet this year (just past the 3 minute mark), “Lethargica”. Around the album’s midway point, during the title track, the pace gets a little tedious, but it’s not as much so as I have found on the previous Meshuggah albums. The next few tracks aren’t the most memorable to me, but still chug along with power, allbeit a tad laborious.
But perhaps this has something to do with my personal threshold — admittedly, the first handful of times I checked out these maniacs I could only listen to about 4 or 5 songs before feeling that pit in my stomach that yearned for a little something more placid. Once I broke through the unrelenting aggression, it became really clear just how nurturing Meshuggah can be. Swedes have always struck me as a quite a warm people, and while there’s something in this vein that I personally feel while listening to Meshuggah’s music — even during the heaviest of parts — I still get slightly overwhelmed about 5 tracks in.
However, any pause given by the album’s middle run of songs is quickly reversed by the winning final track, “Dancers To A Discordant System”. This jam, the longest on the album, may be the most accomplished in this collection of tunes, and for my money has the most memorable of all of ObZen‘s riffs. Strong finish to a thorough album.
In my humble opinion, ObZen is an extremely appropriate next-step in the evolution of a band of champions. If you haven’t heard this record (or the band, for that matter, as this would actually be an appropriate introduction), run don’t walk to wherever it is you acquire music, and let the pummeling commence.
(four out of five hornz)