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Review: Meshuggah Don’t Quite Feel the Rhythm on Immutable

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The title of Meshuggah‘s second salvo, 1995’s Destroy Erase Improve, promised a permanent paradigm shift — a common enough boast, but no idle one in this case. Nor were they content with subsequent laurel-sitting. Even their occasional missteps furthered the Swedish band’s operational thesis of destruction, erasure, improvement. For two decades, the components in this fearsome machine have remained unchanged, with their industry-best rhythm section propelling this bulldozer forward. A six-year gap separates Immutable (a pun on their love of palm muting?) from the band’s previous release The Violent Sleep of Reason, and while the parts may technically be the same, one key piece’s contributions were minimal: lead guitarist Fredrik Thordendal. Although his solos grace four of the unlucky 13 tracks found within, the rest of Immutable remains untouched by his songwriting. Which means the rhythm players wrote the album. Which means this shit kinda all sounds the same.

Except for the three instrumentals (nine minute centerpiece “They Move Below,” interlude “Black Cathedral,” and closer “Past Tense”), the remainder of the tracks on Immutable pummel the listener in 4/4 time for approximately five minutes a pop. Missing are the ornate guitar leads that helped draw lines between previous volleys. Undoubtedly the rest of the band engages in incredibly complex displays of musicianship. That doesn’t help with the overall feel, though, which most often approaches monotony. It’s the tech-death Achilles’ heel, one that Meshuggah usually shields from arrows. The rhythm draws the focus, and unless you’re dealing in disco, 67 minutes of the same beat at the same tempo induces headaches rather than euphoria. Don’t look to Jens Kidman for relief, either – his bellows act almost as another percussive instrument.

Taken on their own, the individual face-stomps don’t feel too repetitive. “Light the Shortening Fuse” feels like classic Meshuggah, all blunt force trauma. “Ligature Marks” slows down the piledriver slightly for a welcome dose of doom. “Kaleidoscope” shifts through colors effectively. The aforementioned “They Move Below” feels like a sandworm twisting through the bedrock beneath your feet. However, when taken as part of the monolithic whole, it becomes much more difficult for the assaults to feel distinctive. And again, it comes down to the lack of Thordendal – his snaking leads were perhaps the most underappreciated part of the band’s sound, and they are sorely missed.

None of the above would even necessarily be a problem if this felt like progress rather than a median Meshuggah effort. Nothing really separates this from their previous work other than how little it stands out. While we all wanted the best from this record, the final product turns out to be very mutable indeed.

Immutable comes out on April 1 courtesy of Atomic Fire. Preorder it here and listen to “The Abysmal Eye” below.

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