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MESHUGGAH - "CATCH 33", 2005
Meshuggah is either hated or loved, there is no middle. Since their last album, the slurry and mechanical "NOTHING" (2002), the fans that praised the Chaosphere-ish era were divided with the new material. The slowness of it was too much for some; to others, it was repetitive; to the rest (and that includes me) it appeared to be one masterpiece, product of true evolution. The screw was turned again with "I", with which the band recovered some of its thrashy tempos and the (I think) unanymous approval. In this EP, the band featured a lot of diverse material, changing at a blinding speed. Nonetheless, they declared that this 21-minute-long track predicted nothing from their coming album. Oh my goodness, should I have listened to what they were saying.
Truth be told, when I heard "NOTHING" I said: "This guys can't get any difficult, both in understanding and in withstanding" It required some time to get my ears used to the drilling of their masterminded chaos. The lyrical content itself was a severe challenge. All in all there were a lot of subtleties in this album and that's why it's definitely not boring (against popular beliefs) The polyrhythmic patterns is something you will surely encounter if you are new to this band. So, the band has been apparently striving to worship the pure form, the polyrhythm in its naked state, so the riff is not as important as the pattern itself, taking away the melody of it. The result is hard to swallow. Meshuggah is a band of prodigious musicians, their skill is unquestionable. But if you didn't like "NOTHING", you'll most probably abhor "Catch 33". I must tell you that right now.
I don't know how to express an opinion about this album. Hell, I've heard it lotsa times and I don't even know how to pierce its mystery. At first I found myself speechless. What I supposed at the first moment after listening it was that the Meshuggah guys were upset about the "NOTHING" negative reviews and this record was their vengeance upon those who wrote them. Surprisingly enough, and even though it develops a slower, more uniform style than anything they have ever released, "Catch 33" is not boring. If you thought "NOTHING" couldn't get any plainer and simpler, well, try again. Of course, the rhythm is as complex (perhaps even more) as in the past. But, just to remind you, there was some melody crevice in the solos of previous efforts. Well, none of that anymore. I counted just one guitar solo in this album and it's cacophonic. There is also some catchiness in "I". Not anymore. And it's not just "un"catchiness, most of the music is at first plainly ungraspable. This is a redefinition of their experimental thrashy industrial metal and one cannot mistake it for an easily listenable album.
There are some "illusions" in this 47-minute epic monster. Since the beginning, the hypnotic pattern seems uniform and unchanging, giving you an impression of continuity, which, as you discover after a few listens, is not quite there. Because of this, the unstoppable song's development is a lot more "organic" than the "I" track. Since the song is mostly devoid of melody as we know it, it's quite difficult to remember specifically every turn, except the most memorable (you will remember afterwards the "Mind's mirrors" part). Now, like I've been saying, the rhytms are insanely complicated under the deceiving surface. The simplicity/complexity achieved by Meshuggah is unbelievable and the best example is the jumpy, jazzy part in "In Death - Is Death" (at around minute 5:00) which becomes a vicious riff accompanied by the other ominous guitar in the background. I don't know how they pieced together the whole track, but it definitely sounds as a unity. Far harder, I don't know how they could make something as apparently minimalistic and yet as complex.
The production is perfect, just the opposite to "NOTHING". The bass sounds clearer and more thunderous than ever and it has some lead parts, even though the 8-strings guitar must have had to eclipse it (the fact is, they both sound crushing) By the way, the guitar sounds excellent. The band had already announced that this was more guitar-based. They didn't mean the solos, they meant the chaotic orchestra of riffs. They proved their skill not by doing solos, but by displaying an internal timing that is beyond human capability. The general mood is erratic and slurry. The voice performs some good rhythmic growling or screeching passages, displaying, at least the way I hear it, a greater lung capacity (you have to hear Jens screaming the initial lyrics of "In Death - Is Death") than in previous material. In some of the final tracks, which perform violent and saturated passages, we find some vocalic surprises, similar to the biblical scream of Maynard James Keenan in "The Grudge". I am not sure wether Jens does it or if it's an effect but it certainly is a spectacular climax ("Dehumanization"'s gotta be the most effectively brutal track on "Catch 33"). About the much-discussed issue of the programmed drumming, it's true, Tomas didn't record them live, but you won't even notice. You have to consider this is one experiment and they felt no need of doing it live. Anyway, the drumming sounds realistic enough. You'll hear shit about it, but the drumming will be the least of the problems if you listen and try to understand this album.
A probable reason for some Meshuggah fans to immediatly throw this CD to the garbage disposal is the slowness, the uniformity but also the arid musical landscapes which are provided by some interludes, such as "Mind's Mirrors", the ending of "In Death - Is Death" (where the guitars sound as a distant, irregular chiming) or the finale of the album. I personally didn't found them annoying, because the mind reels and staggers, and not just because of the music, which is slow but showing an impressive progression, but also because of the lyrics. This wouldn't be a Meshuggah release if the theme were simple. The whole package is what you get from this album and it was what you got also from "NOTHING", something that most of the fans forgot. Their metaphysical speculations are mind-blowing, things that mess up with your head. Ultimately, the lyrics DO relate to the musical concept, just the way they did in "NOTHING". The "repetition" of the first tracks, the interlude with the mechanical voice and the changes performed in the second half of the album, which is clearly more "varied" than the first, they all find an explanation in the lyrics (I won't even try to explain the concept, it would take ages)
Well, I'll tell you what. I'll give this album the best rating; my bet is, this 2005's best. Why? will you wonder. Because it's impressive, it can be listened over and over. Because what produces great metal is not complexity but contundency and "Catch 33" scores high in contundency, it will force its way to your brain (do not be misled, "Catch 33" is complex indeed, it could be one of the most elaborate thematic album of the recent decades). Because this band surpassed itself, sacrificing popularity and ignoring the regular fans, throwing away the possibility of making a whole new concert set (which was already difficult by the time of "NOTHING" and plainly impossible with "I", but don't worry, they said a full-lenght is on the way); all this in order to produce an experimental album. I don't know if this is math-metal or what. Meshuggah can be qualified as "extreme" and "experimental" not because of its speed, but because of its purpose of cacophony and the conceptual theme that go with it. This is Armageddon in abstract, hermetic, mechanical, state-of-the-art terms, both in music and in language. I give "Catch 33" the best rating even though it will not appeal to you all. You can only get a warning through this review. I know such an album could end up sounding tiresome for a regular metal fan and I know there is something missing in Meshuggah that pisses their former fans off: they haven't recorded something straightforward and brutal since "Chaosphere"; their last three releases ("NOTHING", "I", "Catch 33") have been experiments, prodding at their own capacities, warming up, proving their talents, and, I would dare to say, defining solidly their style, but I'll tell you this, and mark my words: when they decide to flex all their muscles at a time, and I suppose that will happen with their next full-lenght, beware. This is a sophisticated and intelligent band to be reckoned with.