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Without a doubt, Meshuggah have come a long way. The straightforward thrash of Contradictions Collapse is long gone; the technical thrash of Destroy Erase Improve has been left behind; the speedy rhythmic permutations of Chaosphere have been all but abandoned. The plodding pace of Nothing has been taken and twisted into a far more severe animal. As for I... some people claim Catch Thirty-Three to be an extension of that album, but the two have almost nothing in common, musically.
Now there's this. Forget progression from album to album... the real beauty here is progression within the album itself. The way it moves from start to finish is... compelling. The methodical nature of the compositions is more mechanical than anything they've done in the past. The thing is simply austere. Uncompromising, cold, emotionless, controlled chaos.
To be honest, those adjectives can easily be applied to past Meshuggah albums and still retain some degree of accuracy, but there's a sole element that's pervasive throughout Catch Thirty-Three that doesn't really exist on any other Meshuggah release - it's hypnotizing. It's an interesting thing... the album is very rhythmic and percussive, and the riffs that source from their (now) 8-string guitars are massive, deep, and deceptively repetitive. If you don't pay very close attention, you'd get the impression that the first three songs are entirely comprised of a single riff played monotonously over a simple drum progression - so untrue. The guitars and drums are in brilliant unison all over this album, and they are constantly twisting through myriad rhythmic permutations. I'm not huge on music theory, so forgive me if I misuse some terms, but I believe the rhythmic brilliance that Meshuggah have always embraced is on highest display here. That one riff that you thought was repeating itself over, and over, and over, and over for the last four minutes has actually been morphing, stretching, and collapsing over itself, starting again in a completely different position within the measure and eventually realigning itself within the big picture after a given number of repetitions, only to take off again on another rhythmic trip. Meshuggah does not use polyrhythms to throw the listener off, they instead opt to take the standard 4/4 time signature and completely fuck with your head by slicing up the metric subdivisions of a given progression into some really absurd patterns that sound repetitive, but in actuality are constantly shifting... and man, they exploit the hell out of this approach on Catch Thirty-Three. Hence, the hypnotizing nature of the beast.
People like to bitch about the drums. They're programmed. So what? I didn't even know that they were programmed until I read about it on some forum a few months after I had purchased the album. They sound excellent - full of body, depth, and slam... the cymbals especially are great. Besides, I have full confidence in Tomas Haake's ability to play all of this material.
Jens Kidman is still roaring out his chaotic lyricism as usual with that unwavering atonality he's so well known for. The lyrics themselves seem fitting for the post-apocalyptic sentiment that the music tends to bring forth.
In the end, I'm tempted to say that this is Meshuggah's best album. They've completely buried themselves into the rhythmic trickery that in the past has only been used as a groundwork for other musical elements, and they're really fucking good at it. We don't get to hear Fredrik's oh so sweet Allan Holdsworth-plugged-into-the-Matrix solo'ing, nor do we get to experience Haake's inhuman accuracy on their speedier material... but in exchange we get something far more cerebral; something that's heavy and crushing, yet entrancing, sublime, and minimalistic... something that's satisfying on entirely different level.
Meshuggah is no longer the quintessential technical metal band. They have evolved into something far, far greater.