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A remarkably original take on thrash metal, Meshuggah's debut album is the one that got me interested in them, and eventually allowed me to wrap my head around their highly complex, challenging later material. This album too, is highly complex and challenging, but it has heavy old school thrash vibes that appealed to me right from the start, from Lady Liberty against a backdrop of devastation over the NY skyline on the sleeve to some of the most enormous gang shouts I've ever heard. Despite those undeniable tropes of the genre (not that those are bad things, of course), this is an album that is far more "out there" than a lot of other thrash. It has a very experimental feel that places it on a similar level to something like Watchtower in my mind.
In this album we can see the beginnings of what they would eventually evolve into a few years later, but these are just trace elements. Or rather, the same facets are in place against a different backdrop. A noticeable, yet largely superficial similarity can be drawn to AJFA era Metallica, in that the vocals are sort of like James Hetfield only far more furious and emotional, and the advanced song structure is kind of reminiscent of AJFA, but IMO executed far better and markedly more ambitious. AJFA didn't feature anywhere near as many unusual riffs and rhythms as this, and certainly didn't have the demented sounding (and sometimes strikingly beautiful, as in the case of "Cadaverous Mastication") jazzy, psychedelic guitar solos this album is replete with. It seems to me like they took that formula and expanded on it, and created something wholly unique in the process. Like the music, the production is also highly unusual, but effective. I've not heard another album that sounds quite like this one. The drums (particularly the snare) clatter away while the loudly mixed (but not especially bassy) bass guitar buzzes away underneath, alongside the powerful guitar tone. There's a moderate amount of reverb over everything to give it a more spacious feel, which works in its favour, especially the snare drum and those classic "riot vocals" which sound akin to an entire football stadium bellowing along to the words. Also worth pointing out are the lyrics which aren't the same kind of esoteric words this band would later become known for, but address subjects such as the environment (that old thrash favourite) and drug addiction.
I'm not usually one for picking apart individual tracks, but every song on this album is distinct and has its own thing to offer, though if I had to pick a single one as my favourite it would be "Abnegating Cecity". This is quite complex music, not especially easy to get into, indeed it took me a while...but when it clicked, it happened in a big way. Now I can't really imagine not listening to "Contradictions Collapse". It has slowly worked its way into my subconscious and become one of my absolute favourite thrash albums ever. I fully recommend it.
Part of being young and in the underground is you get exposed to the various trends, and the big one right now is the "djent" genre. In it's current incarnation, it's essentially metalcore that wholeheartedly embraces wanking of the highest order. But going deep into the Meshuggah back catalog (the roots of the trend), what we get is experimental/progressive groove metal. Imagine the likes of early Machine Head and post-CFH Pantera with a good deal of industrial influence and a fuck ton of creativity.
I would compare this to a half-way point between the over-the-top wank that would later manifest itself on Gorgut's "Obscura" and the half-thrash groove of the early nineties. Vocally, Jens projects a half hardcore/half thrash yell that is somewhat reminiscent of Hetfield on the early Metallica albums, but points more towards the NYHC scene. Production wise this album is very good. The guitars have a nice, clear crunch; bass has a heavy presence at the top of the mix; and while the drums are triggered, they don't sound entirely fake and have a nice punch. Like I previously mentioned, the riffs are essentially a technical exaggeration of really early groove metal. While there is a good deal of homogeneity and synchronicity between the band members, there are sections (primarily the grooves and breaks) that make good use of poly-rhythms.
Positives: heavy riffs, heavy production, decent groove/hardcore vocals, and a tense mechanical atmosphere.
Negatives: the tendency to go off on bland and uninteresting tangents and an overwhelming sense of sameness on each track. For fans of groove, post-thrash, experimental/avant-garde, and industrial, pick up for $10 or less.
Of all Meshuggah albums that get the most listens, this one would have to be it. It represents an era in Meshuggah alone; where as None - Chaosphere represented crushing polyrhythms that got increasingly faster, and how Nothing thru Catch - 33 saw Meshuggah exploring the possibilities of their music as conceptual art, Contradictions Collapse an album alone. The music here is speed metal with great use of polyrhythms and progressive song structures. The sound resembles if Kill Em All thru Master Of Puppets Metallica had decided to get music lessons and made progressive speed metal, and even Jens Kidman resembles early James Hetfield if he had a slightly gruffer voice more akin to a drill instructor.
The style here is unrefined, sure. The album sounds like it was recorded with relatively good equipment in a large garage, with room-size reverb on all the instruments. This gives the drums a bit more kick in the mix, and this was DEFINITELY before Haake started using triggers, so the sound here is more spacious and pulverizing. Whereas later albums resembled being beaten to death by cyborgs, this is more akin to a drunken fight with a biker on meth who is clearly bigger, stronger, and able to fight than you. Subtle, yes, but there's something inherently more organic and earnest about Contradictions, whether it be the half-sung, half-shouted vocals, or the use of standard Eb tuning (before they used 7 string guitars) that gives this a more "retro" feel.
Make no mistake, though, this is punishing. Most songs go by at a quick pace with drumming that feels less like a drum machine and more like someone who practices a crapton and sacrifices his social life for drumming perfection. The rhythms are mostly headbangable, and that I feel is another area of genius for Contradictions: they got really technical (the guitars are way more technical than their later stuff) without losing the headbangability. In fact, I would say this was when their progressive influence was at its peak, or at least one of the times that it was. The predictability of later works is simply not present here. So, to summarize, the music is spastic, grinding, and stomping, as compared to later works which are more robotic in comparison.
The songwriting is generally cyclical in form; there are few verse - chorus -verse moments, and mostly what you will hear are themes that come in and out of existence, and are recapitulated later, often in a different form. Some riffs will be more central to the song than others, but the structure is often not apparent until later listens. And did I mention the riffs? There's a whole lot of them here. Each song contains enough riffs for 2 more songs, and boy are they good riffs. Hagstrom gets to shine here; unlike later albums where he goes into Thorendal's shadow, he gets to shine here. The guitars, unlike later albums, are not synchronous most of the time, which gives this album a dimension that is absent in some of their other albums.
It's a dead shame this album is overlooked so often, because it's chock full of creation and thrashy sections. It makes me want to get behind a drum kit and bang my head while banging out thundering double bass. It's what makes you wanna get up and destroy something. It's responsible for 50% of my speeding tickets. And, most of all, of every Meshuggah album I have, this one gets the most listens by far.
If there ever was an album that was unfairly thrown into obscurity, its 'Contradictions Collapse'. It's not perfect, but it still qualifies as a great metal album if not compared to the bands later catalouge. Meshuggah's signature style of mind-bending metal was not fully developed in their first LP (obviously) but it still does stand when compared to most other death metal acts at that time and is one good step musically better than most. It's what you would expect as a debut album from a band that are arguably at the top of their game now, even if it does not hold up to their other albums. It is still better than alot of other metal out their anyway.
The production on 'Contradictions' is clearly not superb, but it is still listenable and allows the music to be progressive. Everything is low quality but very easy to listen to and get into. The songs are very catchy and detailed, which even mediocre production can't ruin. It almost sounds like one knob or so got turned wrong and jerked the balance a little bit. The guitars feel a little bit left out and just too quiet, which brings the atmosphere of the album a little less intense then it could have been. The drum sound is a bit cheap and the snare is minimally annoying at times, but rarely. Aside from these set backs, the production doesn't leave anything completely out. The bass and vocals are very clear, and the production never truly distracts from the technical excellence of the album.
The metal on this album is very heavy, fast, technical and satisfying. The riffs are staccato and fly all over the place. The guitar does not sound like any thing else out there. There are dozens of strange time signatures and sudden tempo changes which catch interest. The guitars are thick as hell and sound like heavy, heavy rocks being thrown around. They puncture your ears if turned up to loud (thats a good thing). There are occasional acoustic parts, they do not sound glam or power-balladish. The clean parts abolish the staccato, but keep the strange time signatures. Overall the guitar riffs are generally short but provide alot for the album. The tempo often changes from rapid-fast to mid-range to slow. Sometimes it's not a great switch, but most of the time it works just fine.
The drums are just as interesting as the guitars, somehow. The performance of the man behind the set is just magnificent. The drums sound totally different than the guitars, but they still manage to fit the music near perfectly. They sound as if each last snare and cymbal are playing in different worlds, but they still. The drumming is hyper techincal, and is staccato like the guitar, with just as many tempo changes. In all honesty, Meshuggah have one of the most talented drummers in extreme metal. The drumming is so techincal, it's hard to air drum to. Seriously.
The vocals are standard fare, though. They sounds just like most other thrash bands out there, with a crunchy voice and the ocassional chanting quality to them. They are done generally well, the lead man was a good choice. The vocals are not prominent at all, the real focus is one the sonic guitar playing and blasting drums. The vocals are by no means terrible, but they are very easily forgotten. They don't offer very much to the album.
I would recommend this album to anyone who likes techinal death metal, or progessive metal for that manner. I would not recommend this as your first Meshuggah album however, their future albums are certainly better. The flaws lie in the fact that the album is a little repedative. The songs are catchy and technical but are almost indistinguishable from one another. They may be a bit too technical in places, and leaves the listener not being able to remember too many riffs after the first few listens. That being said, it's still a good progressive metal album and is a solid debut for Meshuggah.