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Meshuggah is not an artist whose style changes with every album like Sigh, nor do they exist in a completely static artistic realm like Bolt Thrower. In each sequential album there is a change; albeit one a great deal more subtle than in most artists. Play any two Meshuggah albums side-by-side and you'll likely only first hear the erratic, piledriving guitar chugs and barking vocals, and probably for the few listens after that. And there are people that find great joy merely in those barest of techniques that the band uses, merely enjoying the odd time signatured pummeling that the band delights in. To those who listen a bit more closely, or to those more versed in the band's music, however, more details are collected: the delicate shifts of mood, texture or atmosphere, the subtle, polyrhythmic dance, where instruments play along out of time for some strange number of measures before falling like a perfect hammer into the lockstep rhythm of the section's beginning. But on that fall, there might be something new; a change in cymbal, a minimalist, sinuous lead, a few extra scattered beats placed ever so precisely in the morass of thick, monstrously stormy riffs. And it is indeed a set of features and emphases that many simply cannot appreciate: these are merely not factors that a large number of people can truly find enjoyable. But for those that do love the machinelike assault of this artist, there's not one that does the style better.
'Destroy Erase Improve' is, at least in my estimation, Meshuggah's greatest work. On their earliest works, Meshuggah had resembled an extremely developed, apocalyptic form of thrash metal; after this album, on 'Chaosphere', the technical and industrial elements of the band came to dominate their style, essentially completely excising any of their identifiable thrash metal past. The material on 'Destroy Erase Improve', however, forms the bridge between their two styles, with more of the traditional song structures and identifiably melodic riffs of thrash as well as the extremely technical aspects of their later works, and this marriage creates their best release, being both satisfyingly experimental and technical as well as grounded in perceptible song structures. Consider it the Meshuggah equivalent of Gorguts' 'From Wisdom To Hate', though unlike that album, Meshuggah's second LP can't be viewed as any sort of concession to the audience.
The opener of this album shows why it's so crucial in Meshuggah's discography: 'Future Breed Machine', arguably THE Meshuggah song, is not only the band's perpetual closer to every live set, but practically the band's definitive musical mission statement. It is easily one of the finest songs the band has ever written, with each section being memorable despite the almost quintessentially unmemorable style that Meshuggah plays, at least to those more unfamiliar with the intricacies of their style. From the grinding machine-sound intro to the sudden burst of strobing searchlight lead over traditional Meshuggah mechanical devastation, then suddenly moving into a sudden post-thrash riff before the vocals begin, every second is completely memorable and completely perfectly designed. There are numerous high points beyond it, the most obvious of them all, though. 'Soul Burn' is a personal favorite, with its high-speed delivery and staggered, doubletracked vocal lines. 'Terminal Illusions' is possibly the most straightforward and aggressive track on the album, also notable for its surprisingly direct anti-religious theme as opposed to Meshuggah's typically abstract meditations.
The very best on the album, however, would be 'Suffer In Truth', a track that's slower pace and pounding, martial performances create an even more ominous than normal atmosphere, especially when combined with its air-siren leads that circle ominously above the battlefield below like so many choppers. Experimentation is, as stated before, very readily present: mellow ambient instrumental 'Acrid Placidity' forms a well-placed intermission between two of the most aggressive tracks on the album. But the most obviously atypical track is probably closer 'Sublevels', which eschews most of the typical chug in favor of a more subtle, slowly descending fusion-influenced track, with drums, quiet guitar and spoken word vocals forming the body between occasional bursts of ferocious grinding.
Some criticism could be leveled at perceived filler: 'Vanished' or 'Inside What's Within Behind' probably aren't as strictly necessary as the other tracks on the album, but I'd say they help establish a more solid bedrock for the music to build upon, with the more unique tracks building off the more 'standard' ones. No, 'Destroy Erase Improve' does not have the absolutely single-minded focus of essentially all of Meshuggah's other albums, but it is all the better for it: this is easily the most varied of all their albums, and also the one with the most unique songs, as opposed to later releases which generally feature about half excellence and half album expanders. And to be honest, the music here is simply a great deal more memorable than on most other Meshuggah CDs, with enough of their thrash roots to give the songs a more cohesive yet varied structure but still maintain the distinctive musical flavor of the band. If any Meshuggah album was to be described as 'essential', it would probably be this one, even for those who typically dislike the band.
Fun fact: A live version of 'Suffer In Truth' is what encouraged me to pick up drumming.