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Quite a few bands lately have been of the mind that taking a single, meandering, horrendously long song and making an entire album out of it is a great and novel idea. Unfortunately, most of the time what you get is a crawling exercise in patience and a burning desire for the album in question to be re-arranged into a condensed, 5-minute endurable version of what you just had to sit through (read: Green Carnation). Sometimes, though, a group of guys get together who have so many ideas running through their heads that a single-song album becomes not only a great idea, but a vessel for ultimate expression.
This is such an album. In its simplest form, I is a 21 minute summary of everything that Meshuggah has done prior. The high-speed staccato thrashing; the calculated rhythmic irregularities; the eerie stretches of ambience; the swirling, alien guitar leads; the atonal roaring and paradoxical, destructive lyricism - it's all here. However, it's all tied together by a menacing atmosphere of utter devastation that makes even the creeping onslaught of Nothing seem tame in comparison. Whether the unwavering and machine-like rolling tom patterns that constitute the hypnotizing introduction, the absolutely crushing breakdown of roaring guitars and time-shattering drums that occurs at around the 3:30 mark, Fredrik Thordendal's mechanical assault at 5:40 which consists of an incessant flurry of notes backed by an unadulterated display of inhuman endurance and accuracy from drummer Tomas Haake, the disturbing reverberations of oddly conflicting notes that mark the transition from the chaotic permutations that came before to the massive soundscapes that will follow, the heavy-as-fuck riffing that comes in at the 10:30 mark which encompasses what's probably the only moment in this entire song that you'll be able to effectively headbang to without getting confused, the diabolical whispering of Jens Kidman at 12:00 and the hive-like guitar lead from Fredrik that soon follows, the slow pulsing of dark arpeggios that steadily builds into a Nothing-era displaced pattern of shifting drums and twisted guitars at 17:00, or the standard Meshuggah-esque rhythmic motif that slowly coalesces into a lengthy stretch of foreboding feedback that closes out the song - the only word to properly describe this is... monolithic. Without the respite of track breaks, this becomes an unstoppable machine bent on the complete annihilation of everything in its path.
I is a tremendous achievement in Meshuggah's career and in the world of metal. While there are albums out there that are louder, heavier, and more extreme, none of them come close to exhibiting the cerebral and uncompromising nature of the music found here. The only album that does manage to sort of come close is Meshuggah's own follow-up, Catch Thirty-Three, but even that has more of a post-apocalyptic feel than the malevolent destruction found on I.
Absolutely mammoth music.