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Two years ago Swedish metal act Meshuggah provided the scene with one of the most talked about (if not THE most) albums of 2002. Much has been written about the ‘Nothing’ disc – some completely loathe it, others love it and the rest (which probably includes me) are still trying to understand it. No matter which category you put your self in, it is clear that no other band sounds quite like Meshuggah. Having left the metal world in an utterly confused state, only the very brave could guess at which direction they would take next. So what do they do? Well rather than take the easy path (and the commercial direction that many a fool predicted), they release a ONE track EP entitled ‘I’ that runs for 21 minutes. Whaaaahht??
The one major bone of contention that fans had about the ‘Nothing’ album was that momentum/speed/pacing wise, it was devoid of all. It meandered on and on, all with typical Meshuggah stylings and superb musicianship, but its one pace minimalism disappointed many. Without question, ‘Nothing’ was a challenge to sit through. Maybe the band has responded to these concerns, or maybe they haven’t, but ‘I’ is more akin to the rhythms and tempos that ‘Chaosphere and ‘DEI’ displayed. Fans of those albums will be extremely taken with what ‘I’ has to offer.
A 21-minute track has never been what I would classify as a ‘song’. Tracks this long are more like a collage of a bands progressive capability. It has to flow; it has to have variation in tempo and ideas, light and shade and a cohesive feel about it. Whether Meshuggah has actually achieved this with ‘I’ is debatable in my eyes, but nevertheless, at least we cannot complain about its tempo or its variation of ideas.
It is worth describing just what happens during ‘I’ as it is a rather interesting, if slightly disjointed ride. From the outset, the up tempo rhythm is laid bare – a technical riff structure tears through in the same monotonous pattern for exactly 1.34 seconds (I was beginning to wonder if my disc was skipping). Then for something different (for Meshuggah anyway) – Jens Kidman’s wild screaming over a furious Noisecore, blast beat section before settling into a wicked up tempo rhythm. At 5.40, we witness the beginning of some simply incredible Fredrick Thordendal solo work (which he carries forth throughout certain sections of the entire disc) and a frenetic thrash style pace set by the human Octopus himself Tomas Haake. At 6.50, the tempo shifts up another gear with Haake’s performance now proving to be impossible to these ears. At 7.48, the first of three major tempo changes – nothing but a solitary guitar line playing a slow chiming, ambient like section before plunging into a typical Meshuggah mid tempo romp at 8.40 – Jens’ vocals working in time with the riffs with apparent ease. At 12 minutes, another easing off in the tempo kicks in with some off kilter timing and ambient back masking vocals and melodic lead lines – this segues into a simply mind boggling tripped out drug addled solo from Thordendal. This cannot be played by anyone else. At 14.20, we get the final tempo change, this time a slow doom like structure and gentle lead section builds up to the 16-minute mark where track becomes just a tad darker and moodier in feel. The riffs are static and choppy with an underlying melodic lead line that is maintained right through until the tracks end. I like the variation in employed here – but if I had to make a choice, the final 7 minutes of ‘I’ are not as convincing or enthralling as the earlier passages.
It goes without saying that the musicianship displayed here is nothing short of godlike. Meshuggah fans have never doubted this. ‘I’ is signature Meshuggah – it continues to highlight their flawless talents in the most dramatic fashion. The production, similarly is top notch and if anything an improvement on the one-dimensional ‘dry’ feel that was achieved on ‘Nothing’.
I think it is safe to say that ‘I’ will cause the necessary buzz that it was created to induce. ‘Catch 33’ is the title of the new disc and if the musical ideas of ‘I’ is anything to go by, then it will be a very interesting release. No doubt, there will be some surprises – just like the unpredictability of ‘Nothing’ through to this EP, nothing is never guaranteed with Meshuggah. I can’t wait actually.