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A continuation of modernist thought - 80%

Egregius, June 20th, 2004

Reading the reviews of Meshuggah there seem to be two prevailing views: either it's the most brilliantly technical album ever, or it's the most boring album in the history of metal. I'll take a middle-position, and here's why: I have an affinity for intricacy and complex patterns in music, but my knowledge of musical technicality is limited to the terms tone-heigth, riff, solo and tremolo-picking, and I'm probably misusing those half the time. So this review is for people who like me can make out time-changes only if explicitly told where, and then still with difficulty.

The downtuned guitars are what you notice the first when listening to this album. They're immensely downtuned, and vary in tone relatively little. But in that small margin of tone-variation, they use the whole spectrum extensively. What this means is that the guitars play complex riffs, but you have to expend extra energy to make them out completely. The vocals mirror this: the harsh drill-instructor screams bark rythmically, matching the other instruments, not only in rythm, but also in tone; little margin, but precision therein. The exception seems to come from the occasional solo, although I'm not sure if one could call them solos. Hypnotic and patterned, they use the higher tones achievable on the 8-string guitars used, for that eery contrast with the rest of the guitarsound.

Jarring is the right word to describe the riffs. These are riffs that get on someone's nerves really quickly if that person is not into this sort of music. Counter-intuitive and a-typical, they are planned out meticulously however, to create a complex overall pattern. This album wouldn't have worked if the whole band wasn't on the same line in both technical skill and intent. I wouldn't say all elements fall together seemlessly. A more accurate comparison would be to liken this album to a modernist industrial oilrefinery: an accumulation of hard steel formed into a complex whole hard to oversee by a single person. Ugly, lifeless and harsh to common sensibility, but pleasing to some.

Hence the two differing views. I've got to hand one thing to the criticasters: it's extremely tiring and mentally draining to listen to 10 tracks of jarring music, and this album would've benefitted from having two random songs cut out. In the end they all start to sound like eachother.