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Meshuggah was always an anomaly in metal. They play a style similar to thrash, but in countless seemingly random time signatures. At first they were fairly standard thrash, but their own unique sound soon began to develop and continued to do so. On Destroy.Erase.Improve. they began their mathematics influenced style and furthered their sound on Chaossphere. This is the pinnacle of their sound when it comes to mathematic brutality. There is nothing organic here.
Nothing is by far the grooviest album that Meshuggah has ever recorded, as well as one of the strangest. The music rarely accelerates beyond mid temp and is at times even slower than that. The riffs are a mixture of oddly timed power chords and off kilter bends. The album sounds like nothing that you’ve ever heard before. It is calculating and unmerciful in a way that no prior album has even attempted to be. The rhythms are truly twisted. The music is anything but predictable and at times it seems as if the time signatures and beats were devised at random and played by machines. The album is chaotic in an organized and regimented fashion. It sounds as if it could fall at any second, but from the first note you know that it never will.
This is the first album that Meshuggah began to use their (now famous) eight stringed guitars. As such the album is far heavier than any of their earlier works, and their earlier works are a far cry from soft. The riffs are mostly comprised of either power chords or single notes on the lower of the two strings, sometimes relying on a combination of the two. Colossal bends frequently appear to further distort the landscape. Thorendal’s solos are masterful displays of tapping and the like. They are far from pointless wankery, instead they further enhance the odd, almost otherworldly, feel of the music. The bass generally follows the guitars, and overall seems to shine a bit less than on some of Meshuggah’s previous works. All the same, it is right in the thick of things as it backs up the grooves and is an indispensable part of the sound.
The drumming is incredible and unique. It is more subdued than on albums like Chaossphere or Destroy.Erase.Improve. but it is no less impressive. The drums are frequently operating in more than one time signature. Polyrhythmic beats are also fairly prevalent on this album. While the drums are a constantly flowing enigma of contorted rhythms, the drums never relinquish their most basic role: the keeping of time (a skill that several tech death drummers have yet to master). The snare drum will frequently act as a near metronome and keep a four/four undercurrent to the otherwise odd time signatures. As a final note, while the drumming has countless interesting beats, there are no fills. This serves to enhance the robotic aspect of the music. Haake truly could pass off as a drum machine if he wanted to. In fact, he pulled off a better inhuman and robotic performance here than the drum machine did on Catch Thirty Three.
The vocals are yet another perplexing aspect of Meshuggah’s sound. They consist of hardcore esque shouts, yet they sound more robotic than any distorted effects could ever yield and less human than the most guttural of singers. They have absolutely no emotion, and in this case, that turns out to be one of their greatest assets. (On Spasm Haake takes over the vocal duties and through the use of several odd effects continues the tirade of bizarre and robotic assaults.) The singing is spot on at all times. It doesn’t always follow the guitars (I’m not even sure if it would be humanly possible to do so…) but frequently provides yet another heavy as hell backbone for the music to rest on.
The lyrics are breathtaking. They are philosophical and abstract lyrics, yet they manage to fit perfectly into the music. One of the major themes seems to be paradoxes, as exhibited by the second track (Rational Gaze): ‘Squint your eyes to see clearly/Blur reality to make it real/let focus go from your deceiving eyes to know what’s been concealed/we’ve all been blinded – subjects to visual misinformation/a systematic denial of the crystalline.’ They fit the paradoxical nature of the music itself perfectly and add another strike against everything that standard music is comprised of. While many bands go completely overboard in the field of thoughtful lyrics Meshuggah certainly do not and craft some of the greatest lyrics that I’ve ever heard.
This is the first Meshuggah album to feature the quirky ambient bits that were so prevalent on Catch ThirtyThree. They aren’t as forward, or as common, as they were on that album, but they’re undoubtedly there.
The production on Nothing is very odd. It is completely sterile. Save the sound of the perfectly captured instruments there are NO other sounds. This could truly have been recorded in a vacuum. In addition, the guitar tones are truly unique. They’re incredible low due to the use of eight strings, yet there is almost no fuzz on their distortion which makes them have a sound that I’ve yet to hear anything like.
Nothing truly sounds robotic. I’m not using that as an expression. I’m saying that it truly sounds like machines made this. It is precise to a seemingly inhuman degree and there’s nothing organic about it at all. Due to the inorganic nature of the riffs and the incredibly low nature of the guitars this is truly one of the heaviest albums I’ve ever heard. It isn’t brutal at all – don’t expect something like Nile or Devourment – but is heavy in the way that a multi ton robotic tank is heavy. Unmercifully heavy.
Variation is next to none existent on this disk. While it’s like nothing that you’ve ever heard before, the songs are all fairly similar. I’m not saying this in a negative way, as it was undoubtedly intentional and greatly aids the music. From the beginning to the end every song is fairly similar (not to say that you won’t have favorites, you undoubtedly will as several of them do have some unique characteristics). The monotony is yet another example of the robotic feel of the album. To truly experience it, you must listen to it straight through. At the same time, each individual track is strong enough to be listened to on its own.
After all this praise it seems as if Nothing is a near perfect album that I’d recommend to everyone. Well, I would recommend it to almost everyone, but not right away. It’s an atrocious starting album for Meshuggah and if you haven’t heard them I’d recommend getting obZen first. This album also requires several listens to sink in. The first few times I heard it I was completely under-whelmed and it is only recently that its true majesty has been revealed to me. It certainly doesn’t help that the first track, Stengah, is probably the most sterile and inaccessible songs on here. Still, this is undoubtedly a landmark album and anyone looking to hear something completely out of the ordinary is strongly recommended to give it a try.