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I never understood the hype for Meshuggah. Maybe on Destroy Erase Improve and Chaosphere they were playing a more spastic and unconventional form of groove meddle with mechanical riffing, but beginning with Nothing any sense of vitality they had was thrown out the window in favor of playing nu-meddle with "tuned down lower than usual" guitars and "odd-time" drumming. This approach they have taken since the 2000s continues here in a monotonous display of bowel movement noises produced on guitars without rhyme or reason. Some people would suggest "I just don't get it", and maybe they're right. I just don't get what's so good about a drummer floundering around brain simple 2 note riffs that wouldn't be out of place on a Korn album recorded on the protools with a guy screaming like a Hyena getting sodomized Deliverance style over it all.
The song begins and ends the same way. 2 note riffs that sound like bowel movement noises are "highlighted" by a clean, effected guitar track underneath it while a drummer attempts to inject complexity by unnecessarily playing up the role of his drum kit in an otherwise simple song. The vocals sound more along the lines of the "spooky" narrations Mudvayne or Slipknot would do, so if this is a "nu" approach to the Meshuggah sound, at least they're finally admitting they just want to be the artsy-fartsy version of Korn. Over this same riff, a guitar solo that sounds like something John Zorn would have thrown out in the early 90s randomly races in. Finally, we get to the clean Allan Holdsworth noodling over the bass line of that riff... then it occurs to you: not a lot has happened in this song. It literally is one riff played in different time signatures by way of the drummer changing how he approaches playing to this one riff given ornamentation by a second guitar track that either adds clean noodling or bad solos underneath. That's really it. Lyrically, Meshuggah actually display a great deal of intelligence but like any song from them, it feels like ill fitting words thrown onto sparse music that wouldn't be given the time of day if not for their 90s discography and 8 string guitar gimmick.
The next track is a live recording that, aside from some audience noise in the beginning, sounds almost exactly the same. A clean guitar riff comes in, then they throw on the distortion pedal, then back to a clean track... This band really reminds me of the soft-heavy, quiet-loud nu-meddle from the early 2000s. The fact that Meshuggah receives so much praise is almost scary because the music is so brain dead simple and arranged in such a boringly linear fashion that this comes off as being no more complex than AC/DC. Throw out the calculus and math arguments about the counterpoints (really clean guitar augmenting bowel movement sounds) and the "complex time signatures" (really just a drummer changing his pattern around lifeless riffs) and you end up with nu-meddle. The second song features the "extreme" vocal delivery of their earlier works, but aside from that it's almost comedic how redundant this band has become. Maybe this is why so many people like them: they're currently occupying the same space that nu-meddle held in the early 2000s, but doing a better job fooling the world that it's actually metal (marketing banter by "progressive" fans helps too). Don't believe the hype surrounding this band, but if you're inclined to hear this, it's free.
As I prepare my rectum for the Meshuggah concert coming up in the couple of days, I've done a fair bit of introspection; trying to figure out how relevant this band still is in my life, considering they were one the few bands that basically got me hooked on metal in general, back when I was a wee lad. Well this introspection could come have come a better time, because in the midst of this meditative seclusion Pitch Black was released, and unfortunately a lot more heads will be scratched than banged with this 2013 dud.
It appears as though Pitch Black is Meshuggah's one-click excuse to release another trippy album cover, so it would seem. Consisting of one half-assed rerecording of a song from years ago and pretty solid live rendition of Dancers To A Discordant System, this mini EP clearly didn't take a whole of careful craftsmanship. The issue lies most apparently, not in the quality of the work presented, but its scarcity, reeling in at under 16 minutes. If the tracks given to us were issued as bonus content on a foreign album release not many would complain, as such things can be written off with ease, but the fact a whole separate release was garnered, albeit a free one, is something that will surely irk die-hard Meshuggah fans.
The title track is easily the most underwhelming part of this release considering it is void of any passion (regardless of how mechanical Meshuggah's passion sounds) thanks to the absence of everyone but Fredrick Thordendal, and his robotic vocoder work. Musically its a cut below what the band is capable of and the production, while passable, lacks the gritty crunch that so efficiently caused hemorrhaging on their previous efforts. The lack of Jens makes the track reminiscent of Catch Thirtythree's errie Mind's Mirrors or something off Thordendal's Special Defects. As such, if were placed somewhere midroad on an album it could at least carry its own weight. However as a standalone effort its lack of climactic release snuffs out its momentum well before song end.
There isn't much to be said about the live track here; it's good, and just like every other live release this band has made, it almost sounds better than their studio work - especially Jens' vocals which seem more robust.
If Pitch Black wasn't free, you could bet on finding some angry metalheads at your local HMV, but the fact it was released for free by a goddamn car company makes it worth spinning if you're a fan of the band. However if you're nothing more than a casual fan, you are MUCH better off diving into one of the band's stellar full lengths for your 'shuggah fix. I for one find myself questioning what the motivating factor is for a respectable band to release such a haphazard EP.
Generally speaking, most of Meshuggah's songs have a very unusual, difficult-to-grasp feel to them if you're not very familiar with them. Pitch Black as a song, however is different even for the general Meshuggah consensus.
First off, the general feel of the song. For fans of Meshuggah, it can be compared to 'Dancers To A Discordant System'. It has a very low-lying but insidiously menacing theme to it. The riff in general is very typical of Meshuggah and their ability to manipulate one note in unconventional patterns. I could compare it to 'Bleed' in that respect as it has a driving feel to it but not for its tempo - the song is, much like most of Meshuggah's songs, slow and focuses on warping a single element of the song - the riff. The vocals are also very respective of Dancers To A Discordant System as well, for the main part anyway. I'm not sure whether it is Kidman or Haake doing it (my guess is Haake, but I could be wrong) and has this also increasingly menacing theme to the vocals.
Jens' trademark vocals then kick in, followed by an incredibly Thordendal-style solo. I myself can't really compare it to any other solo, but my best comparison could be anything from Chaosphere. It's incredibly abstract, and when you hear it first time you can't really understand it. My main word for the solo is 'dissonance' but getting used to the solo afterwards is all you can do to numb the attack.
The song then breaks into something sort-of-calmer again, but eventually goes into a very heavy riff nearer the end followed by a chorus-style lead. I do have to say hats off to the chorus lead at the end, because it works very well with the clean lead over the rhythm in particular parts of the song. Nicely done if you ask me.
In total, Pitch Black as a song is incredibly different. If you're a fan of Meshuggah you will wonder first time round as to what's going on. It's generally quite mellow for a Meshuggah song, and by itself is very difficult to compare to. Dancers is the most you can size it up with because of how divergent it is from other Meshuggah songs.
Secondly, Dancers To A Discordant System live. If you know background Meshuggah antics, you'll know that Dancers To A Discordant System was Hagström's and Thordendal's bane - they intended to play it live eventually and they pull it off very well here judging the somewhat metronome-shattering intro. There is not much to say on Dancers as it is a song from Obzen, and not a unique song by itself. But for live quality, it is almost pristine.
Scion A/V has released a lot of free music by a lot of good artists. Just like it's now accepted that NPR has great taste in metal, it is also recognized that a car manufacturer can as well. For Meshuggah's contribution to the label, they have presented Pitch Black, a two-song ep that is 100% free to download.
The first song is the title track and as far as the name "Pitch Black" goes, it's a fairly adequate description of the music within. Recorded during 2003, it is a peculiarity in that it doesn't sound a whole lot like any other Meshuggah song. The vocals are especially bizarre, but I found them to have an interesting place in this rare number.
Track two is a live recording of "Dancers to a Discordant System" from Obzen. As anyone who has seen them live can attest, Meshuggah shred onstage. The complexity of their songs makes for very interesting performances. "Bleed" is a particularly interesting tune to hear performed live and shows off just how great a drummer Haake really is. This live song is also masterfully performed and the recording is very good.
This release has garnered some criticism for being more of a compilation of old material than bringing anything new to the table. I find this to be false. These songs have not been released before and the fact that Meshuggah decided to allow fans to download them for free is, in my opinion, a good thing. I think this ep, while short, is still a good listen and a nice gift from Meshuggah and from Scion.
I think by now we are all aware of the ongoing metal oriented initiative run by Scion. The car manufacturer, while oft undermined by the likes of Toyota or Honda, are widely gaining more and more respect in the metal community for their consistent EP releases, which they have been doing for the past few years. Bands such as Arsis, Corrosion of Conformity, Revocation, and Wormrot have all released short EP's through the companies arts label, Scion AV. You can now add Meshuggah to that list. While their last album was released a tad over a year ago, the band released this new EP, entitled Pitch Black, likely as a holdover between the next album. While it only contains one new song, it also contains "Pitch Black", which is aptly used as the title of the EP. Is it even worth listening to? Sure, but really only hardcore 'Shuggah fans will like it.
Pitch Black is a strange, strange song. The vocals on the track are sadly a bit nu metal aping Jens sort of sounds like Jonathan Davis, and it sort of annoys me. Where is the yelling? What is the trademark Jens Kidman "I have no inside voice" sound? I have no clue. Than the real kicker comes in. While Meshuggah are no stranger to off time sounds, the solo that occurs 2 minutes in is just terrible. It almost sounds like they hired Kerry King to come in, shut off the metronome, and told him to play the best solo he could. Yes, Meshuggah play progressive metal, but for how far is too damn far before the music is almost unlistenable? Thankfully they recover, with a minute long proggy jazz fest that eventually leads into the chugga-chugga-chug we have all been waiting for. From there on out, that's it. Yes, in 5 minutes Meshuggah managed to use every trademark they are known for, and use it terribly. In short, Pitch Black may or not be the worst Meshuggah song ever made. It depends really on much of a Meshuggah fan you are. If you're like me, a fan of the early stuff and a handful of newer songs, you may find yourself shutting this off before you even get going. If you love Meshuggah, you'll probably enjoy it more, and may understand it more. Maybe.
The last track is a live recording of Dancers to a Discordant System, which when put with Pitch Black almost sounds like the exact same song. I feel no need to elaborate on this, seeing as Meshuggah got a little lazy and decided inside of writing two songs, they'd phone it in with one horrendous one and a live track originally made 5 years ago. Sounds like a "plan" to me.
I don't know, maybe Meshuggah were busy. Maybe the toilet needed fixing, or the car needed an oil change. No matter what the excuse is, there is no real excuse for how bland, boring, and bombastically lazy this EP is. Pitch Black alone is horrendous, but adding a live recording just so you can have two songs is plain pathetic. If you're going to release an EP, release an actual EP, not one song and you playing some European festival a few summers back. Sorry Meshuggah, you sound tired, weak, and obscenely lazy on this EP. What a way to start the new year...