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If there's anything a band like Meshuggah's especially known for, it's how consistent they've been with their sound over the years. Much of their work has used their second effort Destroy Erase Improve as the general template, subtly evolving in different ways with each passing record. Unfortunately, one negative aspect of such a strategy is the band's tendency of sounding a touch too repetitive and sometimes resting on their laurels. Their 2005 album Catch Thirtythree, while boasting hints of jazz fusion, was a good example of the group's sound starting to become somewhat stale. So what did the Swedish metal legends unleash with 2009's Obzen? Absolute trash.
Meshuggah have always been a highly regarded group in terms of the instrumentalists' talents, but that does have the occasion of backfiring on a band; unfortunately, that is exactly the case with Obzen. Everything sounds too calculated, too artificial, too cold. While this style is present in other genres/bands (obviously technical death metal is generally infamous for such an approach), almost all of Obzen sounds as if it wasn't recorded by a band, but rather an assembly line of musical parts. The semblance of passion and general energy of previous records is replaced by robotic, by-the-numbers extreme metal that's almost completely devoid of any surprises or stand-out moments (or stand-out tracks, for that matter).
Fortunately, the shining light leading the darkness is the opening number "Combustion." The track is reminiscent of older Meshuggah records such as Contradictions Collapse or the aforementioned Destroy Erase Improve, opting for an extremely thrash-esque method of starting the album. Jens Kidman's voice sounds as angry as ever, and the musicians play with an exceptionally commanding presence. The solo is also a nice aspect, highlighting Frederik Thordendal's agility while also showcasing a nice sense of variety in his playing. Unfortunately though, the song only lasts four minutes. The album that follows is an overly homogeneous trainwreck that is only saved by a few choice moments.
While the band members do nothing particularly offensive to get such a low rating, my biggest criticism comes right down to the songwriting itself. Much of the album appears to be on autopilot, right down to the riffs that these songs revolve around. Let's take the title track, for example; while the doomy nature of the opening A-tuned riff is promising, the first "verse" section is completely uninteresting and leaves a lot to be desired. Jens' vocals sound too aggressive for what's being played, and lack of any embellishments to add to the precise riff make the portion sound unfinished and even unneeded. Moments like these are littered about the album, perhaps reaching a peak with the biggest travesty on the album, "Bleed." "Bleed," considered by many to be one of Meshuggah's greatest songs in their most recent work, leaves me completely baffled about why it is so revered. While repetition can be done extremely well in music (see: Opeth, Earth, Lightning Bolt, etc.), "Bleed" preys on one's boredom much more quickly. The main motif is very bland and leaves little to the imagination, and while Thomas Haake's drumming is usually a highlight in the band's music, it's tough to get invested in his drumming on this one. Even when the song speeds up, everything sounds just as mechanical as it did before. The polyrhythms in the song aren't particularly interesting, especially when the band pounds them into your head 50,000 times, and the solo happens to be one of the tune's only saving graces. On top of all this, the song is over seven minutes long... again, not a very wise investment in the long run.
Considering so much of the review was spent on just a few songs and the vast majority of the album contains the same style, you can imagine I have an absolute trove of problems with this record. Judging by the 1.5, this is definitely true, but I must mention that I didn't want to hate this album. You may not take issue with what criticisms I brought up, and if not, more power to you; the album certainly managed to strike a chord with a large amount of metal fans. I, for one, find it to be a pretty atrocious and dispassionate piece of blandness. Despite the band members' talents, the record they made is an exercise in pure frustration and unnecessary repetition.
I was recommended this band a while back by a friend who also happened to be a guitarist. He said that this band was nothing like he's ever heard along with the fact that it's heavy. Oh yes, this record is nothing like any other technical/progressive metal CD. It's heavy alright. And It's unique, and it's obscenely technical as hell with the well-timed poly-rhythms despite the "riffs" being mainly power chords that many other technical bands like Suffocation and Necrophagist could pull off if not for said poly-rhythms.
When I bought the album, I was, um surprised. It was rather odd. Instead of the general wankery that is found in tech death, we get oddly, but well timed power chords and Drummer Thomas Haake's does not blast the drums insanely fast like the ones found in Dave Mackintosh's or Pete Sandoval's drum performance, but rather, follows the same pattern as the guitars. The songs managed to be heavy with the down-tuned as fuck guitars and Jen's screaming. None of the songs were all that fast, or at all.
Fans I know have claimed that this band is an acquired taste, even among metalheads, and now I know why - The music itself isn't that fast, which might be a turn-off to some people. A common thing most praised albums here (Nevermore's This Godless Endevor, Slayer's Reign in Blood, and Dragonforce's Valley of the Damned) are that they're very fast. Metal newbies would merely scoff at this band and mistake the poly-rhythms as mere chugging in a repetitive manner. However, I didn't think these as bad traits that took away from the music. I enjoy slow music every now and then, and some of the bands I like can be simplistic-sounding at times and still be enjoyable.
So what's my main issue with this release? Well, let's put it this way - THE ENTIRE FUCKING ALBUM IS MONOTONE AS ALL HELL. Yes, this record shows that speed is not necessary to be technical. It also shows that these guys and similar bands like Tool are way ahead of their time as far as technical musicianship goes. But that's all there is to it, sadly. Save for the unique sound and variety in just about everything, they have absolutely nothing going for them. Melody? Soul? Fuck that shit. Meshuggah focuses almost entirely on technical musicianship and mechanical brutality. Additionally, Kidsman is arguably the weakest link of the band. His screams don't start all that bad at first, but it get's annoying as hell later hearing him shout without any soul.
Then I realized something. The overall musical and lyrical themes focus on robotics and the apocalypse in the far future. These guys are not trying to be melodic or catchy, or even fun to listen to. The monotony in near just about everything they do is intentional, for example, Jens Kidsman's vocals sounds robotic and has no variation or actual power and emotion. I gave the song "Bleed" another listen and tried to imagine that Jens was a robot trying to do a death metal growl (LMAO at the thought.) instead of a man screaming rather monotonously, and well, the music made more sense. Hence, the unusually high score I gave it.
Definitely a unique band that can do what they were aiming for, and I will at least applaud them for going for the sound that they were going for. Sadly, I cannot go any higher than a 70 simply cause I could not fully enjoy the music.
Meshuggah has always been a hit and miss band for me. They're capable of some absolutely brilliant, seamlessly elegant musicianship which has undoubtedly pinned them as heavy metal giants. However, there have always been a few things which bugged me. For example, every Meshuggah record thus far has some of the most blatantly tedious and frustrating vocals you'll ever hear. Sure it might sound good and fit in with one track, but to have 8+ songs of that type of screeching vocals is not my cup of tea, nor is it particularly intriguing for others I would imagine.
Here, we get a lot more of the same formula. Now, the first track I picked up on this record was "Bleed", and I must say, I was immediately taken aback by how phenomenal and downright brutal it was. This was pure ingeniousness from my perspective, as it garnered all of the best elements Meshuggah had become known for. Very awkward, bizarre riffing that has never been replicated before or after, some crazy drum beat and an intense delivery on the vocal end as well.
However, the remainder of the album is just more of what we don't want to hear. Sure, "Combustion" might pick up much needed pace and maintain those thrash elements we all love to hear, but besides that the band's composition is intrinsically boring and inept. Many riffs sound like they're the product of guitar genius, and they probably are, yet to counteract them you mix of really strange fillers and vocals which just don't stop. Most of the lyrics are baseless and mundane, although some are quite good, but because the vocalist's voice never changes, never even alternates, its hard to enjoy them for so long.
To conclude this review, I think Meshuggah have induced a positive vibe amongst their extensive fanbase because they're so talented musicians who have really been writing and composing music thats unmatched in the history of well, music. Crazy ideas make for crazy songs and Meshuggah definitely epitomize that statement. However, they'll never be able to appeal to the broader heavy metal community because their songwriting, while brilliant on some tracks, is simply not good enough on others.
Meshuggah is a band that is difficult to fully nail down, not so much in terms of their sound, but more so in their popularity. The whole notion of a band that lives in some borderline between the skewed dimensions of hypnotic repetition and progressive extreme metal just doesn’t really seem to jive with the Pantera fanatics common to the former category, or the dark industrial crowd that eat up the discord and contrast of the neo-tonal harmonies implied in each wicked chord stomp. But one thing is for sure, the little niche that this band has carved for itself in the post-thrash scene is definitely unique, and brings with it a distinctive take on how to complexly articulate how pissed off you are at the world while contemplating all the different ways it’s destruction could be engineered.
Keeping all of the usual stylistic trappings of the band in context, “ObZen” actually manages to come off as being a sort of Zen-like meditation album, but superimposed upon a template that is more hellish and apocalyptic than it is restful and enlightened. From the raucous and rhythmic riffs that drone with the thud of a massive golem pulverizing boulders underfoot in “Pineal Gland Optics” to the rising feel of an elongated bend riff with a percussive edge in “Bleed”, the consistent sense of this album is one of perpetual violence, albeit slowed down to a mid-tempo crawl and channeled through a musical illusion of infinite regression. Even with a few strategically placed quiet sections to contrast with the otherwise constant heavy onslaught to function as place markers, these songs all but lack a true beginning or end to speak of.
Therein lies the fatal flaw of this album, and ultimately what keeps it from fully winning me over; this album is less than an hour long yet it feels like it is well over 2. The songs all run together, as if the band is playing off of the same riff set with a varying number of notes added in or taken away, and actual contrasting emotions or depth fail to emerge. Even when quieting down, the mood doesn’t really change from being a one-dimensional expression of anger, and the raw, vicious shouts of Jens Kidman lose their punch a couple of songs into the listen. Taking into account the layering of effects driven clean guitars lend a little depth to the listen, but ultimately prove to be little more than window-dressing on an otherwise completely uniform structure. The only song that really manages to stand out and offer a somewhat interesting switch in direction is “Dancers To A Discordant System”, which really plays up the mixed rhythms and quirky note groupings to the point of literally sounding like a man with seven legs trying to dance in time.
This is the sort of album that can be enjoyed for an occasional spin, though it works much better if not listened to all the way through in a single listening. A lot of time it stops being extreme and aggressive and just sort of fades off into simply being there, taking up space while one’s thoughts drift elsewhere. It’s actually something of an oxymoron that a band hell bent on making a point about how twisted and disturbing existence is or will be in the future, put together music that will have a hard time maintaining the attention of most who eat up those subjects on a regular basis. This is a band possessed of a very obvious raw musical talent in addition to technical ability, but unfortunately lacks a clear method of focusing them on this album. It’s sort of a pitfall for a number of progressive bands who put being distinctive above being understandable, and anyone looking for a heavy, industrial sound that is more geared towards listener accessibility while covering similar subjects would do well to check out Machinery’s “The Passing”, which is much more focused and, sadly, not nearly as well known.
If ever there was an unlikely metal band to receive both widespread acclaim and recognition from the public media, it is Sweden's Meshuggah. Although they are rightfully hailed as one of the most talented acts in metal today, their trademark sound of heavy rhythmic experimentation and abrasiveness certainly isn't an easy drink to swallow, but the band still gains new legions of fans with every new record they churn out. 2008's 'ObZen' is played by a band that already enjoys quite a few years of experience, but it is my first legitimate album experience with Meshuggah nonetheless. Although by all means a thrash metal record, there is much more going on here, and although I have been reluctant to look into this band for a while, I have always shared the notion that they are indeed one of the most skilled acts out there. 'ObZen' only reaffirms this belief, and each song is made to be a clear statement that Meshuggah show no intent in stopping their metal barrage. Despite all of the brilliance employed on the album though, there is the impression that the music may have been more enjoyable, had Meshuggah pulled out more than one fancy trick to work with.
'ObZen' features a general return to jazzier modes, although the music Meshuggah makes on 'Obzen' certainly will not be seen as jazz to the vast majority of listeners. Instead, the first impression is that of highly rhythmically unconventional thrash metal, complete with some incredibly aggressive shouting vocals, courtesy of Jens Kidman. Despite the very angry and in-your-face attitude the music presents however, the album is backed up by a surprisingly vivid exploration in philosophy. The album name itself turns out to be a portmanteau of the words 'obscene' and 'zen', and the album reflects on how the human race has found a state of harmony through constant violence. Heavy material to be sure, and the music reflects this through each palm muted riff.
Meshuggah also pass me as being one of those bands that would require each band member to also be an expert in mathematics, as well as an absolute machine on the drums. Kidman's vocals take some time to warm up to, but- like quite a few progressive metal bands- the vocals are the weakest link in the sound. Every instrumentalist is an absolute genius at playing intensely complex rhythms, while keeping in check with the separate rhythms each other member is playing. The catch here is that this is really the only flashy trick Meshuggah pulls out for the entire record. As mind-numbing and incredible as it is, there is the feeling by the end of 'ObZen' that one has just listened to the same two or three riffs played over and over again, albeit in different time signatures. For a band who obviously borders genius, this does feel like something of an obvious mishap for the band, but for their somewhat narrow sound here, they do an absolutely incredible job of it.
It's a mystery to me why I listened to this album in the first place. Well actually a friend of mine had got the CD and was in all praises for it, so I decided to give it a try. I had never heard Meshuggah before and so it was a sort of experiment for me. Well Obzen is your standard malcore, groove metal band with all the standard elements plus some new more. Meshuggah want to show that they are a talented bunch which succesfully makes thrashy prog. metal, with odd time signatures, intensity, and atmosphere. But this requires actual songwriting and composition talent which these guys lack seriously. In the wend they are just another nu metal, malcore band who pretend to be metal doing this modern shit.
Interms of performances, the rhythm guitar is nothing more than power chords. It seems that the rhythm guitarist knows nothing more than groovy riffs and triplets. The lead work isn't that spectacular either. The drum work ....well, doesn't he know that there exist an instrument called the bass drum. All he uses is the snare drum in poly-rhythms which is actually vomit inducing. The vocals are your standard malcore, tuffguy shouting vocals. The vocalist is just terrible trying to prove how aggressive he is, but having negligible power in his voice. Hell I'll prefer James Hetfield over him so mediocre are the vocals.
Well among the individual songs, Combustion opens with a bang, blasting a repetitive yet fast riff. The song itself is blazing fast, but as Meshuggah is a prog-thrash band, so they must put some odd time signatures. So in come one without any relation to what came before it what will follow. Most of the songs tend to follow the same pattern. They try to be aggressive, they try to be proggish, and in the end they end up getting nowhere. The interludes and breaks used are just random, withut any relation to coherent songwriting. The songs don't pick up well after an interlude and itr seems too forced out. The riffs are tolerabel when they are fast, but are just mediocre when they get midpaced. Bleed is one of the most boring songs containing some of the mosty boring riffs ever constructed. Jon Schaffer here we are! And people actually claim this to be a masterpiece of thrash metal? Do silly triplets repeated over the lengths of a song layered with shouting tuff guy vocals make thrash metal? Then put in an obligatory interlude a la Opeth, and this is claimed to be a modern masterpiece by all those losers who listen to Korn but hate tro admit it. Yeah progressive and complex music is OK, but isn't coherence in songwriting something important? Constructing incoherent and unstructured songs is any day easy, you just have to put an interlude anywhere in the song, ignoring the tone and mood of the music ( yeah you can also put a piano solo in a death metal song )and you are claimed to be visionary and intelligent musicians. Metallica, Master Of Puppets, need I say more? Now listen to This Spiteful Snake and tell me if it is a thrash metal song? Listen to the final song if there is a single great idea present in it?
Even the terrible Pantera were better than this, they managed to sound catchy and coherent. And the poor listener sits through 58 minutes of agony expecting some moments of coherence as the band puts out one abomination after other. 'Catchiness' and 'intelligent composition', these words aren't present in the band's vocabulary. But aren't there many bands like Atheist, Mekong Delta which make proggish thrash metal music with intelligent songwriting and amazing intensity? If you like Korn, Slipknot then it's another matter, if you like abominations like Pantera. you will like this, if Machine Head is your idea of a great band, then no problem for you, but the others please stay miles away from this filthy piece of shit.
‘ObZen’ is in many ways, shapes and forms an absolutely fantastic product of the warped and twisted imaginations of the five-man mentalist brigade that is the mighty Meshuggah. Key amongst what makes ‘ObZen’ such a remarkable listen is that it not only has all the brute force and thoughtfully considered flair for variety and experimentation as we’ve come to expect of Meshuggah, but it masterfully sidesteps the fathoms-deep pitfall that ‘Catch 33’ threw itself into with wanton abandon.
While on said previous album Meshuggah took their distinctive approach to a preposterous limit, stretching the notion of cyclical, repetitive music so far that the strain was often (but not always) painfully visible, ‘ObZen’ sees them pull off quite a feat, with more abundant attention bestowed upon a wider variety of concepts and ideas, granting the material an accessibility they have only just fallen short of achieving before – while all the time never compromising on the intensity of the aggression they have previously displayed.
This sounds like a paradox in action; a band allowing their ideas to properly gestate and develop for the sake of accessibility but still retaining that slight sense of violent impenetrability which they have made their own. A paradox, indeed, but by Satan below it works.
‘Combustion’ is a sublime revelation to those who’ve come to associate Meshuggah with spiralling, twisting rhythmic madness. The song rips the curtain up on ‘ObZen’ in a crashing whirlwind of thrash metal inspired riffery on the part of Marten Hagstrom and Fredrik Thordendal and pure, delightful kit-bashing from Tomas Haake. Showing with brazen confidence that they are just as capable of dynamic songcraft as they are of their trademark discordant madness, ‘Combustion’ is little short of a highlight of thrash metal in 2008 – by the time of that superbly atonal solo, the battering speed and almost epic vocal refrains have the listener impossibly exhilarated.
That is not to say that Meshuggah have strayed from their beaten track nor is said track becoming wearisome to tread. ‘Bleed’ is being elevated to the level of reverence usually bestowed upon ‘New Millennium Cyanide Christ’ and ‘Future Breed Machine’ for damn good reason, it’s extraordinary beats and writhing, chugging chord progressions sounding something akin to sticking your head into the inner workings of a massive mechanical being, absolute in its deadly precision.
‘This Spiteful Snake’ and closer ‘Dancers to a Discordant System’ are more highlight tracks amongst many, blending grooving, deliciously palatable riffs with a fantastically clearly realised sense of imminent doom. These songs are just an example of the triumph of balance that Meshuggah have achieved here, and each and every song is in its own unique way extremely engaging.
Simply as instrumentalists, the band themselves are just as fascinating. Hagstrom and Thordendal, along with bassist Dick Lovgren, maintain the record’s relentless intensity and experimental flair with consummate skill, whilst Haake gives a lesson in musical duality by both anchoring the material and driving it forth with the twisted and contorted backbone of steel he provides.
After ‘Catch 33’, it’s a joy to hear him actually lay down some proper drum tracks in place of stringing pre-recorded samples together, with the man once again proving just what he can do with a pair of sticks in his hands. Vocalist Jens Kidman, however, offers one of the few downsides to ‘ObZen’, in that his admittedly powerful screams and well developed lyrical conceits are the only elements lacking in variety – he brings nothing new to the drawing board, and amidst some remarkable work he is comparatively unremarkable and worthy of little note.
‘ObZen’ is a landmark in the fluctuating career Meshuggah have been blazing through for over a decade now, a record that has taken everything that made them so very distinctive and upped the game by an extraordinary degree. As exceptional, enjoyable and flat-out extraordinary as their earlier masterwork ‘Destroy Erase Improve’, ‘ObZen’ is truly worthy of its surely inevitable inclusions on innumerable ‘Albums of 2008’ magazine lists, and you do yourself a profound disservice to let it slip below your radar.
I was not even aware of this album's release until the week it actually came out. The reason for this being that I haven't liked anything Meshuggah has done since Chaosphere, and had lost interest in them accordingly. I liked the aggressive pounding of the song Bleed, so decided to pick up the CD since it happened to be in stock where I work. Initially I thought, "Eh, it's alright." But as I listened to the CD more.. well, wow.
I started off by listening to Bleed a lot, eventually I discovered the song "Dancers to a Discordant System" which alone warrants this album a 60% in my book considering it's raw intensity and lyrical content. From there I really started to listen to the other songs, and while I don't love every song on the CD I have to say most of it is generally impressive. The best way I can describe the feeling you get from this album is this: Spiraling out of control as you fall closer and closer to a bottom you can't see.
The CD does a fairly good job of mixing up in-your-face riffs, to somewhat more groovy subtle riffs, and at times slows down a fair bit entirely. It definitely feels like a hybrid of much of their past work. Overall this is probably the best CD I've picked up in 2008 (although that's not saying much) and definitely worth checking out if you're a fan of any of Meshuggah's past work.
Meshuggah used to be one of my favourite bands with Destroy Erase Improve and Chaosphere. I even liked Nothing to a certain extent but after that the band seemed to disappear up its own ass with I and Catch 33. Those two releases completely put me off the band and when I first got obZen I was primed to hate it.
That though was not the case. obZen starts with the catchy and groove heavy Combustion which brings to mind the glory days of Destroy Erase Improve and the bass heavy grooves on the song remind me a bit of Nothing. From here on the album basically feels like a mix of Destroy Erase Improve and Nothing while not really having the intensity of either of those albums. The songs have an incredibly clean production and this is without doubt the cleanest production the band has got yet. That though doesn’t really work in favour of the music. Most of the songs sound sterilized and calculated to cause damage in the mosh pit.
Also, the last few years have seen countless bands imitating the Meshuggah sound and this has diluted the impact of the band. What was once completely unique is now common place and dull. Having said that, obZen does have a few good songs. Combustion as already mentioned is a great album opener and one that gave me hope for the album, while the title song starts like Fear Factory before coming good with some heavy staccato riffing. Dancers to a Discordant System is the lengthy album closer and it actually works pretty well. Apart from these three songs, the album just gets boring with everything here having been done before.
obZen in fact feels like a very polished and calculated effort to go towards the next step of commercial accessibility. There are mosh parts for the kids, there are parts that some will call progressive and I’m sure the guys who loved the last two releases will think this is a terrific evolution. I’m not in that camp though and obZen just seems like a calculated re-hashing of past ideas and even more damning to the band it feels like what was once a leader in the scene has been reduced to copying its own imitators.
Originally written for http://www.kvltsite.com
I can honestly say that 'ObZen' has the distinction of being the Meshuggah album that I was really hoping for immediately after 'Catch 33', an album that I wasn't quite able to enjoy as much as I'd like. 'ObZen', though, is a great combination of 'Destroy Erase Improve' and 'Nothing'-era(s) material with just a hint of the proggy elements of the last album, and the combination is absolutely great. It's blisteringly heavy and fairly metallic like the early stuff, has the grinding industrial feel of albums like 'Chaosphere', and manages to change things up with just enough prog to keep it interesting. Even if it was lacking that, though, it would still be an incredible album simply because this is one of the heaviest and most brutally aggressive albums that Meshuggah has made so far.
The first three tracks are the real killers on this one, and 'Bleed' is of course the centerpiece, reminding one of songs like 'New Millennium Cyanide Christ' which are so devoid of dynamics as to be almost totally binary songs. Just ramp up the speed and tightness of that earlier track and you have a good idea of what to expect with 'Bleed'; pure grinding brutality from start to finish (minus the clean guitar in the middle). The album opens up on a note quite different from the previous ones... a thrash beat! For the first time in probably a decade, Meshuggah strays from the bass drum versus guitar attack that's such a fixture of their music, like an announcement that they dug out the old albums and still like them. After 'Bleed', the sound of 'ObZen' strays a bit more towards 'Catch 33' territory, but it's sufficiently oldschool to not fall into the same traps that that album did.
The proggy tracks on 'ObZen' could be compared to 'Catch 33', but more accurately they sound like an extension of songs like 'Sublevels' off the earlier albums. They're less ruthlessly atonal and more delicate experiments in texturing and mysterious layers of atmosphere. The more I think about it, the more I think you could say that 'ObZen' is really a combination of all of Meshuggah's previous material into a singular sound. This would be a miserable failure for most bands, but in Meshuggah's case, they pull it off with style. The elements of savagery and progression mesh very well throughout the album without ever becoming stale. It's an 'exciting blend of old and new' as a bad info sheet would say. It's also really heavy, and that's always good: super clear production and 235235-string guitars and all.
Overall, 'ObZen' is what I expected and I'm really satisfied by what the band has managed to turn out. Meshuggah's been at it for over two decades now and they show no sign of slowing down; they just take their custom sound further with every new album and explore the niche they've so painstakingly carved in the modern metal scene. 'ObZen' is another great album from the Swedes and is unlikely to disappoint. 'Bleed' is awesome and you should get it just for how insane that track alone is because I think they've invented entirely new time signatures on it.
Meshuggah is one of the bands to prove repeatedly that the "thinking man's metal" label may flatter the listener, but nonetheless bore him or her to tears. Maybe Meshuggah is a true colossus of post-industrial terror, or maybe it is the dynamite truck of some friendly folks striving to achieve the unbelievable through their odd signatures and some of the worst riffs in the history of music, adding some tuff guy screams on the top. I'd say that both possibilities can be thought as parts of this whole, the second possibility being more prominent.
This album stands confortably as their least worst album in the gallery of horrors that followed Destroy Erase Improve, because it actually has some riffs that come close to catchy. Because of the annoying drumming combined with less than unmemorable riffs, Meshuggah failed most of the time. And this album opener, Combustion, may I say, is a true keeper deserving its title! It beats some of the songs on Lich King's Necromantic Maelstrom easily in terms of originality and passion. Yes, you've read well. It has a ferocious drum performance, and great riffs (probably the most complex and melodic riffs on this album). Combustion should be noted as one of the best thrash songs of this year, if we don't take the uselessness of the solo and the stupid polyrhythmic turns into consideration. The vocalist could've been a machine as well. You won't make any difference between the human and a tape or environmental noises. And, of course, that's dehumanized and thus metal as hell, right?
The rest of the album is made of the stuff that a casual Meshuggah album is made of. Seldom do we stumble upon a more melodic riff, and they respect completely Meshuggah's standards of uncatchiness. What the fuck is there so fascinating in a two-note or three-note riff where an occasional bonus note appears or instead of A-B-C one plays C-A-B? This goes way too surreal, even by my standards. All the riffs sound very bassy and clanging, which is not a good option when you're playing extremely boring riffs. I mean, if you try your hand at something complex (I said that you're playing complex, not sticking your fingers to the chords in different orders), that would work. But that case doesn't occur here. The lead guitar tone is catastrophic, to state it more indulgently, all the solos are nothing but watered-down prog stuff and recycled melodies.
The drumming? What sort of polyrhythms are these? I do feel when a bonus note appears and the tempo is slightly modified, and still I'm not having any boner because of this. You don't expect being loudly acclaimed just for removing a beat or adding a beat, do you? I'd sell my soul to see this guy playing some more inventive polyrhythms, like Eddie Prevost. Not only does he lack a certain flexibility, but he thinks that his polyrhythms are so unique that he doesn't need any drum fills. And, of course, he removes almost any trace of a drum fill on this album. The crash cymbal is abused, abused to tears, shreds and metal shards, and it's driving the listener crazy while footed in the beginning of sleep.
This is all I can say of an album which is fairly good by Meshuggah standards, but doesn't quite accomplish mine and very, very many others'. Hey, but it's a Meshuggah album! And when I'm thinking of the rating that I'd have given to a Chaosphere or a Nothing, I'm smiling and whistling joyfully in front of this. Boy, isn't it cool to be an unthinking man.
ObZen ranks among Meshuggah's best work. It is of similar quality as None (EP), Destroy Erase Improve, and I (EP). Its overall sound is fairly similar to I and Catch Thirty Three, but its songs are more straightforward and accessible. It also sounds more like Tool and King Crimson than previous releases. The lead guitarist's solos and the "angular" rhythms are especially reminiscent of certain albums from those bands. As with previous Meshuggah albums, there are also elements that sound similar to Voivod, Godflesh, Helmet, and Ministry. One of the most enjoyable aspects of this album is its dynamic mixture of light and heavy, soft and hard... yin and yang. Many of the world's best bands successfully combine intensity with serenity. Prime examples of this include Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, King Crimson and, of course, Meshuggah.
ObZen is also a good starter album for those who have never previously listened to Meshuggah. It contains numerous similarities to previous albums but has the potential to appeal to a slightly broader audience. ObZen is experimental and technical enough to appeal to progressive metal snobs, but it is also accessible enough to attract the masses. This band deserves all the praise it gets, and it merits even greater popularity. ObZen may not procure the mass appeal it deserves, but maybe it will set the stage for Meshuggah's next album to dominate the world of metal. Honestly, this band has what it takes to be the number one band in metal.
First of all, despite such a repetitive style, Meshuggah, for me, never seems to loose its magnetism. I think "Bleed" is a perfect example of this. it's this one rip-roaring repetition over 7:25, but I can't stop listening to it. I crave it.
I love how they've incorporated all of the elements that make them such a fantastic and original band, from the simplistic chug to the complicated math riff to the crushing slow doom chords and bouncing grooves, not to forget the spinning, revolving scale solos and the ambient acoustic interjections. This album has a much more varied sound compared to their previous releases. I also appreciate that they did not get caught up in their Catch-33 masterpiece sound. They know how to progress as a group and still retain their style.
It feels like each song on this album requires a different type of listening. For example, Bleed is a thrash-headbang scream-along as opposed to Pineal Gland Optics which has a loose descending progression to it. Each song creates a different atmosphere, a different world in which to explore the same sound. I feel like Meshuggah have stretched themselves on this release, although there's definitely room for progression. We all have yet to see Meshuggah truly take the reigns of their own genius and journey into the obscure and obscene corridors that they have more than enough potential to explore. I hope for their next release we hear more experimentation.
ObZen is a brilliant release to both dig into and to casually headbang to. People tend to be too critical of this band, but I suggest giving this one, if you don't feel like you understand it at first, a few spins before you bash it because these guys have some serious talent and creative genius.
New album... back to their roots... fusing most previous styles... etc etc. Musically, this is definitely Meshuggah's most varied album, and for that it should mostly be liked by all Meshuggah fans. It features some of their most intense and some of their most lethargic material. Listening to some of these tracks, I am getting the same feeling I got from first listening to metal - never before have I heard anything quite like some of the things I witness here; never have Meshuggah been so damn amazing.
For starters, the production is obScene, the best they've had. I always felt that the production of the drum-machine releases suffered by feeling slightly artificial, but that has been nicely corrected. The refusal to obEy normal timings is present as usual, every I drank a shot every time I got blissfully confused whilst listening to the polyrhythms here, I would now be incredibly obEse. On top of this, all of the members give their best performance to date, thanks to the varied nature of the songs. The atmosphere is not quite as intense and claustrophobic as Catch33, (which many will see as a good thing), but for me this is a step backwards - perhaps one necessary to move forwards in the future).
"Bleed" is my standout track, I have never heard such an incredible all round performance. This is the single track from the album, for obVious reasons. "Dancers to a Discordant System" is the obLigatory long track that Meshuggah have grown to love doing, but this one is far more consistent than "In Death - Is Death", and more down-to-earth than "I". There are a few moments of not-so-much-filler-but-slightly-boring parts on the album, such as the Fear Factory-esque intro to ObZen, or most of "This Spiteful Snake" - a track which sounds like it was taken from possible extra tracks for Nothing. However, these few sections are easily covered up by the brilliance of everything else.
In short, I am not quite sure what the 11% reviewer was trying to say, but imagine the exact opposite and you have ObZen.
Individual Performances: 99%
Lastability/ Replayability: 92%
So here we are, Fredrik Thordendal and co. emerge once again with a new album. Meshuggah lovers and haters alike have come to expect certain things from Meshuggah, horrendously catchy drop-Z chugs, awe-inspiring drumming and a total wall of noise sound being just a few of them. While obZen certainly does not lack these characteristics, there is a something a little different here from the Meshuggah norm. It is immediately noticeable that album opener ‘Combustion’ is actually fairly straightforward, considering the puzzling complexity that normally comes with a track from this band. However, it still possesses that incredibly intense atmosphere that shrouds everything the band has ever done. As mentioned by drummer Tomas Haake, ‘obZen’ really draws on the band’s entire back catalogue. There’s very thrashy and aggressive riffs reminiscent of 1991’s ‘Contradiction’s Collapse’ and at the same time it is blended with the incredibly complicated rhythms of their most recent material from ‘Catch 33’. There is the added dimension of the eight string guitar, providing Fredrik Thordendal and Mårten Hagström with a low F string (you heard me, it’s a semitone off of E standard, but an octave lower) with which to pummel your ears into submission. Another nice fact is that the drumming machine Tomas Haake has returned to the kit after simply programming the drums on their last effort, ‘Catch 33’.
This album is ridiculously tight, ridiculously intense and as always, some of the most headbangable music you will ever come across. Every member knows what they are doing, and all of them pull it off with extreme finesse. Fredrik Thordendal and Martin Hagstrom are still laying down insane grooves and spicing them up with overdubbed jazzy leads that add another layer of atmosphere to the Meshuggah sound which might otherwise be getting stale. The sheer intensity of the band’s delivery is astonishing, and even songs which do not immediately stick out, such as ‘This Spiteful Snake’, possess a power which compels the listener to listen to more despite their relentless attack utterly confounding their brain functions. Crushing.
In a band like Meshuggah, where the entirely dominant forces of the guitar and the drums hog the spotlight, it can be difficult to get any sort of poetic meaning across. However, I have always felt that vocalist Jens Kidman is just as vital a part to Meshuggah as Thordendal or Haake, and on ‘obZen’, his incredibly aggressive shouts retaining the same power they have had since day one, 21 years ago. As far as lyrics go, Kidman manages to bring forward another full text of philosophy and brutality all described with such rich imagery that you can almost see the lyrics unfolding to the ever-changing pulse of music. Even though the messages behind the lyrics of Meshuggah have never been incredibly interesting, they are delivered in such a powerful way that they speak to you without you even knowing exactly what they’re about. Coupled with what has to be Jens Kidman’s best performance yet (especially on the closing ‘Dancers To A Discordant System’), this set of lyrics is, once more, just plain badass.
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, you simply cannot deny that Meshuggah are one of the most gelled units in western music. The interlocked chemistry between each one of the band members is astonishing, and the constant quality of their output despite their moderate experimentation from album to album is very respectable. ‘obZen’ as an album, however, is business as usual. This is not a problem as Meshuggah’s business as usual is the sort of music that most bands could make one record of in their entire career, but yet again I was disappointed that the pure genius of their magnum opus, ‘Chaosphere’, was not matched. Perhaps this would be a good introduction album to Meshuggah, encompassing everything that is the band’s niche, but even for long-time Meshuggah fans, tracks like ‘Bleed’, ‘Dancers To A Discordant System’ and ‘obZen’ alone make this album an essential purchase.
Originally written for www.ultimate-guitar.com review team.
Masters of the most mind-boggling polyrhythms, Meshuggah, return after 3 years with a stunning album that will give the haters of C33 and Nothing a run for their money. obZen continues the basic formula of no chorus and no general direction of the song other than small instrumental sections between verses and solos. Oddly enough, this doesn't get old. In fact, it feels a lot better on this album than almost every album they've wrote. This album is full of goodies and all kinds of head-to-the-pavement riffs and even some ridiculously bone-crushing breakdowns, mainly in "obZen", "Pineal Gland Optics" and "Lethargica".
Some of the most intelligent riffs ever written are on tracks "Dancers to a Discordant System" and "Pineal Gland Optics." They reek of beautiful design and well-structured, well-thought out production. Something only Meshuggah could do. Something they did in this CD was add some of the most memorable riffs and outros ever created. They aren't your standard, generic blast-beat intros, or your typical 4-note solos or even in the case of obZen, breakdowns. No shitty metalcore breakdowns exist in this album, only original breakdowns. Speaking of intelligent music, Meshuggah continue their theme on confusing as hell lyrics that have to do with paradoxes or just other spatial things. They are almost impossible to understand, but great for laughing at when you hear something entirely wrong.
obZen has things that the other CDs lack, which is atmosphere. If you pay close enough attention (didn't catch this until my 3rd or 4th listen) you can hear Fredrik's two-note atmospheric guitar playing throughout most songs. It adds a subliminal atmospheric sound that just adds to the overall amazingness of this CD. In addition, Jen's vocals are a lot more catchy on this CD. Not to say he lightened up (he sounds as fierce as ever), but it's the way he sings on "Dancers to a Discordant System" that gives me chills.
All in all, an exceptional and mesmerizing album that will leave you with your mouth hanging open until you finally get the consciousness to play it again and again until your stereo is sick of hearing it, in which the next Meshuggah album will be released.
There's generally no middle ground concerning this band. That's not a hard and fast rule, but as a general rule, there are Meshuggah haters and Meshuggah lovers. And it doesn't matter what side of the fence you reside - this band will still be here, pumping out their math-metal polyrhythms, which they do again on their 6th full-length album, "ObZen".
Now, first things first: If you don't like Meshuggah, this album won't change your views of that. This album has the same technicalities as previous albums. But what is different?
Speed. Where Nothing and Catch 33 (one of the best albums ever, in my humble opinion) were a slower beast, this one picks up the speed a little. Tracks like "Bleed" and "Pineal Gland Optics" show that they can still deliver speed when they want to, but by now it seems they are more interested in being technical, with tracks like "Lethargica" and "This Spiteful Snake". But just because they're slow does not mean they are bad. "Lethargica" is one of the heaviest tracks on the album.
Also, where "Catch 33", and even "Nothing" plods along, there appears to me a lot more hooks in this one:
- "Bleed" is probably the best song they've recorded in 10 years. Monotonous, yes, but thrashy and memorable. 1:24 really gets the brain banging.
- The fade-out riffs on "Lethargica" and "Pineal Gland Optics" are excellent, especially the former.
- 1:10 at "Electric Red" contains an excellent riffing passage. Basically sums up Meshuggah in the space of 20 seconds.
- Opening riff on "Pravus" may be simple for the drummer's standards, but it does its job of leading into the song perfectly.
There are many more, but these sum it up nicely.
They have also ditched their experimental stages, circa "I" and "Catch 33", and went back to writing individual songs. While the album doesn't flow as much as those, for obvious reasons, it makes up for it in creating great songs that have a great amount of replay value in them. I also feel that was something they needed to do, as to not start pigeonholing themselves as an experimental band. Incidentally, all the band members sound like they're having fun on this album...it doesn't feel as structured or mechanical as "I" or "Catch 33", and that has a positive effect on the groove and general feel.
One song that deserves a particular mention would be the opener, "Combustion". It does not contain any polyrhythms and it's pretty much an all-out thrash song. This sounds like a callback to Contradictions Collapse, all the way back in 1991. And they do this well, too. A very up-beat way to open the album.
There is no point in mentioning any other songs particularly, as they are all quite good and sound complete. It really sounds like they had fun recording it, and it goes to show that even in this stage of their careers, Meshuggah still know how to create a crushing album full of groove, heaviness, speed, creativity, tightness, and replayability. This is probably their second-best album (behind "Catch 33" - nothing they do will probably beat that), and I eagerly await what they do in the future.
Best tracks: Combustion, Bleed, Lethargica, Pravus
Meshuggah have always prided themselves as being rather excellent modern-day pioneers of super, super technical post-thrash metal (or as some would even call them “math metal” or the “masters of math metal”). They are always excellent with having very complex, technical, ostentatiously strange scales and song structures that are not only catchy, but mind-boggling and hypnotizing.
For their newest LP, ObZen, it is a reasonably consistent product of both futuristically “roboto” vibe and funky groove of technicality. However, it seems that the band are beginning to stagnate into self-repetition and need to be a bit more cautious in their approach with making sure they are not simply rehashing their newest songs from previous songs of older albums.
For example, the album ObZen is a very good album, but the first four tracks don’t really grab this intrepid listener all too well. It has some of its highlights, but for the most part is quite boring after so many continuously contrived intervals – not with each song listened over to repetitively, but with each song listened to once in it’s naturally played sequence – that they begin to sound familiar to parts of songs dating back from ‘Chaosphere’ to ‘Catch 33.’ I almost fell asleep at one point during the first four tracks.
Things don’t really start to improve or kick up several notches until the title track comes in. THEN the LP thickens! It seems that this album struggles a little bit at first like an old carburetor, but if you give it a chance it will start roaring like a Ferrari, until it starts sputtering again, very slightly at the last track, “Dancers to a Discordant System,” in which I can hear parts of the song that remind me of other songs from ‘Nothing,’ the ‘I’ EP and ‘Catch 33’ – again!
Conclusively, it is a good piece of work for these Swedish math metalists, but not great considering the musical equations don’t quite match up to the final sum. Therefore, Meshuggah should be more careful not to overdo the “tremolo trigonometry” before the fractions of the fretwork bore the interest of the listener.
I was fortunate enough to hear an advance copy of ObZen, and I must say it is a stunning album! Meshuggah seem to have collated their styles from all their previous albums and out of the metal madness has come a rich, diverse and interesting album, one that will be instantly familiar to the Meshuggah fan, yet somehow bringing something new.
ObZen contains elements of all Meshuggahs' previous work: The heavy thrashiness of their earlier albums, combined with the more technical and progressive style of their later ones, with the always recognisable vocal qualities of Jens Kidman angrily yelling out the lyrics over the top of the insanity. We still have the driving riffs of albums like "I" and "Chaosphere" and the relentless drumming that seems to permeate every album. We have the wonderful technically complex guitar solos that are prevalent in many of their albums, and we have the pure heavy metal feel that runs the whole way through the album.
Some might claim that using styles from previous works is not progressive and that it doesn't move the band anywhere. I would argue that Meshuggah are good enough, both instrumentally and in their thinking to create a new sound from the old - they have taken aspects of things that work and formed a fantastic new sound. This sound, while obviously Meshuggahs, can still surprise and thrill.
As many Meshuggah fans will know, their name is a Hebrew word for "crazy" and while no-one needs reminding of the fact that the band lives up to this name in every aspect of their music, ObZen once again reminds us that Meshuggah can be muscially brilliant whilst being chaotic, crazy and always unexpected.
There are many anomalies and mysteries in our world, hell our very own universe; things that tap into the very core of our underlying existence and the discovery of these answers would no doubt resonate heavily through all human beings regardless of race, age or creed. If I personally had the chance to even begin to understand a sliver of a mystery of my choice I'd have to go with the most logical question; why the fuck do people insist on liking Meshuggah? I just don't get it, I really don't. Meshuggah have spent the past 20 years doing little more than bash out power chords at varying speeds in varying time signatures, with the rhythm section doing the whole zany time signature thing too whilst a Rottweiler is put on vocal duty. By the time they had reached 'Nothing' the band was essentially doing just that, they'd slowed down so considerably I had trouble remembering I even had the album playing and of course when 'Catch 33' came along I could leave the room to make a few slices of toast and come back without fear of being lost. At that rate of progression I was sure we'd see Meshuggah attempt drone doom which would have not only been preferable to what was released but also fucking hilarious. 'Obzen' (oh fuck the whole upper/lower case wank, that's so Korn-esque it's lamentable) sees Meshuggah speed their sound up, back to somewhere around 'Destroy Erase Improve'-era and doing what they've always done.
It's nice to see the speed increase but unfortunately they don't deem it ideal to actually begin to write some proper, balls to the wall metal riffs at all which makes me only loathe this band even more. They are an extremely talented bunch of musicians who are pissing away their skills to make an album that sounds like a blender filled with shrapnel and batteries. Maybe the rhythm guitarist's hand is permanently paralysed into the shape of a power chord and they're loathed to kick him out of the band? That's the only slightly feasible reason I can see for this band to STILL be playing this down tuned bollocks, otherwise I can only assume they're all lazy cockbites who wet their pants at the mention of words like 'innovation' and 'thrash metal'. Even the solos feel unoriginal and sluggish, being nothing more than meandering about the fret board for about 10 seconds before repeating the same scale a few times in that sickly and weak guitar tone. The rhythm section is tight but at times the drums feel a bit lethargic and bored, the bass isn't very audible but it's certainly there under the banal 'riff' in each song. Meshuggah's vocalist is so tediously monotonous, but it suits the music because it's so fucking boring that by having someone sing with any degree of emotion or talent would throw the whole thing off balance in a similar fashion of having an elephant on motorcycle and deciding that it should be giving a giraffe a piggy-back as well.
I can't be bothered going on and on about the musical details because I'm pretty sure everyone and their dog has heard a Meshuggah album by now and the variance of style from album to album is so petty you'd be forgiven for thinking that the band suffered from a bout of amnesia after the making of each one. The real issue is why does this band get so much recognition despite their inability to actually write some real heavy metal? Meshuggah is essentially nu-metal for people who don't like to admit they like listening to nu-metal, the standard defence you hear every time they're put down is the droll chanting of "They play in weird time signatures and utilise polyrhythms!" which seems to be the equivalent of a "Get Out of Jail Free Card" but for berks who can't think of a single decent reason for why this band is real metal. Repetitive groove metal riffing is just that; go play it in 159/16 and it'll still sound like the same chug riffs played in 4/4 by the hordes of other brain-dead bands who believe that metal is all about being down tuned and heavy. Oh sure the chords will be timed differently but it's still completely obsolete and useless; a relic of metal history that I'm sure everyone would rather bury and lay to rest, there's no need to fuck the corpse of groove metal in an odd time signature just because you can.
There are so many more talented releases that are already out this year, I suggest you skip this exercise in unimaginative song writing and pick up an album that's worth spending your time on; maybe an album with some actual riffs would be a good starting place.