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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.