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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.