Meshuggah has really started to grow on me in the last half a year or so, particularly since their release of the brilliant ‘I’ ep, which made me more carefully reevaluate their earlier work. For the longest time, I thouht of Meshuggah as being kinda vaguely interesting, but not really all that compelling. And, I still think their earlier stuff tends to be a bit too cold and clinical, and much of it seems pieced together from the individual segments with no real apparent reason or focus. Many would say, with reason, that both of those aspects are integral to the Meshuggah sound, but that doesn’t make me anymore fond of them. I guess it seemed to me that the foundation of their sound was contradictory, to be both chaotic and mechanistic, with very heavy, wild riffs that you can’t properly rock out to due to their crazy rhythms. (A problem compounded by their utter lack of melody, and virtual lack of any atmosphere) Still, after being deeply impressed by ‘I’, I’ve become increasingly fascinated with their intricate rhythm guitarwork, and Thorendel’s mad leads, so that the fundamentally unsatisfactory nature of their sound matters less and less. Still, though I very much enjoy ‘DEI’, ‘Chaosphere’, and ‘Nothing’ now, I think ‘I’ and ‘Catch Thirty-Three’ mark the pinnacle of Meshuggah’s career, and hope they continue in this new vein. Oddly enough, in their movement towards epic songwriting, Meshuggah have actually brought focus and direction to their sound along with ample atmosphere, so now they’re using their unique musical idiom to convey something concrete, rather than just to conduct some sort of odd musical experiment. (Whether or not this is literally true, I can’t say, for sure, but that’s the way it *feels* anyway, which is what really makes the difference.) It’s true, however, that their new emphasis on mood has dropped their insanity level a bit. But, with ‘Catch Thirty-Three’, Meshuggah proves that you can have a lotta mood and a lotta madness at the same time.
Meshuggah has been accused of both veering to far off course with this album, and of simply repeating themselves. Though the notion of whether or not they’ve ‘gone to far’ is debatable, the accusation that they’re just repeating themselves is ridiculous. Frankly, ‘Catch Thirty-Three’ isn’t even all that similar to the earlier ‘I’, as although it is very long and has plenty of atmospherics, the riffwork is slower, denser and more jagged. On Meshuggah’s earlier work, their riffs tended to be flatly amelodic, but on `Catch Thirty-Three’ they take this a step further, with harsh, unsettling and actively anti-melodic riffwork. (Not to say they didn’t ever play like this before. They certainly did, but the harsher, nastier riff style is now more prominent.) The riffs just have an emotional impact that was often lacking before, as they now actively attack the listener. Yes, this album is relatively slow, but I think this works for Meshuggah’s sound, as the slower tempos allow the odd, shifting rhythms to breath, letting the irregularities really disorient you, rather than just zooming by. Meshuggah uses their comical looking 8-string guitars again, but with a washier, somewhat more distant and subterranean kinda guitar tone, rather than the punchier, more conventionally metallic sound of ‘Nothing’. Though I typically like a crunchier tone, I think this works here. The smoother sound is darker, and more insidious and suffocating, which helps the mood of the album. (The tones aren’t terribly different, mind you, but it’s noticeable and makes a difference.) They mix things up pretty well, with the first movement containing a groovy, more memorable riff(cycle), while the second movement has got a nastier, more jarring one, while the final third of the album tends to be more driving, and occasionally faster. (And there are a number of atmospheric breaks throughout the album) Sadly, the jazz-fusion leads are gone, but, to be honest, I can’t really think of anywhere they’d be appropriate on this album. The atmospheric material is spacy, jazzy stuff, minimalistic at times, while sometimes dense and weaving. Some seem indifferent to this material, but I think it helps Meshuggah’s sound massively, and also provides a strong counterpoint to all the intensity. The drums are programmed rather than live, and while I am technically opposed to this, it is effectively the same as if Haake did it himself. Naturally, the drumwork reflects the utterly unique, severely poly rhythmic style that defined Meshuggah’s drumming on the prior 3 albums. This isn’t as new and exciting as it once was, but it’s still pretty damn unique, and impressive.
47 minutes is pretty damn long for a single composition, but they keep it from getting dull, while simultaneously NOT making it so dense that it’s impossible to digest. Yeah, it is more repetitious than their earlier stuff, but the repetition is necessary to generate the violent, nightmarish atmosphere that this album generates. (Which is a more than adequate tradeoff, I think) So I guess that’s it. Those looking for just more ‘Chaosphere’ type madness will be disappointed, but those who wanna hear Meshuggah take their sound in a more menacing, ominous direction will likely be very pleased.