Posted on November 15, 2009 -
It begins. Rolling drums underlying a choppy, muted riff, wrung through myriad rhythmic permutations. It is repeated for 90 seconds before disappearing under a hurricane of screaming dissonance, with guitars, screams, and drums all smeared together. Then it stops, ever so briefly.
Two minutes. Cymbals crash on every quarter-note, the snare cracks on every eighth-note. Below this anchor for the 16-note cycle, double-bass pedals and brutal 8-string guitars pound out terrorizing riffs, harshly underscoring certain measures at off-beat intervals. Jens Kidman’s brutal vocals proclaim: “I – This fractal illusion burning away all structure towards the obscene.”
Three minutes. Kidman’s bloodthirsty declaration of “I drug these minds into ruin and contempt – the acid smoke of burning souls,” brings back the opening motif for just a split second. The song breaks into an aggressively syncopated, twisty 4/4 riff with eerie, wailing guitar lines strung across. The rhythm becomes further and further bent until being wrenched into a nasty breakdown.
Five minutes. Meshuggah slows down the pace with a gargantuan, chugging riff. Your bones quake; your inner organs are forcefully rearranged. Kidman savagely growls, “The cogs turn, grinding away at ceaselessness — willing it to dust,” a point decisively punctuated when Thordendal unleashes a guitar solo that sounds like Alan Holdsworth with his brain attached to the SkyNet supercomputer. The flurry of notes is almost a tangible force, almost leaving one feeling cold, invasive pinpricks. Long strands of sadistically thick, speed-picked riffs sound like a massive artillery bombardment and the battering of drums like huge mechanical hummingbird wings beating at the air.
Near the eight minute point, everything drops out. There is only an incredibly eerie, slow guitar solo, built around non-tonal pitch language. A few final, winded notes are drawn out, the silences between them disarming the listener for what comes next. Then the most brutal prog-metal riffing you will ever hear shatters any sense of calm brought about by this brief interlude. This part especially reveals how Meshuggah continues to employ the techniques explored in _Nothing_, that is, the use of sixteenth-note clusters to simulate quarter-note triplets. This is used to create real and psychoacoustical distortions in rhythm and meter, with riffs seemingly collapsing in on themselves and reorganizing according to metrical subdivisions and syncopations. The music almost seems a little different every time you listen to it, like a self-aware machine constantly redesigning itself.
Ten and a half minutes. Grinding, choppy riffs hack away at the vestiges of sanity, moderating the pace but stepping up the delirious crush of irregular rhythms, becoming metrically splintered until even the pitches are bent into a cosmic whirl of metallic nastiness.
Fourteen minutes. A series of low, plucked arpeggios, not brutal but clearly hostile like the executioner who toys with his victim before beheading him.
Sixteen minutes. A morass of sludgy riffs so thick it’s like you could reach out and grab them as they crash through your speakers. A very deliberate arrangement punctuates downbeats by displacing instruments across the subdivided measures. It sounds like “Nebulous” from _Nothing_ reborn from an orgy of swirling metallic shards.
Eighteen and a half minutes. A classic, threatening Meshuggah fadeout. Scratching arpeggios lend a dull luster to slow, mechanical metallic trance.
The end. There is a brief, high-pitched drone of feedback, and it drives home the feeling of profound violation that has occurred at the hands of these metal gods. Your world cannot be the same after listening to “I”.
If ever there existed a band that defined “metal” as a musical form, it is Meshuggah. And their definitive composition is now “I”. Although words like “brutal,” “complex,” and “machine-like” seem to be de rigueur for Meshuggah reviews, I’m somewhat at a loss to come up with better ones. This band IS brutal. And they are METAL!
To call “I” the greatest Meshuggah song might seem hasty. To call “I” the greatest metal song might sound frivolous and foolish. But “I” is all these things and more. It’s all in Meshuggah’s impeccable sense of timing — and I don’t just mean their rhythmic craftiness. They seem to have Bartok’s intuitive sense of how a piece of music should unfold. This makes “I” more than just another Meshuggah tune — it is a progressive metal epic song for the endtimes.
The Terminator films plot the rise of the machines. “I” is like the sonic prophecy foreseeing the Machine Apocalypse. With music so great, one must almost welcome it.