After extensive searching both online and in stores, I finally ran across a copy of Meshuggah’s newest release, “I,” so here is my review. Something of a single or an EP, this is (as I’m sure many of you know by now) a 21-minute song, and a great culmination of this great band’s many talents.
Meshuggah is a progressive metal band in both the literal and the obscure definition. Long songs and abnormal song structures (the antithesis of verse-chorus-verse, etc.) are only the surface features; what makes Meshuggah so progressive is what the structure of the actual musical delivery. I’m very uneducated in the world of musical structure and timing, but even I know there is something strange and wonderful about how Meshuggah writes their music. The drumming is never following the same timing as the guitars; the bass seems to fly off on its own. The vocals are on their own schedule. It seems like a mess…but it could not be more precise and perfectly executed. The more you understand about music and song structure, the more fun and wild Meshuggah becomes. These guys are far more than just loud and heavy.
Speaking of heavy, Frederick Thordendal and Marten Hagström are, without a doubt, the heaviest guitar duo of all time. They play not six, not seven, but 8 strings, yes, count them, EIGHT, string guitars, achieving a heaviness unknown to mankind. Frederick Thordendal also plays all the leads, which are just unearthly. I mean, these are not normal guitar solos here. These are…I don’t know how to describe them. Just listen! And Tomas Haake is a crazy drummer. Calling him “versatile” or “complex” is an insult to his insane way of playing. Again, no words can describe how insanely, um…well, INSANE his drumming is. And Jens Kidman, a crazy, crazy vocalist, can do so much more than just scream. His voice is rough, raspy, almost robotic; the perfect voice to match the wall of mathematically precise metal that Meshuggah produces. Although he did not play on this album, Meshuggah also has a (new) bassist, Dick Lövgren. How can this album be heavy and not have a bassist? Just listen to the aforementioned 8-string guitars and you will know! Dick obviously is more than a good player, because for something to be heavier than the guitar riffs so it stands out on its own would require a bass with REALLY deeply-detuned strings, and requires a lot of talent to play it.
Now, for “I” itself.
After a quick series of fast riffs and thundering drumming (which although all culminates into a “fast” sound, feels more mid-tempo), the song then shifts into a loud cacophony of ambient dissonance. Riffs, drumming, and vocals all meld together as a great, thundering juggernaut of pure metal. This quickly shifts into more familiar territory as the odd-timed riffs, drumming, and vocals kick in. Then there’s another shift, and the song is one steady flow of riffs and blast beats for another round of measures, which quickly changes as one of the guitars depart to make arpeggios as Jens croaks out more vocals. Suddenly – all goes quiet, save for a single guitar solo a la Frederick, which as usual is trippy and unearthly. Then ka-BOOM, there’s another blast of metal riffs played at odd time as the song picks up again. The riffs change timing over and over and over, getting more and more obscure. At some other point later on, there is one of the few shining moments of melody in Meshuggah’s wall of metallic insanity, as Jens sort of whispers his vocals. The riffs fade slightly, then there’s another mind-blowing guitar solo, even trippier than the first one. Then there’s five incredible blasts of metal that slowly fade, and just when you think it’s over, they return, BAMMMMmmmmmm… then, BAMMMMmmmmmm… Then all goes quiet again, with the lowest guitar notes ever heard rumbling out before the heavier riffs slowly return in the same time. Then another round of odd-timed riffs/drumming/vocals kick in (the more “normal” – oh, what a paradoxical word that is for this band – Meshuggah sound), before slowly fading out in a staccato group of whining feedback…and then it’s over. By this time, the listener is left thinking they’ve just listened to an hour-long album with maybe twelve songs on it!
Trust me, “I” is nothing pretentious or hammy, and nothing short of a miracle. This is probably Meshuggah’s best work to date, and a must for anyone (even a new fan) who likes music and knows it can do more than just entertain. Good luck staying sane!