Like many Meshuggah fans I felt they peaked with their fantastic EP “I” which epitomized everything they were working towards with their polyrhythmic Math Metal approach; and with their highly experimental follow-up album “Catch Thirty Three” I was sure their glory days were behind them. I was mistaken. With “Obzen” there is an amazing infusion of groove added to each and every track, seemlessly infusing this new direction with their already jaw-dropping, calculated Progressive Metal time signatures. Influences from bands like Tool and Mastodon come to mind frequently throughout this recording, the albums “Lateralus” and “Leviathan” most notably. The result is Meshuggah’s best and certainly most memorable album yet. Each song sticks with power and precision all the while feeling like parts of brilliant machinery put together into one dynamic creation. Highly recommended.
Metal Album Reviews[RSS]
Meshuggah have come a long way. From humble metal roots they have progressed through a miriad of sounds and styles, all the time pushing the borderline of metal, and becoming the most innovative and original band in the genre. So here is their sixth LP “Obzen” – a grand concept album on man’s struggle in the modern day world of supposed religious and spiritual wellbeing (hence fusing the words obscene and zen). It’s importantly the end of an experimental stage that produced the daring one-song-epics “I” and “Catch Thirty Three”. According to the band themselves “Obzen” is their attempt to draw together their sound and various styles from past albums in order to create a balanced and eclectic new direction. This is certainly the case, as “Obzen” effortlessly merges the brutal thrash of “Destroy Erase Improve”, the visceral riff-orientated “Chaosphere” and later downtempo grooves of “Nothing” and “Catch Thirty Three”. It also sees drummer Tomas Haake back on the kit after his “drumkit from hell” programming on “Catch 33″ and the “Nothing” re-release.
I’ve read reviews arguing “Obzen” is simply a re-run of “Chaosphere”, or that it owes most heavily to that album. I have to disagree with this, as I feel “Obzen” borrows equally from past releases. For one thing there’s a deal more melody to the riffs here. Take for example the opening two riffs of “Combustion”, the lead being extremely melodic for Meshuggah, sounding more similar to Tool at their heaviest. Compare this to the utter abrasive opening riff to “Concatenation” that lacks any hint of melody. “Bleed” and the title track would be the most “Chaosphere” sounding tracks for me, with the later fashioning the kind of riff breakdown that sprawled throughout “Chaosphere”.
“Obzen” is noticeably faster as a whole when compared to recent albums, being more on par with the energetic thrash of “Destroy Erase Improve”. Moments of punishing speed are employed through most of the tracks, such as “Pineal Gland Optics” which opens with a flurry of intense drumming and machine-gun riffing. Vocals wise I would also draw parallels to “DEI” over other albums. They are slightly more forward in the mix when compared to “Nothing” or “Catch Thirty Three”, and with these albums they are used more as rhythmic accents, often sacrificed for instrumental grooves. Like “DEI” the vocal sections are more extended, possibly as there are more lyrics per song.
Where “Obzen” sounds best is when Meshuggah play with dynamics. Thordendal has always enjoyed his eerie atmospheric sections, but they have never sounded so perfectly quiet and brooding as here. “Lethargica” is downtempo Meshuggah at their most lethal, instantly recalling the best of “Nothing”, it cuts to a sublime ambient breakdown that gives way to an absolute monolith of a riff. One of the heaviest breakdowns Meshuggah has ever carved out, and a highlight to the album. The epic closer “Dancers to a Discordant System” is my favorite track on “Obzen”, opening with quiet guitar ambience it builds to a progressive metal run-through of all stages in Meshuggah’s career. The song has it all – eerie atmospheres, pummeling thrash, breakdowns and a face-melting final riff that lumbers with immense groove. Utter perfection for the Meshuggah fan.
It was a risk to attempt an album that can capture all various sounds and styles, but I feel “Obzen” does it with sophistication. The album never sounds jumbled or confused despite switching through such extreme dynamics and tempos. Meshuggah fans should certainly enjoy this, and those new to the band will get a concise taste of what Meshuggah is about.
You know…it’s amazing how one concert experience could turn a person into a huge fan of a band. This is what happened to me when I saw Meshuggah open for Tool a few years back…at the time when their album “Nothing” was released. After purchasing that cd, and listening to the whole thing…I knew for a fact I found a band that was special in their own right. Therefore I decided to buy all the albums Meshuggah had ever put out, even including their “True Human Design” EP and acquiring a burnt copy of “Self-Caged” (as it is terribly difficult to find)…and damn…I’m glad I did.
Now we fast forward to the present, Meshuggah has put out yet another incredible album that simply defies categorization…ObZen. I cannot stress enough exactly how astounding Tomas Haake’s skills are on the drums. Being a former drummer myself, it’s very easy to just sit back and listen in near-disbelief…It’s one thing to drum what I guess you would call “modern”…and yes actually on this album Tomas Haake does stray away a bit from the polyrhythmic patterns Meshuggah is well known for, but make no mistake, those patterns are still present.
The second the first track “Combustion” began…I already knew I was in for a treat. It doesn’t start out heavy at first, but after the tranquil guitar playing is done for a few seconds…BAM! A perfect opening song…I won’t even bother describing it, just buy this album and see for yourself.
The one track I was already familiar with was “Bleed”, as I heard it before the album even came out…hardly a skippable track, and this is one of the songs where it actually has more of a conventional sound than all of that polyrhythmic stuff you would expect when you listen to these guys. Nonetheless, I feel so damn sorry for that bass drum…Tomas Haake beats against it relentlessly as if it insulted his mother.
And yes I know that I keep mentioning Tomas Haake more than all the other members…but I firmly believe he is the backbone of the entire band. Extremely talented drummer…who writes incredible lyrics for Jens Kidman to scream out. On this album, he describes mankind as finding its zen between the obscure and the obscene, but it is not a concept album like “I” or “Catch-33″ were. Here is a sample of the lyrics:
(From the song “Combustion”)
No more ifs, no bias, no ambiguity
No wondering whether this is it
Clarity so brightly shining
The image so painfully absolute
I wish I could describe this album song by song, but I am terribly sorry…I really can’t. You have to hear it to believe. For those who don’t like Meshuggah…this album could very well change your mind, it is that good. If in fact it doesn’t change your mind, I say walk away and never to listen to Meshuggah again.
All in all…this is a superb contender for Album of the Year, but even if it doesnt win any awards, it won’t change the fact that this a highpoint of Meshuggah’s career. They are here to stay, and this album proves that.
Somerset Maugham once wrote that there are two kinds of artists in the world. One type of artist will create something with their emotions poured out. Another type of artist creates a piece of art through using their brain. Swedish metallers Meshuggah are exactly that type of artist. It is this very reason that Meshuggah’s status in metal is so divided. They do not swarm you through a gust of emotion. They attack you through a hollow barrage of multifaceted time signatures, complex lyrics, and no choruses whatsoever. After the 21 minute “I” and the 44 minute gargantuan “Catch 33″, Meshuggah has returned with no mercy on their latest album, ObZen. Ladies and gentlemen, brace yourselves for what you are about to hear because you might not return.
ObZen kicks off in the most unusual way. Meshuggah known for their technical prowess, start an album with a straight forward thrasher. At their listening party, the Meshuggah guys commented that they just wanted to play an old school 80’s thrash song again. The first thing one might notice about this album is that it sounds like the guys really enjoyed making this album. Meshuggah has never been one to please the masses and ObZen is no different. The biggest selling point to ObZen is the amount of variety. “Combustion” and “Pineal Gland Optics” show a more organic thrash sound. Chaosphere fans will drool over the seven minute Bleed, the heavier than thou title track, and the frenzied “Pravus”. In grand Nothing style, Meshuggah still knows how to hypnotize listeners with the apocalyptic jammers “Electric Red”, “Lethargica”, and “This Spiteful Snake”. Each song really does stand out on it’s own which even my favorite Meshuggah album (Nothing) probably couldn’t claim.
If there was one term Meshuggah fans were getting tired of, it was the Drumkit from Hell. Granted, Catch 33 was such a guitar dominated album that Tomas recording the drums might have been a waste of time. However, many people balked at the idea that such a talented musician could be omitted from an album. Fear no more, Tomas Haake returns to the forefront in grand style. Tomas once again proves that he is better than you. Never a band to shy away from thought provoking lyrics, ObZen’s lyrical focus is based on a society finding harmony through chaos and destruction. Another madman that was held in check for Catch 33 is released. Jens Kidman delivers his greatest vocal performance yet. It is spellbinding to see such a lead vocalist in metal not wither away like some other prominent vocalists *coughTomArayacough*. At this point in his career, what is Fredrick Throndel incapable of doing at this point? He has transformed what it is to be a metal guitarist with jazzy solos and intricate rhythms. He and Mårten Hagström deliver the goods yet again with outros that are so amazing that one wished he or she could hear the end of the song first. However, I must say that ObZen might be the first Meshuggah album that I wasn’t blown away by Fredrick solos. Maybe Marten’s underlying rhythms are just more enjoyable this time around. Either way, the guys have once again shown why they should be the most divided to metal fans.
ObZen isn’t Meshuggah’s crowning achievement, and it isn’t going to change the way any person feels about Meshuggah. Fans of the older sound will be turned on by the more song by song structure of the album, but if you hate Meshuggah, chances are…you probably still won’t like this one. ObZen is just a great album by a band that continues to release unique metal in a sometimes stale genre. I hope to hear some of the new material on the C U LaTour with Ministry this spring. After all, can’t it be enough that this band has not produced something as horrid as Diabolus en Musica or St. Anger?
P.S. As a Meshuggah fanboy, I must write that this is probably a 4 to 4.5 rating for the album. I used the 5 to overcompensate for the flood of 1 star reviews that are bound to show up. I wonder why people review bands and albums that they already know they’ll hate…
Let me just say this straight away: You MUST listen to this album while following the lyrics.
The first time I played Obzen in my car yesterday, I was bitterly disappointed. Most of the reviewers are touting this album as a return to classic Meshuggah, and they like it for that reason. It’s as if Meshuggah is coasting on their reputation, like old folks in a rest home who occasionally break out a vaudeville routine they perfected back in ‘34. You know, like the Rolling Stones. That’s how I heard it as well, at first — as Chaosphere II. By the time it stopped playing I was so sick of the “BA-Daaaaa, BA-Da-BEE-Da BA-DAAA” licks that I was ready to come on here and write a two-star review saying that not only does this album suck, but that it ruined Chaosphere retroactively for me as well.
A little birdie told me “Don’t. Sleep on it.” That I did, and today, playing it in my room and following along with the lyrics, this mother began to blossom and open out. I don’t just mean Obzen grew on me. I mean, it’s as if I was listening to two completely different albums from one day to the next. Obzen is no retread, but another push forward. Every Meshuggah album has a “hook,” some radical innovation within the limitations they prescribe for themselves. Here it is the way the music responds to and interacts with the words, stanza by stanza, and sometimes line by line, almost like a gruelling opera. Where a song on Chaosphere is structured entirely around the music, in such a way that it eventually leads to a rhythmic shift that makes it feel like a trapdoor is opening under your feet, giving you a sick, nauseous vertigo, and the words are only means to this end, here it is the exact opposite — Tomas Haake’s lyrics generate the musical material. You can see just by cracking the lyric sheet how much more pared-down and simple they are.
This means Obzen is more filigreed, more dense, more micro-detailed, less about one grand effect per song and more about constant change with a cumulative impact. A concept album about the human mind closing under the extreme pressure of lies and confusion and “seeing the light” of the New Age, Kabbalah, Buddhism, whatever — the title seems to be a combination of “oblivion” and “Zen” — Obzen’s subject matter is also slightly different than older albums which are more about nihilistic philosophies of becoming a la Nietzsche or Deleuze and Guattari. But this bodysnatching New Age theme is scarier because it is happening to everyone, it isn’t something that hopeless graduate students do to themselves. Even without the help of the lyrics one of the first things you’ll notice on this album is the trippy Oriental guitar lick that sounds like a koto, that I call the “hidden tune” of Obzen, after the line in “Dancers to a Discordant System”: “Listen to the hidden tune / The essence of lies in notes defined.” This hidden tune is first played in dead space in “Electric Red” at 4:04, returns in “Bleed,” this time as part of the musical fabric, at 3:38, and then insinuates itself into the DNA of an entire song: “Pineal Gland Optics,” where the illusion fully takes hold, “A Judas syndrome in effect, former self the deceiver,” Jens Kidman shrieks as his reason is flipped upside down.
The rest of the album tells the story of how this madness seduces the protagonist of Obzen, through a very subtle sort of word-painting. The twin guitar attack of the opening 20 seconds of “Bleed” sounds like an infrared beam sweeping a room, so when Kidman enters with “Beams of fire sweep through my head” we can subconsciously relate. The entirety of “Electric Red” is an accumulation of effects that all gather together at the line “the scarlet flood inundates our powerless thoughts” — the song itself is like a flood of gathering momentum. “Lethargica” lives up to its title as the most sluggish, lumbering track on the album. “This Spiteful Snake” is the best example of what I’m talking about, beyond the obvious serpentine riff that kicks it off. At the line “Trapping us in its winding / Its closing malignant cycles” Haake whacks his cymbals to evoke a vicious rattler. When Kidman says, “Overcome, defeated” you can hear the music break down and lose confidence. At 3:16 we get a solo that sounds like a snake-charmer’s flute, right before the sinister and triumphant re-entry, at 4:15, of the hidden tune. This bleeds right into “Pineal Gland Optics,” which, as I’ve already said, is the pivotal point of the album where the hidden tune reveals its true face, no longer hiding. Lucifer — who else did you think was behind this? — has emerged from the shadows to be worshipped by his new world of dumbed-down freaks, in all his alien, twisted ugliness, without the need for stand-ins or proxies.
Obzen closes with the ten-minute epic “Dancers to a Discordant System” a controlled evocation of worldwide chaos that leaves you depleted and shaking. And I haven’t even mentioned the two “simple” songs, “Combustion” and the title track. The latter is the most brutal song on the album but also, because of its simplicity, the most restful. You don’t have to stretch yourself contemplating its Gothic architecture. Like the music of Merzbow, it is both violent and soothing, making me imagine those “elegant” human sacrifices in Logan’s Run where people float up into the air to be zapped to the approval of a degraded, brainwashed mob who think they’re watching art. Civilized murder — peaceful slaughter — no resistance, not even mentally — “Obzen.”
I don’t know how Meshuggah do it. How is it possible to express all this in music, and not only that, but express it within the self-imposed straitjacket of their timeworn formula, their classic sound, that dreaded “Ba-Da Bee-Da”? Is Ba-Da Bee-Da the DNA of music, can it be called into service to express anything? It’s starting to seem that way. So I must beg to differ with the other long-winded reviewer: Obzen IS Meshuggah’s crowning achievement, at least until next time.