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…