MESHUGGAH Albums Ranked from “Less Great” to Great

Next MESHUGGAH Album Won't Come Before 2020

Meshuggah’s sound and style has always been a unique blend of polyrhythmic patterns and soul crushing melodies. I find it near impossible to play any track from this band without methodically bobbing my head while visions of fractal enlightenment dance behind my eyes. Their most recent album continues this tradition, while also showing the band’s ability to be fresh and innovative with a style that has recently become the trendy sound in metal. Since the release of 2008’s ObZen, countless bands have formed under the premise of using Meshuggah’s pioneering sound to create something of their own. And while some of these bands have experienced success, or grown into their own unique sounds, Meshuggah remain the engineers and godfathers of a progressive metal style that they created back in the late 1980’s.

Ranking Meshuggah albums is possible the most difficult challenge when it comes to doing this type of posts. After hours spent on pushing these records up or down on the list, it has come down to this.

08. Contradictions Collapse (1991)

Quite different from what you may expect from Meshuggah, Contradictions Collapse shows their obvious thrash metal influences. Contradictions Collapse is in fact, a technical thrash album—one that has a sort of Master of Puppets era Metallica meets Testament with a dash of Watchtower feel that shows roots of the band’s groovier, heftier sound, but certainly shows the band’s rougher, less polished but still technically stunning ability and compositions.

07. Koloss (2012)

2008’s obZen was dabbed with elements that hark back to Meshuggah’s early, thrash-influenced works, ultimately making it more of an amalgamation of their progress. With Koloss, the band has once more made an allusive step, but this time in regards to production. With the so-called ‘djent’ style taking Metal by storm with its overproduced and, at times, grating sound, what better way for Meshuggah (dubbed the pioneers of this sound) to set themselves apart from the countless clones. With intricate tweaks to its production, Koloss is an organic sounding record that is more akin to 2002’s Nothing, albeit with greater attention to detail and polish. Furthermore, Koloss does not feel as burdensome in the long run for listeners as Catch Thirtythree, obZen, and even 2006’s overproduced re-release of Nothing did with their immense, oft-grating weight.

06. Catch Thirtythree (2005)

Catch Thirtythree, being the experimental album that it is, has been described by Meshuggah as “one song” in a similar vein to previous EP release I. I guess the difference being that this album has been divided into sections with clusters of them making one “mini song”. Pretentious? A little bit, not that this really matters though as the musicianship on display is of a considerably high calibre.

Like the EP I, Catch Thirtythree insists on repeating the rhythm sections until you can think of nothing else. The repetitive nature of the album will leave the listener hypnotized and immersed in the dark, heavy, artificial atmosphere created, making the album completely memorable as you’re repeatedly pummelled by this truly intriguing music. You can visualise the scene of production; a bleak, barren factory which just fits the almost mechanical, empty feel of the album. The emotionless, robotic screams courtesy of vocalist Jens Kidman, stop-start crushing guitar riffs, rumbling bass and off-beat drums all contribute to making this album their most accomplished, atmospheric and unique effort to date.

05. Destroy Erase Improve (1995)

If there’s one album where substance meets style in a glorious dissonance—it is in Meshuggah‘s classic album Destroy Erase Improve. Released in 1995, it was a big step for the band that was known more for sounding like a mix of Pantera and Metallica with European metal sensibilities. They then started carving a style of their own when they released the None EP which showcased their affinity for jazz like improvisations and odd time signatures. On Destroy Erase Improve, Meshuggah just continued with evolving their style and showing their virtuosity.

Meshuggah‘s sound is complex, intricate, and jealously guards its secrets. The only thing that is really palpable upon first listening to this album is a sense of almost suffocating heaviness; a feeling that I have so far found to be entirely unique to Meshuggah. Everything just seems so mechanical, precise, and brutal, and yet you have absolutely no idea what the music is trying to accomplish. Further listens eventually unveil Meshuggah‘s true intentions. With all the talk about their inaccessibility, this album contains some of the band’s best instrumental grooves ever. But these aren’t your cheap, run of the mill 4/4 thrash grooves; these grooves are made up of complex, asymmetric parts. You wouldn’t think that a 17/4 drum pattern and guitar riffs in 11/6 time could lock together into a headbanging groove, and yet they do. This is only one aspect of Meshuggah‘s genius.

04. Chaosphere (1998)

What was hinted on Destroy Erase Improve is immediately built upon and improved on Chaosphere. The songwriting is far more organic and layered than the previous record, taking a more classical approach to the composition as opposed to the textured approach of DEI, while still forcing it into the rhythmic motion of jazz with a greater emphasis on the speed of thrash, the contradictory principles shaking the songs down to their foundations.

Chaosphere epitomizes the core attributes of metal, it is deafeningly resonant, it is headlong and relentless in its sonic assault and it is tailor made for engendering psychic disintegration slowly leading to the depths of complete chaos and derangement. The music is not only intense but its just raw and highly dense, it definitely is not just an attempt at complexity but still is a near impossible feat to be emulated. This record has this complete lack of ambiance, there are no elements which can remotely be associated with musical coherence. Chaosphere has an unprecedented originality which complements its extreme density to such an extend that there is hardly any room for dissection and re engineering. In other words it is seemingly impossible to identify the DNA of Chaosphere. There is no single root to this sound, it is daunting to recognize the inspiration or the influences of such a crass din.

03. ObZen (2008)

Despite all of the brilliance employed on ObZen, there is the impression that the music may have been more enjoyable, had Meshuggah pulled out more than one fancy trick to work with.

ObZen features a general return to jazzier modes, although the music Meshuggah makes on Obzen certainly will not be seen as jazz to the vast majority of listeners. Instead, the first impression is that of highly rhythmically unconventional thrash metal, complete with some incredibly aggressive shouting vocals, courtesy of Kidman. Despite the very angry and in-your-face attitude the music presents however, the album is backed up by a surprisingly vivid exploration in philosophy. The album name itself turns out to be a portmanteau of the words “obscene” and “zen,” and the album reflects on how the human race has found a state of harmony through constant violence. Heavy material to be sure, and the music reflects this through each palm muted riff.

Kidman‘s vocals take some time to warm up to, but like quite a few progressive metal bands, the vocals are the weakest link in the sound. Every instrumentalist is an absolute genius at playing intensely complex rhythms, while keeping in check with the separate rhythms each other member is playing. The album’s seemingly streamlined, fluid sound is an impeccable quality, even with the polyrhythmic structure that defines Meshuggah‘s sound, and obZen‘s songs flow into each other even better than the schisms that divided their 2005 LP while retaining their unique and distinct identities.

02. The Violent Sleep of Reason (2016)

The skilled musicianship of Meshuggah has never been in question, but their talent seems to shine through even brighter on last year’s The Violent Sleep of Reason. Lead guitarist Fredrik Thordendal really cuts loose at various points over the course of the record, unleashing wonky, disjointed solos that curl their way in and out of your ear holes. The entrancing rhythm section, spearheaded by guitarist Mårten Hagström, and augmented by the talents of bassist Dick Lövgren, keep a persistent, driving beat alive throughout The Violent Sleep of Reason. But these precise elements pale in comparison to the god-like percussive skills of drummer Tomas Haake. Watching his drum playthrough videos are mind bending, and the fact that each of these songs were recorded live makes me giddy beyond on reason at the prospect of seeing this band perform songs from this album live. They pulled out all of the stops, and it paid off.

These aren’t necessarily new sounds for Meshuggah, but they haven’t made music like this for a long time. Their records are technically proficient, often to the point of sacrificing the song for the sake of the instrumentation. But on The Violent Sleep of Reason, the music has a higher priority.

None of that is to say that Meshuggah is less proficient than they’ve been in the past. But it feels like the technicality is embedded in the music, and not the other way around. The rhythm section is as tight as always (which is impressive, given the bizarre polyrhythms and time signatures), and the vocals are as insane as ever, but most importantly, these songs are their best in over a decade.

Playing these songs live in the studio certainly adds another dimension to the record. It makes Meshuggah feel young again, like they have something new to say—even when they’re going back to basics.

01. Nothing (2002)

Meshuggah’s 2002 release Nothing is the biggest landmark in their career and is the album which put them on the map through the constant, unrelenting emphasis on heavy rhythm sections. The chaotic and sporadic nature of their previous full lengths and EPs catered toward a narrower, more thrash loving audience. These releases, while excellent in their own rights, resulted in Meshuggah getting somewhat lost in the fold and stuck at a crossroads: continue down their thrash-leaning road, or take the more powerful aspects of their sound and refine them. The result is a culmination of grooves and off-time beats in the lowest, heaviest tuning which changed an entire metal landscape and sparked a new era in extreme music.

The release stands almost entirely as a rhythmic assault, with each song providing an abundance of downtuned riffs and groovy passages. With all of the complex riffing of the album, essentially syncopated to a 4/4 beat, Meshuggah utilize the best of both worlds and provide a template any listener can easily digest. From the opening riff of “Stengah,” Meshuggah simultaneously pummel and serenade their audience through the use of intense brutality and scattered, floating guitar leads. “Straws Pulled At Random” and “Closed Eye Visuals” are perfect examples of this, where in all the chaos and brutality of the songs they allow the music to breathe and emerge in a way that was previously more sporadic. The mesmerizing leads are perfectly built into the rhythms, allowing the listener to better follow the intricate soloing guitarist Fredrik Thordendal is seamlessly executing. Many sections of Nothing take advantage of Thordendal’s creative genius, as shown on previous releases, and allow for their music to take a step back in the midst of the rhythmic madness and toss in jazz territory feelings of floating and airlessness which help captivate listeners.

1 Comment

  1. Sergio

    May 6, 2017 at 11:43 pm

    That singing is truly awful.

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