MESHUGGAH – Obzen (2008)

Meshuggah - Obzen For a while, it looked as though Meshuggah might have made it through the Great Scandinavian Metal Transmogrification (hereafter referred to as the GSMT) unscathed. The band’s first post-millennial effort was 2002’s Nothing, an album which featured a more stripped-down approach to the band’s traditionally complex sound. Nothing might not have been able to rival the band’s crowning achievement, 1998’s impossibly ruthless Chaosphere, but really, could anything? Songs like Closed-Eye Visuals and Rational Gaze off of Nothing still featured the band making the most of their trademark metal spasms.

2004 saw the release of I, a single 20+ minute song that featured what sounded like the meatiest parts of Chaosphere strung out on steroids and brawling in an alleyway. At the time, I felt more like a promise than it did a song: “We’re not going to go soft on you”, the band seemed to proclaim. Left unstated was the obvious “Like In Flames, Soilwork, Opeth (!), Arch Enemy…”, who were among the first casualties of the GSMT, a movement in which many prominent Scandinavian metal bands dumbed-down their sound to make it more digestible for the American masses.

Next came Catch-Thirtythree; if I was a promise, than Catch-Thirtythree was the revision: “All bets are off.” Still, the album failed in large part because it was too experimental for its own good; it wasn’t necessarily a bad album, just not a Meshuggah one. But it left a foul aftertaste.

There. The stage has now been properly set for Obzen, an album which seems to cement Meshuggah as the newest members of the GSMT, right alongside fellow Swedes Pain of Salvation (!!), who joined up with last year’s Scarsick.

Where to start? Well, first the good news: Tomas Haake (arguably the most versatile drummer in all of metal) is back on the kit (after sitting out on Catch-Thirtythree for the newly developed software synthesizer, “Drumkit From Hell”). The bad news Haake’s performance is the only real strong part of the album, and even by Meshuggah standards, it’s a little lacking. In the first song (Combustion), Haake demures from his typical polyrhythmic/common time juxtapositions in the verses and instead cranks out a lot of stagnant hits on the snare, like the bad hardcore band that played in your friend’s basement last fall. Combustion also features the obligatory guitar solo, but instead of an unpredictably serpentine onslaught, we are instead treated to a lifeless John Petrucci imitation instead.

There’s a lot of different problems with Obzen. The biggest one is that too many of the songs feel too similar (Electric Red, Lethargica and Pineal Gland Optics all sound like B-sides of the same unfinished Nothing-era track). On the title track, Meshuggah do their best All That Remains impression with the main riff, before plugging away at another Nothing B-side.

The band fare better on the longer songs. Bleed and Dancers To A Discordant System are the two best songs here, and both succeed for different reasons (Dancers To A Discordant System successfully carries on the spirit of the Nothing approach, while Bleed taps back to the band’s thrash influences). But both songs aren’t without their flaws; Dancers To A Discordant System features another lifeless solo, while Bleed milks its final passages for more than they’re worth.

Please don’t make the mistake of thinking I’m taking glee in writing all this. Because I’m not. Indeed, it pains me to write this. Meshuggah were always one of my favorites from the Scandinavian scene, and to this day, Chaosphere remains one of my absolute favorite albums, of any genre. The musicianship displayed there was inhuman. Chaosphere is a transcendent, unrelenting experience. But more than that, though, is that the album feels like one that only Meshuggah could’ve made. Obzen, by contrast, doesn’t really feel like a Meshuggah release, even though all the elements are there: there’s the distinct sound of the bass and guitars, Jens Kidman’s maniacal screams, there’s even the structure in some of the songs. But it’s not making me sit up and take notice.



One Response to “MESHUGGAH – Obzen (2008)”

  1. […] PHONE PICTURES – Meshuggah wsg Cynic @ House of Blues (02/15/09) So, I was not a fan of Meshuggah’s last album, but Cynic, on the other hand, released the best metal album of […]

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