During my initial, cursory listen to Meshuggah’s latest album, I sighed inwardly. What had I let myself in for? Every song (bar three instrumental tracks) sounded exactly the same as each other, all featuring that ominous, ugly djent sound that Meshuggah are famous for. The rhythms were utterly incomprehensible, was there even any point in paying attention to them? And there was no making sense of the lyrics either, growled beyond audibility.
Worse still, I knew this is what I had signed up for. Many years ago, I was making my first forays into the vast ocean of progressive rock, with Dream Theater as my starting point. Since DT were classified as prog-metal, other fans concluded that I simply must love bands like the Mars Volta, Mastodon and Meshuggah, all bands that I dipped my proverbial toe into before deciding I never wanted to listen to them again. Meshuggah in particular sounded as if they were trying to be as sonically challenging to the listener as possible, and I couldn’t see the appeal in a band that lacked the melodic component. It was around then that I realised I enjoyed Dream Theater for the prog component, not the metal one.
Fast forward a decade, and I see Immutable is available for review. No one else had been brave enough to pick it up, and, relishing a challenge, I decided to give it a try. How bad could it be? This band, after all, has been entertaining audiences for three-and-a-half decades, and fans keep coming back for more. Maybe I could discover the secret to their success?
But as the pounding, distorted notes incessantly pummelled my eardrums, I started to panic when I thought about the review I would need to write. How does one go about criticising one of the most famous extreme metal bands out there for playing a style of music that simply isn’t suited to your taste? If I were to write my straight opinion, I would surely be lampooned by Meshuggah fans who would question why I was assigned an album I knew I wouldn’t like in the first place. On the other hand, I felt like I had very little to suggest to said fans about this new album other than “It sounds like Meshuggah, go figure.”
I was contemplating packing the whole thing in and rejecting the review altogether when the most extraordinary thing happened. The second time I listened to the album, it sounded… better. The monotony that I had felt on my first listen was no longer present. Those alienating rhythms now seemed to open themselves up and envelop me in a dark whirlpool. The downtuned guitars no longer sounded like a dull instrument but a growling roar.
And on the third listen, it all really seemed to click into place. Finally, I had been transported to the world which Meshuggah had wanted me to experience all along. Even the lyrics – the ones I could discern, at least – seemed to have vitality. While I still couldn’t follow the rhythms – a disappointment to me since I am a drummer – that actually felt like part of the appeal, that you’re in a vortex of chaos where very little makes sense. It’s mind-boggling how the musicians can orchestrate and choreograph this chaos. At its best, I’d describe the music as ‘thrash metal’, not because it sounds like it’s from the ’80s, but because the pseudo-random rhythms remind me of the painful thrashing of a dying animal. Listen to the wild thrashing rhythm of The Abysmal Eye and tell me it does not remind you of a flapping fish that has been caught by a rod.
And as I listened more, the structure of the songs started to discern themselves. Some of the more notable tracks: opener Broken Cog is among the gentlest of songs on the album – though still very heavy by all regular standards – letting newcomers to Meshuggah ease themselves into the fiery pool that awaits them. They Move Below, a 9-and-a-half minute instrumental, is easily the most ‘prog’ of the tracks, featuring an acoustic intro and a more predictable rhythm. It doesn’t really sound like the rest of the album, and could possibly fit in the Dream Theater canon. Black Cathedral is a two-minute droning downtuned guitar solo… do fans really want this? I’m not sure. And the finale Past Tense is an acoustic instrumental that I have to say is thoroughly unremarkable in its simple composition and style. But after a full hour of non-stop extreme metal, I’m glad to have a different timbre in my ears.
Are Meshuggah going to become my next favourite band? In all likelihood, no. Immutable isn’t an album that I get thrilled about listening to again and Meshuggah’s signature brand of metal is far from what I love most in the prog rock I listen to. Nevertheless, I am impressed with the band and with myself for finding some common ground, and I am glad to have discovered some joy in the dark bowels of this Swedish beast. The secret ingredient to enjoying this style of music seems to be perseverance; if you stay with it long enough, the sheer Stockholm syndrome of being in such close proximity with this aggressive music will allow you to hear things you didn’t previously hear.
01. Broken Cog (5:35)
02. The Abysmal Eye (4:56)
03. Light the Shortening Fuse (4:38)
04. Phantoms (4:54)
05. Ligature Marks (5:13)
06. God He Sees in Mirrors (5:28)
07. They Move Below (9:36)
08. Kaleidoscope (4:07)
09. Black Cathedral (2:01)
10. I Am That Thirst (4:40)
11. The Faultless (4:48)
12. Armies of the Preposterous (5:27)
13. Past Tense (5:46)
Total Time – 67:05
Jens Kidman – Vocals
Mårten Hagström – Guitars
Fredrik Thordendal – Guitars
Dick Lövgren – Bass
Tomas Haake – Drums
Record Label: Atomic Fire Records
Format: Vinyl, Cassette, CD, Digital
Country of Origin: Sweden
Date of Release: 1st April 2022