Here’s my ten minute review of Meshuggah’s ObZen.
I hear that Meshuggah cause quite a divide in the metal community, both in their fan base, those who emulate them, and those who loath them. The Swedish math-metalers have definitely orchestrated a type of music unique unto itself and at most times outside of the metal community’s popular stream of music.
I feel that for each album they release we listeners are in for a different experience. I think my favorite of their albums is Nothing, which was the first album of theirs that I managed to obtain, yet obZen does something unique that one might be able to find in each one of their albums. And I think because of this ObZen might provide a wider audience an acceptable and palatable means in which to get a better taste of the might Meshuggah.
On obZen you will hear the requisite odd time signature thrash of Destroy Erase Improve and Chaosphere, the elephantine carnival stomp of Nothing, the industrial ambient effects of Catch-Thirtythree (a forgettable album I think). ObZen (meaning obscene and Zen) still has the edginess that all their other albums have; it’s not an easily digestible metal-for-the-masses disc. Here’s the song-by-song.
The very first song provides an immediate taste of how hard Meshuggah can play. We get a low volume clean guitar that forces us to turn the volume up, and for good reason, because you are going to want to listen to “Combustion” very, very loudly. The beginning riff wangles around in odd time and the drums kick in almost faster than anything they have put out besides maybe Destroy. After this we settle down into the requisite Meshuggah groove that gets our heads banging. I get the impression that the band wanted to distance themselves from Thirty-Three right from the outset of this album, yet following “Combustion” is “Electric Red,” which is slower and more plodding.
“Electric Red” comes off as a little more dry, especially after hearing the orgasmic opening piece of “Combustion” afterwards. I get the feeling that they want to make it known to listeners that the album is going to crank. So why is “Electric Red” on the LP? I don’t understand the spoken word part, nor do I understand the spark of this song. It’s not filler but it does fill vacuum space.
However, “Bleed” starts off with a super groovy riff that begs your head to start banging as it constantly builds and changes the tempo and riff structure. And these subtle changes, the more hallucinatory aspect of Meshuggah, is what really allows them to stand out from other metal groups.
“Lethargica” opens with trademark sharp, jabbing riffs and trudges on through with trademark alacrity. It’s got an oddly placed, almost silent, interlude that doesn’t seem to serve much purpose than to allow the band members to catch their collective breaths, which doesn’t make any sense to me after listening to “I.” So yeah, “Lethargica” is only OK.
The title track “obZen” begins with a dark groove and floaty lead section before transitioning into some great angular riffs and then a brutal breakdown at around the 2:00 mark. Definitely one of the best songs on here. I certainly enjoy this riff, especially because at first it sounds something like an In Flames song, but then, poof, it gets absolutely brutal, them layered and more brutal, then more layered and more brutal, and you get the idea.
“This Spiteful Snake,” starts with a humdrum intro, then begins to lull the listener into a trance with interesting almost-melodic leads. Key parts are at the 3:15 minute mark, where the song breaks down into a completely wicked and dysjunct lead.
On the whole, and to the end of the album, these oddly timed leads and even more odd buildups allow the album to move in cool directions. The melodic noodling stands out quite well with Fredrik Thordendal’s solos and leads. They are both bewildering disjunct, combining atmospherics and jazz-type shredding. Blah blah blah. Anyways…I just want to listen to it.
So in the end, I like this album, especially Combustion. I like that I can throw it on, listen to the super intense lead track, then just let it play out. The weird beats of Meshuggah always please my head.