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‘ObZen’ breaks formula

April 15, 2008

From The Daily Texan – Meshuggah’s cover art for ObZen, released last month on Nuclear Blast Records, features a meditating man with blood on his hands. The title is a portmanteau of obscene and zen, which not only fits the album’s sound and look, but also the human condition.

“We, as humanity, have found our inner peace – or zen moment – through the obscene, through bloodshed,” rhythm guitarist Marten Hagstrom said.

The Swedish quintet is indeed the soundtrack to destructive catharsis. ObZen continues this manifesto, though it represents a departure from the band’s previous two albums, Catch 33 and I. Whereas those albums had only one long song on them, ObZen returns to making individual songs. In light of this change, Meshuggah has always a core sound, defined by Hagstrom and drummer Tomas Haake’s use of odd time signatures, lead guitarist Fredrik Thordendal’s freeform soloing and Jens Kidman’s acid-drenched yells. Their success, however, has been in tweaking this foundation. From breaking from their thrash roots on Destroy Erase Improve to utilizing mechanical grooves on Nothing, Meshuggah have always been about making sure no two albums are the same.

“Whenever we do an album, it’s a reaction towards what we’ve been doing previously,” Hagstrom said. “Coming from Catch 33, it felt liberating to go back and focus on aggression.”

Aggression is offered in spades on ObZen, even more so than on their earlier efforts. The album has an overall faster, more pummeling feel. Without being psychedelic or ambient, both elements used in the past, Meshuggah have created an encompassing vortex. “Bleed,” arguably the standout track, is one of the most brutal tracks on the album. Kidman proves to be an ample mouthpiece for Haake, who writes most of the lyrics, as he screams “Malfunction the means for its ascent/Bloodletting the stringent voice to beckon my soul.” The construction of the lyrics began before the recording.

“By the time we finished up with Catch 33, Tomas, who’s much more prolific than I am, had a bunch of lyrics that piled up that aimed towards regular songs,” Hagstrom said.

Meshuggah have been a favorite of metal magazines and mainstream critics alike. As a result, they have been showered with numerous tags, including but not limited to “math metal,” “progressive death metal,” “technical post-thrash” and “noise.” Hagstrom is confused by this mass labeling.

“You don’t sit down and write music with a calculator,” he said.

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