For 30 years, Meshuggah have thrived on metal’s bleeding edge. Each new release has evolved their sound in exciting new ways whilst delivering a baseline sense of angular extremity that has left musicians and fans alike eagerly watching for what new dimensions the band are exploring next.
Having spent three years writing, rehearsing and re-working material for their ninth record, the Swedish band show no signs of dialling back their ambitions. While they remain coy about releasing too many details – the album title and release date are still being kept under lock and key – Hammer caught up with drummer Tomas Haake and guitarist Mårten Hagström to find out just how deep the rabbit hole goes…
What's been the biggest change in the world of Meshuggah since the last album?
Marten: “Halfway through the touring cycle of The Violent Sleep Of Reason, Fredrik [Thordendal, guitars] took the time out to build his studio and focus on trying to get his solo album done. When we got off tour and went into album writing mode, we talked to Fredrik and let him know that we wanted him to play a couple of leads on this album. That was his part in the production - he was going to be the lead guitar player and we need him to be that wherever we felt that the songs demanded a proper Fredrik Thordendal Meshuggah lead... but we'd be lying if we said there hasn't been a difference since he took time out.”
Was there a specific starting point for the album, more than just, 'we need to make a new record’?
Tomas: “I think the ‘real' starting point was a couple months after our last tour, so around October 2019. We’d kinda slowly started already back in 2018, though it wasn't until around October 2019 that we started going more all-in, working 4, 5 or 6 days a week, 4-8 hours a day. By that point The Violent Sleep Of Reason was already more than 3 years old, so we definitely started feeling the pressure to write new stuff!"
On a scale of Obzen to Catchthirtythree, how off the wall is it sounding?
Tomas: “Well, ‘off the wall’ isn't really how I would describe it... Sound-wise we were going for a warmer sound this time around, less harsh mids and highs in the guitars and less abrasive cymbals etc. Getting older, you feel like ‘I wanna be able to enjoy this’ and not just be mauled and run over.”
What’s the least Meshuggah-sounding moment on the album?
Marten: “When you work on an album for three years, it becomes hard to think of something that doesn’t really fit into our realm. Definitely there’s spots on the album where we’re further away from the core of our past output, but saying there are least-Meshuggah sounding moments is basically admitting to failure. We want to be able to put our stamp on anything when we venture into music territories.”
There’s an insane amount of anticipation for a new Meshuggah. Does that add pressure, or can you just block it out?
Tomas: “I think we have always felt that if there's pressure on us, it comes from ourselves in the band. Whenever we present new music to each other in the band - that's kinda the crucible or trial by fire that the music needs to pass. Once the material gets the thumbs up from the other bandmates, that's all we can do... We can't be wondering too much about what we think the fans might want and whether they feel they wish to hear ‘fast this, quirky that, tune lower, impossible beats please’... So, we don't need to block it out as it's always blocked out!”
You got a Grammy nomination in 2018 for Clockworks. What was the ceremony like? Be honest, were you sticking pins in a voodoo doll of Mastodon after they won?
Tomas: "Haha no way, we all love Mastodon and they deserve the hell out of that win! We were touring at the time so we couldn't attend the ceremony, but if we'd been there we'd be the first bunch to congratulate and tip our hats to them awesome Atlantians!"
Meshuggah's new album is expected later this year via Atomic Fire