When Devin Townsend sang the words ‘We all rip off Meshuggah’, it was probably the most original instance of ripping off Meshuggah. Polyrhythms. Jazzy solos. Eight- string guitars with that tone. It’s been done to death since the Swedish tech metal kings blew the lid off with 2008’s obZen – new bands still pick that record’s carcass today, hoping for some leftovers. In that respect, it’s silly that Meshuggah’s ninth album is called Immutable. Because that word doesn’t mean what you think it means, to paraphrase the guy from The Princess Bride.
Immutable: ‘Unchanging over time or unable to be changed.’ This band have done nothing but change. From sounding like bargain-bin Metallica to aliens playing groove metal to redefining a genre, Meshuggah don’t stand still. obZen was the summit for onlookers, but to its creators, it was the foot of the mountain. Over their next two full- lengths, Meshuggah incrementally dug into a more organic sound, never losing that mechanical, lumbering dread. It just became more Alien than Terminator: a living, breathing beast that wants to do unpleasant things to your face and internal organs. Immutable drills deeper.
Immediately, Mårten Hagström’s one-note chug on Broken Cog is heavier than anything above or below this planet. The bass supporting it sounds like a little man’s trapped in Dick Lövgren’s fretboard, repeatedly thwacked by Tomas Haake’s primal percussion. Fredrik Thordendal’s creepy, atonal leadwork surfaces, Tomas’s spoken word riding it like a skeletal pony… but where’s Meshuggah’s frontman and living meme, Jens Kidman? It takes him four and a half minutes to scream into existence: a bald-headed jinn rubbed exclusively by that one bendy riff everyone tries to copy.
Like fellow Umeå residents Cult Of Luna, they play on just one or two motifs per song, tearing each apart, toe-dipping, extrapolating, pushing. It’s still the band you know, but with hiking boots on. Meshuggah redefined? Nah. Refined? Absolutely.
That won’t sell the idea of an hour- plus album to people who don’t like this sound. It’s very much an exploration of Meshuggah’s past decade, and if that’s not your thing, They Move Below’s near-10-minute instrumental will leave you cold. The stop-start metre of Ligature Marks, the muted staccato notes worming through Kaleidoscope’s groove metal bounce, or the sickly solos peppered through the record that just feel wrong – it’s not nostalgia, but it’s all Meshuggah. Defiantly so.
For devotees, it offers maps for future expeditions. The one-two tremolo extremity of Black Cathedral and I Am That Thirst takes tentative footsteps into darker, murkier holes seldom visited. It’s not like they’re covering Freezing Moon or anything, but tonally, the riffing toys with black metal.
They haven’t reinvented the wheel. They already did that. Twice. But the band you love are still running rings around every progressive metal act going, while going harder than reasonably required on Armies Of The Preposterous. It’s true Chad behaviour.
If you ask what Meshuggah’s classic album is, you’ll get at least three different answers. Immutable could very well be the fourth.