Meshuggah IMMUTABLE Review: Djently Does It…

Meshuggah IMMUTABLE Review
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Here’s my review of Meshuggah’s new album IMMUTABLE, a killer record from one of the best and most iconic and experimental metal bands on the planet.

Meshuggah has been caving people’s heads in for three decades, and its latest album shows no signs of the band letting up. I first “got into” Meshuggah back in the early-2000s – back before its music was called djent. But it was the album NOTHING that really put the band on the map for me. It was on this album that they startled using 8-string guitars.

Tonally, NOTHING sounded unlike anything I’d ever heard before. The guitars alone just sounded bonkers. Back then, an 8-string guitar was more or less like a hen with teeth. In this sense, Meshuggah was something of a pioneer. And, yes, plenty of other bands copied them on their journey down the 8-string rabbit hole.

Why am I talking about NOTHING? Because I like to ground my reviews in context. For me, NOTHING presented the first time Meshuggah really changed its sound. Listen to NOTHING and the record they released before it – it sounds like a different band, tonally. That’s the power of guitar tone, right there.

Between NOTHING and 2016’s The Violent Sleep of Reason, Meshuggah’s sound has been pretty consistent. The songs were markedly different, of course, but the aesthetics of the band’s “sound” remained fairly uniform, steeped in ultra-tight production, polyrhythms, and disorientating lead guitar.

Meshuggah IMMUTABLE Review

With IMMUTABLE, things haven’t moved too far away from this formula, but there are changes, new things and styles present here that I haven’t heard from the band before. Tracks like They Move Below, Past Tense, and, The Faultless all sound fresh and new, like a band that is still pushing the boundaries of what it is capable of both sonically and with respect to songwriting.

Meshuggah IMMUTABLE Review

To say that IMMUTABLE is a heavy record would be the understatement of the century – it is ridiculously heavy in parts – but there is a nuance at play on this album, a tonal shift, if you will, that adds yet another dimension to Meshuggah’s already multi-dimensional sonic assault on your senses. I have rinsed this album on headphones ever since it first dropped and I continually find new things to appreciate about it with each new run-through.

I don’t think there is a weak moment on the entire album, impressive for this style of music. Even the quieter, more reflective tracks like Past Tense have enough going on, odd movements and strange chord changes, to keep your ear invested. Stand-out tracks on the album, for me, include The Abysmal Eye, They Move Below, Past Tense, Kaleidoscope, and The Faultless. In these tracks, I definitely felt like I was hearing something truly new from the band.

Meshuggah wrote this album the same way it wrote its preceding one – on a computer. Tomas Haake, drummer and lyricist, writes all of his drum parts on a computer inside Cubase, the guitarists will then layer guitars over the top of the programmed drums. This gets the general theme of the song down, ready for live recording.

Haake has confirmed that both Clockworks and Phantoms were done this way, whereas other songs might be based around guitar riff ideas. But everything, whether it is guitar parts or drums, is ALWAYS done in “computer world”, as Haake calls it, and the band has been doing it this way since 1989.

In fact, Meshuggah’s entire sound – its song’s complexities, the time signatures, the mathematical elements it uses – are all borne from the fact that it writes all of its music on computers first, before birthing them inside a practice room with live instruments. As far as I’m aware, no other “metal” band on the planet works in this way. Haake has even said that, without computers, the band couldn’t do what it does.

And, interestingly, the album’s first track, Broken Cog, was first demoed and tested for an album way back in 2010/11. Initially, Broken Cog was meant to be on Koloss, then The Violent Sleep of Reason, but Haake really struggled to play it, so the band abandoned it until it came time to record IMMUTABLE. And if Haake has trouble with a drum section, you know it is tricky. But it made it onto IMMUTABLE and, for the record, the drumming on it is incredible.

Meshuggah IMMUTABLE Track List

  • Broken Cog (5:35)
  • The Abysmal Eye (4:55)
  • Light The Shortening Fuse (4:28)
  • Phantoms (4:53)
  • Ligature Marks (5:13)
  • God He Sees In Mirrors (5:28)
  • They Move Below (9:35) (Instrumental)
  • Kaleidoscope (4:07)
  • Black Cathedral (2:00) (Instrumental)
  • I Am That Thirst (4:40)
  • The Faultless (4:48)
  • Armies Of The Preposterous (5:15)
  • Past Tense (5:46)

I haven’t really talked too much about the individual performances of the band’s musicians too much in this review. The main reason is that there is very little point. Meshuggah has been in a league of its own for the past two decades, and nothing has changed on this album.

They all just sound inhumanly good, nailing their parts with precision and, as usual, the band’s iconic, razor-sharp tone. From the guitars of Fredrik Thordendal and Mårten Hagström to the otherworldly drumming of Tomas Haake that is so good it makes TOOL’s Danny Carey sound like Lars Ulrich, Meshuggah is – and has been for the last 20 years – the musical benchmark for precision metal. Nothing else gets even remotely close to what these guys do.

And this is mostly down to Haake on drums, but also the guitars. It really is a chicken and egg situation. You couldn’t have the weird drums without the insane guitars but at the same time, you couldn’t have the insane guitar rhythms if you didn’t first have Haake’s otherworldly drumming. And these two elements are now, after 32 years of playing together, so seamlessly integrated that, unlike nearly all of its peers, the band can still come together in the spirit of creativity and create new, interesting stuff together.

There really isn’t any filler on this album either. There are some spoken word parts, as well as some instrumental tracks as well. Jens’ vocals, however, remain completely unchanged from previous records. And this is fine; Jens’ vocals are an integral part of Meshuggah’s sound. But I do wish he used a bit more range in his performance. For me, the vocals have always been the weak link in Meshuggah’s overall sound – the only thing, given the chance, I would change ever-so-slightly.

Controversial Point: Does Meshuggah Need A Second Vocalist?

This isn’t to say that Jens is bad on the record or a bad vocalist; he’s not, he does what he always does – makes it sound heavier than 6 million tons of iron. I just wish that he’d start thinking a little more sonically about his performances. Whenever I bring this up, people get angry. And that’s understandable. But it is a valid point; imagine what someone like Mike Pattern could do with a band like Meshuggah? The mind boggles…

The thing about Meshuggah is that its music is so completely insane that the vocals, while perfectly suited to it, are only there to add a bit of color and/or texture to the music. When IMMUTABLE moves from a track with vocals to an instrumental track, it isn’t jarring – you don’t feel like something is missing. And this is a testament to just how interesting the band’s music is. But every time I hear new music from the band, I always find myself wishing they had a second vocalist that could bring more dynamic to the performance.

Is that sacrilege? Possibly. Will I get hate mail for even daring to suggest this? Absolutely. But it is my opinion, and as someone that has followed the band almost religiously since the early 2000s, I think it is a valid point. I love Jens’ vocals, they are a quintessential part of the sound of Meshuggah. But imagine if you had someone else working alongside him, someone like Tomas Hallbom of Breach and The Ocean, also a fellow Swede, bringing some additional dynamics? It’d sound incredible. Listen to The Ocean’s Fluxion record and tell me I’m wrong. Hallbom is an incredible vocalist.

Overall, Meshuggah’s IMMUTABLE is by far one of the band’s best albums in recent memory, no mean feat when you consider that Meshuggah does not make bad records. IMMUTABLE is better than The Violent Sleep of Reason, in my opinion, having a lot more memorable moments, all the usual heaviness, and some new and really beautiful parts that, for me, make it one of the best new metal albums of the last few years. If you’re a fan of Meshuggah, you’ll love what the guys have done on this record.

And if you’ve never heard Meshuggah before, get ready to have your mind well and truly blown apart.

Meshuggah’s IMMUTABLE gets an impressive 4.5/5 – near-perfect – score from me.


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