posted on 4/2005 By:
Now THIS is the album Meshuggah needed to make this year. Their impact and influence is undeniable, but some have speculated that these innovators are beginning to run out of steam. Meshuggah followed up what is widely considered to be their brightest moment, Chaosphere, with 2002’s Nothing, an album that received mixed reviews from fans. Already a band that metal fans either revered as genius or dismissed as pretentious and unnecessarily complex (“What’s the deal with all those extra strings?”), Meshuggah gave doubters more ammunition when they followed the behemoth Chaosphere with a slower, and relatively more accessible album that also received attention from the nonmetal community. Evolution and notoriety—two things that always raise the ire of a subset of underground metalheads. Still, it is not as though all of the complaints about Nothing were without merit. But if some fans were concerned about the future direction of the band, Meshuggah assuaged most of these fears with last year’s blistering I, a 21 minute, single-track EP that smoked from start to finish. Since then fans have speculated whether the band’s next full length would be in the vein of Nothing, or the full throttled I. The Answer? Yes. As in, all of the above. Meshuggah has successfully blended the slower tempo of Nothing, with the highly intense and aggressive single song structure of I, and moved an iteration forward. The band has described Catch 33 as “musically the opposite of I”, but it sure makes for a perfect companion piece. Simply put, this album is a masterful metal display of the mathematics of harnessed chaos.
Like I, Catch 33 is conceptualized as a single composition. However, this time the band has chosen to break the song into thirteen tracks, a wise decision given its forty five minute length. Some of these track changes sound like natural transitions, while a few seem nearly random. The song consists of several movements, each consisting of several songs built around a central riff. The first three tracks (beginning with the craftily titled “Autonomy Lost”) are an intense show of force and a clear signal of intent, exploding in a powerful charge of lurching syncopated riffing and rhythms. The next segment consists of tracks four through six, which are packed with those low, bending notes that, at a high volume will make you feel like Beelzebub, Vlad the Impaler, and Dick Cheney are doing the wave in your large intestine. Meshuggah make their only sizable misstep at the beginning of “Mind’s Mirrors”, a sort of intermission track in the center of the album. They have made it known that this album is considered “an experiment”, but those computerized vocals are never a good idea, Mr. Roboto. The rest of the track is an instrumental cosmic noodling, something that pops up again at the end of the album. “In Death – Is Life” and “In Death – Is Death” is a blistering thirteen minutes of vintage, pulverizing Meshuggah. The remaining four tracks come closer to resembling independent tracks, and have more riff variety, although they remain unrelenting in intensity.
I once said that aside from drummer Tomas Haake, Meshuggah’s reputation for flawless musicianship was slightly overrated. That wasn’t really the best choice of words. What I meant is that the technical aspects of their note selection and variation is not what is most impressive—it’s not what they play, but how and when they play it. The music requires more dexterity of mind than of fingers. What is simply baffling is why a band that has a four armed cyborg like Tomas Haake would choose to program the drums for this album. They have said that they did it to save time to get the album out, and that Haake’s drums were recorded individually, then programmed. The drums sound fantastic, and most listeners won’t be able to tell the difference, but I still can’t help feeling like Wolfgang Puck has just served me Shake n’ Bake. Clearly Haake is capable of playing the material, and this time/money saving effort is disappointing (and earned them a reduced musicianship score).
Even with that complaint, Catch 33 is sure to be on many top ten lists at the end of the year. Fans will be rabid for this album, and new listeners would also do well to start with Catch 33. It’s that good. There are plenty of bands that have followed Meshuggah’s lead, but when the originals make a statement like this, it’s hard not to sit up and take notice.
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