Meshuggah_Destroy Erase ImproveThe passage of time can seem like it’s moving so fucking fast that its almost surreal when sorting through candidates for the Yer Metal is Olde feature, and then suddenly realizing a significant album has crept up to a milestone anniversary which cannot be ignored. Such was the case when it dawned on me that Meshuggah’s groundbreaking sophomore classic Destroy Erase Improve celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2015. Where did the time go? Long before the ridiculously stupid ‘djent’ term was coined, this innovative troupe of gifted metal musicians from Sweden was tinkering with something special. The seeds were planted early with their underrated debut Contradictions Collapse, a rough around the edges slab of thrashy Master of Puppets-inspired metal which contained just enough twists and curve-balls to hint at Meshuggah’s budding potential. 1994’s None EP had a far more unique and complex rhythmic style which formed a tantalizing prelude to the greatness that would follow. Said greatness was achieved merely a year later when the band dropped Destroy Erase Improve on unsuspecting metalheads and Meshuggah promptly etched their name in the history books.

Although complex arrangements and technical musicianship had well and truly been established in heavy metal, Meshuggah’s fiercely challenging and mind-bending take on extreme metal was something remarkably fresh and inventive. Destroy Erase Improve was ahead of its time and remains a landmark technical metal release that defies easy categorization. Meshuggah’s early thrash and death roots were wound tightly into an off-kilter and initially jarring sound spring-loaded with polyrhythms, odd time signatures, prog and jazz fusion elements and an experimental streak. So while Destroy Erase Improve’s technical mindfuckery was impressive and became their trademark, it would mean sweet nothing if it didn’t result in engaging songwriting. Thankfully Destroy delivered in spades. Propelled by twisty dynamics, aggressive energy and a keen sense of groove and melody, Destroy Erase Improve swiftly detonates stuttering blow after blow like a space-age battering ram with its wires crossed. The strange and fluid songs come off as coherent and memorable despite the intricate oddities contained within, but perhaps the most telling example of Destroy’s lasting legacy is just how intense and cutting edge the album still sounds 20 years later.

Classic opener “Future Breed Machine” sets the tone early and is one of numerous highlights on an album defined nearly as much for its consistency as its innovation. The song’s rapid short-circuiting rhythms and rewired thrash was unlike anything in metal at the time and when combined with the jazzy mid-song melodic break and Fredrik Thordendal’s brain-melting guitar work, Meshuggah boldly ripped down any notion of conventional metal. The syncopated stomp of “Soul Burn” gets downright groovy and the ridiculously tricky drum battery and fusion shredding at the song’s midpoint is to die for. Perfectly positioned instrumental “Acrid Placidity” demonstrated Meshuggah’s restrained and soulful side, before the fractured staccato crunch of the confusingly titled “Inside What’s Within Behind” takes hold and ramps up the intensity again. I could single out virtually every track for praise, but it’s an exercise in futility considering the overall quality of each and every song.

Meshuggah

Drumming kingpin Tomas Haake’s signature style and technical ability was the formidable linchpin binding the dense riffage and liquid shredding of Thordendal and powerhouse rhythm playing of Mårten Hagström. The latter made his debut here and no doubt played a critical role in tightening up Meshuggah’s attack with surgical precision and helping fulfill their unique vision. Say what you will about Jens Kidman’s unusual vocals but the dude’s harsh shouts and growls, not to mention his excellent phrasing, fit the Meshuggah sound like a well worn glove, working like an extra rhythmic instrument and lending Meshuggah’s music a harsher edge.

While I concede I’m no fanboy and some of Meshuggah’s later work has been a little patchy, Destroy Erase Improve remains a landmark album of its era and in my own development as a metalhead. I remember being gobsmacked and admittedly a little overwhelmed by the jittery rhythms and technicality of the album. Yet I was compelled to persevere through the challenges and one of the most enjoyable aspects was tracking the maze-like structures and rhythmic patterns which have rubbed off on me with my lasting enjoyment of technical and progressive metal.

There’s fierce debate on what is the best Meshuggah album and while I concede they manipulated their sound in even more ambitious ways on subsequent releases like Chaosphere and Nothing, Destroy Erase Improve will always hold an extra special place in my heart and is arguably one of the most important and influential metal albums of the 90s.


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  • Kronos

    This album is just really fucking good. I’m a fan of everything meshuggah has done since and am very excited for a potential release next year. Great review.

    • Pimpolho

      I was actually surprised you were not the one doing this review.

    • DoublePedalGangstaMetal

      For me None is by far the best work they ever did. Still get vexed about it only being an EP.

  • The Forever People

    Had this on cassette when it was first released,And I wore the fucker out!

  • Aaron

    Hmm.. yes, this will be a nice change of pace that will both give me an excuse to stop listening to Under the Red Cloud, which absolutely should have made your Record o’ the Month list, as well as enjoy one of my favorite albums ever not by Amorphis, the artists behind such modern classics as “Under the Red Cloud.”

    • Diabolus_in_Muzaka

      I’m looking for a very melodic but still heavy record from Finland that came out in 2015. Any suggestions?

      • Monsterth Goatom

        Finland, eh? Hmmmm. Not much strikes a bell. I’ve heard this guy is very popular there:

        • sir_c

          He got carried away by the coppers though

      • brutal_sushi

        What about the new Kauan? Yes its Russian, but its sung in finnish.

      • 1 Screaming Dizbuster

        False Lights by Pressure Points come to mind

        • Diabolus_in_Muzaka

          Thanks y’all (BrutalSushi’s included here!). I’ll get on checking those out more fully ASAP. Full disclosure though, it was mainly a joke to get Aaron up there to mention “Under the Red Cloud” again.

  • John Mosley

    These guys are living legends. Meshuggah and Opeth form the bedrock of my heavy metal aesthetic development. And fuck this alleged ‘djent’ genre. Do not go ‘djent-le’.

    • Heifer Madness

      To me, “djent” means “pale imitation of Meshuggah”.

      • Steve

        Agreed, I’ve said that numerous times every time that word turns up to describe some new band. Its just a legitimised way of saying you’re ripping off Meshuggah.

        • Jesse

          Some bands do it well. I mean, ah, one band. But Animals as Leaders has a lot more to it than picking a dissonant interval and spamming it back and forth on a 16 string guitar, even though they’re classified as “djent” by some.

  • Oscar Albretsen

    It’s a great album, but I don’t think I’ve listened to it in at least three years. Happens to alot of classics in my CD collection unfortunately. I know the music’s great and I went through a phase where I was listening to it constantly, so now when I’m picking stuff to listen to these tend to get overlooked for something I haven’t heard so many times, even if it was years ago. Maybe I’ll make my way into the garage and dust off this one and some stuff like Dark Tranquillity’s “The Gallery,” At the Gates’ “Slaughter of the Soul” and In Flames’ “The Jester Race” and have a super enjoyable little retro fest. Albums this good don’t deserve to collect any dust.

  • Legendary album. Come to think of it can’t really think of the last time they put out something less than stellar after this one.

  • You wot m8?

    You know, I’ve never actually put forth time to investigate Meshuggah. One of those bands I’ve just passed by when selecting what to listen to. BUT NO MORE! Today is the day I dive deep, deep into their musical work and see what I find. Any suggestions? Favorite songs? Albums to avoid?

    • Aaron

      This, the EP I, and ObZen are probably my favorites. Also, their Alive live DVD is really good, though not as good as Martyr’s Havoc in Quebec (which is the best concert DVD I’ve ever seen.)

    • Matthew Jeffreys

      Start with the track Millenium Cyanide Christ and then the rest of the Chaosphere album. I really feel like this is when they hit their stride. Later albums Nothing and Obzen are great albums too, the track Bleed from the latter has some of the most insane drumming rhythms you’ll ever hear!

    • Luke_22

      I think this album is the perfect starting point to delve into Meshuggah. Once you get into the groove, I’d recommend Chaosphere, Nothing and Catch 33. Their other stuff hasn’t hit me quite as hard, but it’s all pretty solid stuff.

    • AndySynn

      I actually think the last album was one of their best, as it had some of their outright best songwriting, and only one weak song (in my opinion).

      Both “The Demon’s Name Is Surveillance” and “The Hurt That Finds You First” hearken back to their Thrash roots (and are both frantic-as-fuck), while the ending triptych of “Break These Bones…”, “Swarm”, and “Demiurge” is pure future Death Metal intensity.

      • Diabolus_in_Muzaka

        Agreed with it being one of their best. That verse riff in “Demiurge” is absolutely massive. Also, the demented blues soloing in “Do Not Look Down” is amazing. Out of curiosity, what was the weak song here for you?

        • AndySynn

          “Behind The Sun”. There’s just not really much to it. Every other track really defines its place in the overall flow and feel of the album, even the (purposefully) anticlimactic finale… but that one is just kind of “there”.

  • Thatguy

    This album is the very definition of a classic. As good today as ever it was.

  • testiklees

    This album dropped at a tender age of 21, and good lord I dont think theres been another release that has had such an impact in the past quarter-century. Djent or not, these dudes spawned a genre that permeates metal to this day. Chaosphere was a personal fav, but DEI is a fucking crusher.

  • Baax Brewing

    I’ll never forget the first time I heard it, a mate and I were in KL, Malaysia, we had picked up a couple of tapes for the walkman. My friend got Wolverine Blues and i got this, back at the hotel and pissed on duty free rum we each stuck an earpiece in and hit play, Future Breed Machine bust forth and blew our minds, that was that, instant fans.

  • Wilhelm

    I never got what the big deal about Meshuggah was. It always sounded to me like some random angry dude barking over a bunch of fear factory slam riffs with very little melody. They also had some technical stuff so I’m sorry to devalue them or their importance to whatever the hell scene they created, I just thought they were boring as hell.

  • Steve

    I started with Chaosphere then moved on to this album, and it was a little bit of a letdown following on from that album. Took me a while to fully get into it. Still a landmark album in metal.

  • mtlman1990

    Devin Townsend said it best “(While we all have lots of bands who influence still… we all rip off Meshuggah!

  • Marc L

    l have to agree about this article. Meshuggah was “djent” loooong before “djent” was even a word,let alone trendy.

  • Dead1

    Was just listening to this last night. It’s without a doubt their best album. They managed to match polyrythmic and offkilter madness with actual song writing. They slowly loss this ability as time got on and at times they turned into a parody of themselves.
    I think it’s one of the most influential albums of the 1990s along with SYL’s City