Meshuggah – Immutable Review

Some 35 years and eight full-length albums into their career, what is there left to say about progressive Swedish tech titans Meshuggah that hasn’t been said before? While a lot has happened in the world in the six years since the Swedish innovators last released an album, 2016’s The Violent Sleep of Reason, it’s fair to say that, at this point, we have a pretty good sense of what we’re getting. Almost clinically complex arrangements, syncopated polyrhythms, impossibly technical guitar lines, Jens Kidman’s trademark venomous bark … With the possible exception of 1991’s thrash-tinged, and rather mixed debut, Contradictions CollapseMeshuggah have been instantly recognizable for three decades. Legendary moments are scattered across a stunningly consistent career, from the monstrous “Exquisite Machinery of Torture” and mindbending discomfort of “Elastic” on Chaosphere to the crunching bile of “Rational Gaze” and “Spasm” (Nothing), and the god-level drumming of Tomas Haake on the likes of “Bleed” (ObZen) and “Clockworks” (The Violent Sleep of Reason). It’s been a long time since Meshuggah had anything left to prove, but what do they still have to offer?

Meshuggah is often accused of failing to evolve or change. That accusation is misplaced. While it’s certainly true that their unique style means it requires just one guitar line from Fredrik Thordendal or a single snarl from Kidman to know it’s Meshuggah, exactly how they’ve deployed that has changed subtly from record to record. Immutable picks up where The Violent Sleep of Reason left off, feeling freer than Meshuggah‘s precise technicality has sounded in many a year. That statement needs to be understood in the context of what Messhuggah is. Do not expect Immutable to be some free-wheeling prog outing. The album is still a brutal, dense slab of hugely technical, abrasive metal that is unquestionably Meshuggah. And yet Immutable finds the band in a—relatively—playful mood. Indeed, the album opens in unexpected fashion on “Broken Cog,” as slow but insistent drumming, a repeating, drawn-out atonal guitar line and hoarse whispered vocals usher in almost 70 minutes of skull-crushing ferocity.

Across Immutable‘s considerable run time, Meshuggah have a sort of vibrant energy I’ve not felt from them for some time, with the chugging intensity of “Phantoms” and the syncopated frenzy of “God He Sees in Mirrors” perfect examples of this. It’s the moments of, dare I say, calm that infuse Immutable, however, which really confound expectations. The first time that I heard the discordant fury of “God He Sees in Mirrors” abate and flow into the strummed acoustic opening sections of “They Move Below,” which wouldn’t feel out of place on a Tool album, I asked myself: what have Meshuggah become? Of course, they’ve not become anything except a band which, at this point in its career, can do whatever it wants while remaining themselves. Whether it’s the furious pace set by Haake on the stellar advance track “The Abysmal Eye” or the distorted, crawling guitar lines of percussion-less interlude “The Black Cathedral,” Meshuggah don’t much care what we want, knowing that we’ll lap up what we’re given.

There is no point whatsoever in me commenting here on the flawless technical musicianship on show on Immutable. With Meshuggah, that has been a given for over 30 years. What is worth touching on, however, is the tone in which they wrote and recorded Immutable. While the band may be immutable—unchanging over time or not capable of being changed—Immutable itself sounds warmer and more organic than Meshuggah has for years. Without sacrificing any of the precision that is now de rigeur for these Swedish legends, some of the calculating, metronomic sound has given way to a more textured, relaxed feel. Paired with the frequent changes in tempo and mood (compare “Ligature Marks” with “The Faultless,” for example), it feels like Meshuggah have, maybe, relaxed a little. Thorendal and Mårten Hagström’s guitar play is as intricate as ever and Dick Lövgren’s bass gets slapped about like Chris Rock,1 while Haake remains in another dimension entirely behind the kit and Kidman’s barks pack as much bite as ever but, as with The Violent Sleep of Reason, it feels like they’re enjoying themselves.

There is no getting away, however, from how long Immutable is. The only record in Meshuggah‘s catalogue over an hour, for all its greatness, Immutable feels long. And, while warmer sounding than the likes of ObZen or Koloss, Immutable is also loud, which makes it a slightly tiring aural experience as one approaches, and then passes, the 60-minute mark. I really enjoyed Immutable and love that it feels like Meshuggah cutting free, without losing their essence or descending into some concept piece, but it could do with some serious trimming to really harness the vitality on show from these tech metal luminaries.


Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 187 kbps mp3
Label: Atomic Fire
Websites: meshuggah.net | facebook.com/meshuggah
Releases Worldwide: April 1st, 2022

Show 1 footnote

  1. Too soon. – Steel
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