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Music / Meshuggah

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From left to right: Fredrik Thordendaal, Tomas Haake, Jens Kidman, Mårten Hagström, and Dick Lövgren
Meshuggahnote  is a Swedish metal band formed in 1987. They are well-known for their signature musical style, which involves lots of chugging, complex, polymetered song structures, loud, savage, bass-heavy riffing, unusual compositions and precise musicianship. Meshuggah has found little mainstream success as yet, but is a significant act in extreme underground music and has received significant critical acclaim.

Since its formation, Meshuggah has released eight studio albums, five EPs and eight music videos. The band has performed in various international festivals, including Ozzfest and Download, and embarked on the obZen world tour in 2008.

Current lineup:

  • Jens Kidman – lead vocals (1987–present), rhythm guitar (1987–1992)
  • Fredrik Thordendal – lead guitar, backing vocals (1987–present), lead vocals (1987-1992)
  • Tomas Haake – drums, spoken word (1990–present)
  • Mårten Hagström – rhythm guitar, backing vocals (1993–present)
  • Dick Lövgren – bass (2004–present)

Past members:

  • Niklas Lundgren – drums (1987–1990)
  • Peter Nordin – bass (1987–1995)
  • Gustaf Hielm – bass (1995–2001)

Live members:

Studio albums:

  • Contradictions Collapse (1991)
  • Destroy Erase Improve (1995)
  • Chaosphere (1998)
  • Nothing (2002)
  • Catch Thirtythree (2005)
  • obZen (2008)
  • Koloss (2012)
  • The Violent Sleep of Reason (2016)
  • Immutable (2022)

Tropes, it says. Tropes, you will:

  • Breather Episode: Each album except Chaosphere and The Violent Sleep of Reason has at least one of these, whether it's a full song, or just part of a song.
    • Contradictions Collapse - the first minute of "Choirs of Devastation"
    • Destroy Erase Improve - "Acrid Placidity"
    • Nothing - the clean interlude before the final verse of "Closed Eye Visuals"; the second half of "Straws Pulled at Random"; the first few minutes of "Obsidian"
    • Catch Thirtythree - "Mind's Mirrors", the second half of "In Death - Is Death", the end of "Sum"
    • obZen - The clean interlude before the solo part of "Bleed" and the breakdown of "Lethargica"
    • Koloss - The first lead break in "Break Those Bones Whose Sinews Gave It Motion" and "The Last Vigil"
    • Immutable - The first two minutes of "They Move Below" and "Past Tense"
  • Careful with That Axe: Uncommon, but not unheard of. "I", from the eponymous EP, has Jens screaming at the top of his voice while the music suddenly shifts into noisegrind territory. The sudden shift occurs at 1:33, right after the intro riff.
  • Concept Album: Catch Thirtythree focuses on paradoxes, though there's no specific story.
  • Cool Shades: The band wears them offstage, most notably in their video for "New Millennium Cyanide Christ"
  • Cover Version: Averted; they made a remix for "Benzin" by Rammstein with completely re-worked drum and guitar parts, completely abandoning the industrial vibe of the original song for a dirge-like feel and heavily downtuned groove metal riffs.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: Contradictions Collapse and the preceding self-titled EP, both recorded as a four-piece band with Jens Kidman playing rhythm guitar, are basically Thrash Metal with some progressive elements, as opposed to the complex and eclectic sound showcased on later works. Also, Jens Kidman's vocals are different, being a raspy half-singing-half-shouting as opposed to the strident roar he's known for. He even had hair!
  • Epic Rocking: Plenty of songs, especially more recent ones. Catch Thirtythree (47:15) and the I EP (20:59) are the longest songs, with the former being split into thirteen tracks, the longest of which ("In Death - Is Death") itself runs for 13:23. Also of note is "Elastic" (15:30), though it's Zig-Zagged by the ambience in the middle followed by a terrifying segment with all the songs on the album being played at the same time. "Dancers to a Discordant System" (9:36) plays it straighter.
  • Genre-Busting: Aside from just "metal", the band's genre causes quite a lot of confusion. Death Metal? Thrash Metal? Groove Metal? Progressive Metal? Djent? They've also been referred to as "math metal" and even "Avant-Garde Metal". Guitarist Mårten Hagström and drummer Tomas Haake are known to prefer the label "experimental metal", and referring to them as anything but will sure provoke strange reactions from the fanbase. They were even listed as nu metal on Metal Archives for several years because nobody could figure out what to call them.
  • Heroic RRoD: Tomas Haake. Considered a near-rival to Yoshiki Hayashi of X Japan when it comes to extreme, manic and relentless drumming, as he would often put his drumming abilities to the test, and drive himself to the point of exhaustion during live performances. Several of his noteworthy efforts include "Bleed" from obZen and the more recent "The Demon's Name is Surveillance" and "The Hurt That Finds You First" from Koloss.
  • Intercourse with You: Surprisingly, but at least the closing verse of "Ritual" takes the cake. Also "Ritual" as a whole could pass as an Anti-Love Song.
  • Large Ham: Jens Kidman, in an absurdly comedic way. He is known in the metal world for his forced and rubber-faced expressions in most photographs, as well as his bizarre and random antics in most of the band's music videos.
  • Last Note Nightmare:
    • "Spasm" is an oddity compared to the rest of Nothing. The guitars are tuned lower, and the song lacks much of the angularity and aggressiveness of the other songs. Combing with Haake's robotic, breathy vocals, it gets downright hypnotic, and almost serene...then the final measures kick in, bringing everything into discord with each other.
    • Close to 60% of "Elastic" from Chaosphere is a long, drawn-out Last Note Nightmare that consists of repeated riffs that come right out of nowhere, a very long, droning guitar note, followed by the final measures that consist of every riff in the album played all at once.
  • Lead Drummer: Tomas Haake enjoys this status as both the band's primary creative force and as one of the best drummers in metal. This has been cemented with the band's decision to record promotional videos of him playing drums live.
  • Literary Allusion Title: Catch Thirtythree is one to Catch-22, so titled because it is a Concept Album centring around paradoxes like the one in Heller's classic novel.
  • Long-Runner Line-up: The studio line-up has been the same since 2004. Fredrik Thordendal took a break from touring from 2017-2021, but he was still officially part of the band.
  • Loudness War: Most of their albums are clipped. It's worse on some than on others, though.
  • Mascot: This guy.
    • In general, the band has an affinity with including bald, humanoid figures in their branding and album art; as seen on the cover art of The Violent Sleep of Reason and Immutable. Rare Trax has a closeup shot of the band's tour manager instead.
  • Metal Scream: Jens' vocals are usually strained, very pissed-off Type 1 screams, though he also has a very high affinity for very loud and incredibly long Type 3 shrieks.
  • Mind Screw: The band's concept and lyrical themes.
  • Motor Mouth: Kidman. Haake too, during his spoken word parts.
  • New Sound Album: Several
    • Chaosphere has the band ditching their original thrashy sound to make way for the raw, high-gain, heavily palm muted riffing and glitchy solos that would be carried over to all their material produced since then.
    • Nothing placed an emphasis on slower-paced drum tracks, reintroduced some of the old Groove Metal touches into the mechanical guitar work, and was the first album to be written for eight-string guitars (the original release featured detuned seven-string guitars however, as the custom eight-strings they were to use for the album were faulty).
    • The Concept Album Catch Thirtythree incorporated even slower and heavier Doom Metal elements into the mix, creating a droning, dirge-like feel to some tracks. It would also be recorded with programmed drums.
    • The Violent Sleep of Reason was deliberately recorded live, as the band felt like their sound had become too clinical on the two albums that preceded it, and wanted to reintroduce a more "human" quality to their music by allowing some imperfections and nuances in the recording process.
  • One-Letter Title: The I EP.
  • Out-of-Genre Experience: The Chaosphere album brought in a lot of Harsh Noise and Industrial Metal elements, many (but not all) of which were dropped on their following releases.
    • "Ritual" from the None EP had plenty of Alternative Metal elements and a much simpler sound than their usual material.
    • "Black Cathedral" from Immutable provides a slight Black Metal feeling.
  • Piss-Take Rap: Whenever Jens isn't screaming like a madman in their songs, he usually does this.
  • Scary Musician, Harmless Music: Inverted; aside from the weird faces they make in pictures sometimes, they overall seem like pretty harmless, down-to-earth guys, and despite their lyrics, they do have a sense of humor and a highly positive outlook. But their music is dark, crushing, incomprehensible, and almost inhuman.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: The band has a fondness for loading their songs with impenetrable jargon, with Tomas Haake (the main lyricist) picking really intricate words for his lyrics.
  • Serial Escalation: Trying to follow the polyrhythms in many Meshuggah songs is extremely difficult, and gets even more difficult as you go from song to song. There was once an article written in Music Theory Spectrum magazine which dissected the structure of just the main riff of "Rational Gaze," and the first three minutes of "I" (see the link in Uncommon Time below). The article was over 20 pages long, and had almost a dozen diagrams.
  • Shout-Out: The title of the song "Break Those Bones Whose Sinews Gave It Motion" comes from a line by Nobel Peace Prize winner Albert Schweitzer.
    "Revenge... is like a rolling stone, which, when a man hath forced up a hill, will return upon him with a greater violence, and break those bones whose sinews gave it motion."
  • Signature Style: Metalheads frequently cite the band as the Trope Maker for djent; the genre's name itself being derived from the sound of their signature palm-muted and heavily-bent guitar riffs. The band, however, has done everything from slow and heavy Groove Metal with sparse beats akin to Pantera's slower material and arrythmic, discordant and extremely noisy metal with loads of chugging, atonal leadwork, and digital effects.
  • Spoken Word in Music: Drummer Tomas Haake dominates this trope in an unholy fashion. Some examples can be listened in songs like "Spasm", "The Exquisite Machinery of Torture" and "Dancers to a Discordant System".
  • Step Up to the Microphone: played straight with Haake's spoken-word parts, Averted with Kirk Hammett's guest solo on one of the live performances of "Bleed".
  • Stylistic Suck: The music video for "New Millennium Cyanide Christ," a song about a man who sacrifices his humanity to become a sufficiently advanced cyborg, and seeks to reshape the whole world in his hellish image, consists of Hagström, Thordendal and Hielm air-guitaring, Haake air-drumming, and Kidman lip-synching(badly) into an ink pen, all while wearing ridiculous sunglasses on their tour bus. They reportedly were extremely drunk at the time.
    • The entirety of Chaosphere in general is this, with the band eschewing the highly-structured compositions of their previous releases for a massive wall of chugging riffs, electronic noises, and pissed-off screams.
    • The "Mr. Kidman Delirium Version" music video for "Rational Gaze" which is just a handicam of Jens Kidman performing as his bandmates, with the help of different wigs, including an afro, all while making ridiculous faces. The shots focusing on him "singing" make gratuitous usage of Jitter Cam too.
    • Invoked on their decision to record The Violent Sleep of Reason live; as per Tomas Haake, they disliked the perfection and clinical sterility of the past two releases, and they wanted the minor imperfections in timing and people sometimes playing out of step with one another that recording live sometimes entailed so as to provide a warmer and more human feel to the album.
  • Subdued Section: Several songs have them. A couple of examples are the lengthy instrumental break of "In Death - Is Death" and the end of "Sum", but there are several others.
  • Surprisingly Gentle Song: "Acrid Placidity", "Unanything", "The Last Vigil" and "Past Tense". All of them are instrumentals.
  • Title Track: "obZen" and "Violent Sleep of Reason".
  • Techno Babble: Whenever they aren't writing philosophical or abstract lyrics.
  • Three Chords and the Truth: They have written songs with only two or three notes. Zig-Zagged, though, because what they lack in complexity of melody, they make up for in complexity of rhythm - see Uncommon Time below. They've still got a handful of pretty melodic stuff though, standout examples include "Black Cathedral", "Dancers to a Discordant System" and the second half of "Straws Pulled at Random".
  • Trope Maker: For Djent
  • Uncommon Time: Frequently considered the rivals to toolnote  in taking this trope up to eleven, but arguably subverted or (again) Zig-Zagged. According to Hagström, they're not that big on odd time signatures. Almost all of their music is based on a 4/4 centre, no matter how far out the rhythms wander; "Dancers to a Discordant System" was written in 6/8 and "Spasm" is in 7/4. That being said, they are no doubt masters of polyrhythms; this article barely scratches the surface. Most of the odd feeling of their songs comes from their unique style: all the guitar and bass is played in rhythm with the kick drum, while the hi-hat is in a slightly different, more conventional meter.
  • Updated Re-release: A rare musical example of this (besides the standard reissues with bonus tracks that nearly every band has): The Nothing album was re-released with rerecorded guitars, new programmed drum tracks, and some other minor changes because the band was dissatisfied with the production of the initial release.
  • Vocal Tag Team: Kidman and Haake.
  • Word Salad Lyrics: Their lyrics sound like the mad ramblings of someone who just did crystal meth after binge-reading philosophy books, which can leave listeners scratching their heads.
  • Xtreme Kool Letterz: "Rare Trax", a compilation album of unreleased songs.