Thirty-five years into their career, the Swedish arch innovators are set to deliver another peerless masterpiece.
2022 has got off to a spectacularly heavy start with the announcement of ‘Immutable’, the new Meshuggah album, due to drop on 1st April.
This is no April fools. Knotfest spent Friday evening listening to the new album in an exclusive listening session, followed by a press conference on Zoom.
What can we say? It’s Meshuggah – as other bands have fallen back on the tired old tropes of heavy metal, they have ploughed forward into modernity like an unstoppable juggernaut.
‘Immutable’ comprises thirteen tracks and clocks in at 66 minutes – making it Meshuggah’s longest album. Drummer Tomas Haake represented Meshuggah at the listening session.
He spoke before we pressed play about the band’s wish to have calmer sections amidst the customary maelstrom, as well as the ‘old school’ dynamism of their first two albums, rather than simply ‘a chunk of non-stop, full-volume everything’.
In the press release for the album, guitarist Mårten Hagström elaborates: ‘This album is more melodic. It’s longer and in my opinion it’s more dynamic than most of our albums. Put it this way, we have put 13 tracks together, in an order that makes the album flow in a natural way. Some parts are really slow and mellow. It has got a lot more of the stuff that we feel has become important as we’ve grown older. The kind of stuff that ties music together. Okay, so ‘Chaosphere’ [Meshuggah’s 1998 mainstream metal breakthrough] is awesome, it’s frantic, it’s erratic and it’s aggressive, but it’s nothing else. That’s what it is. This album has frantic and aggressive stuff, there’s plenty, but it also has lots of other stuff.’
Well, opener “Broken Cog” comes at you like a flying slab of concrete – it begins with a palm-muted syncopated barrage. But the first surprise of this record is Jens Kidman’s spoken-word introduction as spectral guitars dance like the celestial ballet of the northern lights. By the time the groove breaks, we are left in no doubt that this is the Meshuggah of ‘Koloss’ (2012) – exhibiting a more stripped back, bludgeoning sound than on 2016’s ‘The Violent Sleep of Reason’.
But when has Meshuggah ever kept it simple and straightforward for long?
We don’t want to tease you too hard this far in advance of the album coming out, but suffice to say the following: “Light the Shortening Fuse” parries and feints like a heavyweight in their prime; “Phantoms” showcases some of that lighter touch fretwork and dynamics, recalling early Tool on the one hand, and as it unfurls, Meshuggah’s own off-kilter song “Stengah”, from twenty years ago on the ‘Nothing’ album; strange, roaring sub-tones surface intermittently during “God He Sees In Mirrors”; the nine-and-a-half minute “They Move Below” is an instrumental centrepiece where light-touch intricacy opens out to legato guitar sweeps and then staccato confrontation; “Black Cathedral” is a gut-punch, tremolo-picked guitar-only tribute to second-wave black metal; there’s the creeping malevolence of the outro of “Faultless” with Kidman’s voice pitch-shifted down to deliver a doomladen commandment; and, finally, the city-flattening breakdown of “Armies of the Preposterous” paves the way for album closer “Past Tense”, which recalls the sonorous, clean tones and soothing calm after the storm of “The Last Vigil” from ‘Koloss’.
The album was mostly recorded at Sweetspot Studios in Halmstad, in the band’s native Sweden. But Meshuggah made the most of the pandemic situation, piecing it together wherever and whenever they could. Kidman recorded his vocals at his home studio, and returning guitarist Fredrik Thordendal ended his hiatus from the band, laying down his solos at his own Studio 33. And what a remarkable collection of progressive, Allan Holdsworth-inspired jazz fusion solos they are. We’ve missed Thordendal on tour with Meshuggah, but he’s clearly been practising his lead work.
In the Q&A that followed the playback, Haake talked about the way the band writes music almost as a process of synaesthesia: ‘The way we write music comes from a visual aspect. We see each song and even each riff as a particular type of visual.’ He noted that Mårten Hagström has more material on this album than ever before, giving it a more cinematic quality.
When he was asked how the band has maintained its sound within a varied discography, Haake attributed it to the ‘inherent’ nature of the band. He spoke about how even when taking out Jens Kidman’s vocals on the instrumental “They Move Below”, what he described as atypical for Meshuggah – almost a stoner song – it was immediately identifiable as the band. He described how the band asks whether a song is ‘immediately us’ or ‘maybe us’ and if a song fulfils the former description, the song makes the cut.
Haake also described the solid framework the band puts around its songs when they are writing. They were keen to ‘throw things around’ within that for ‘Immutable’. They kept the sequencing and transitions between songs as fresh and exciting as possible.
The band took their cues for the ebb and flow of the album from the records they enjoyed growing up. Metallica’s ‘Master of Puppets’ was a big inspiration. They even had the working title of “Orion 2” for “They Move Below”. Haake commented that they didn’t want to be afraid to lose the momentum of an album by having quieter sections.
He banged the table as he insisted the record be treated as an album rather than a collection of ‘fucking tracks’. Though he demurred at the idea of playing the whole album live, saying he thought it was too long to exclude other songs from their back catalogue.
As for the album’s title, Haake spoke about humankind being set on a relentless path of self-destruction, represented by the burning man brandishing a knife on the cover, as created by visual artist Luminokaya: ‘the bleakness of where we are at this point in the world is bound to come rushing through every member of the band and have a direct influence on everything you write,’ he said.
To our ears, ‘Immutable’ represents a thrilling balance between a band standing strong in its sense of self, and a world gone to hell. It’s everything Meshuggah stands for.
We’ll be digging into the album in more detail with the band as that April release date approaches.