Monday, August 14, 2006

catch them if you can



meshuggah - 'catch thirtythree'

released: may 23rd, 2005
running time: 47'15"
nuclear blast

suggested for review by adi

songs: 1. autonomy lost 2. imprint of the un-saved 3. disenchantment 4. the paradoxical spiral 5. re-inanimate 6. entrapment 7. mind's mirrors 8. in death - is life 9. in death - is death 10. shed 11. personae non gratae 12. dehumanization 13. sum

As my more regular readers (whom I take the opportunity to thank profusely) might have noticed, I tend to value originality and creativity in the music I listen to. It's not too wrong to say that for me oddball is the new cool. I was therefore quite happy when adi suggested Meshuggah's latest for me to talk about.

Throughout their career, these Swedes have always exhibited an almost frantic need to experiment, to mutate and to stray from the regular path. For that alone they deserve high accolades. The fact that they've created some metallic masterpieces along the way is obviously very important too. No use trying to be 'experimental' just for the heck of it if the results aren't actually good.

This experimentation has, however, made Meshuggah a very difficult band to approach. Both 'Chaosphere' and 'Nothing' have been super-dense, impenetrable records (or 'boring', for the disgruntled fans who prefered the earlier releases) that require several listens to get all those trademark Fredrik Thornendal twisty riffs and the insane drum patterns of Tomas Haake. Perhaps trying to get away from this, Meshuggah went one step further in the 'I' ep, a blistering 21-minute song that was diamond-hard perfection all the way. Even if the band define this record as a musical opposite of 'I', 'Catch Thirtythree' is, essentially, 'I's bigger brother, which can be seen as both a good and a bad thing.

A good thing, because 'I's brilliance really left you hungry for more. A bad thing, because this kind of conceptual one-track composition is really hard to follow all the way through, and while it worked perfectly during 21 minutes, 47 minutes is a steep challenge. I called it one-track, because despite the 13 'songs', 'Catch Thirtythree' is really one composition divided in several movements. It blasts off from the gates - the first three songs make up one neat introduction, and a raging syncopated riff-fest it is, almost a statement of intent in reaction to the monotonous mid-pace of 'Nothing'. From then on, the rollercoaster begins - there's the rumbling low-end heaviness of songs 4 to 6, some creepy vocoder vocals with 'Mind's Mirrors', and the best part of the album, the two 'In Death' tracks. Probably the best thing they've done since 'Destroy, Erase, Improve', it's Meshuggah at their rule-bending best. The free-jazz influences they hint at during the record really show clearly here - it feels loose, frenetic and utterly addictive. The remainder of the album is made of 'Chaosphere'-like dense riffing, with another standout in the brutal closer 'Sum'.

One major let-down of 'Catch Thirtythree' is the absence of Tomas Haake. all the drums are programmed, and while that robotic feel you get from programmed drums actually fits most of the compositions, it's nevertheless a shame to not get Haake's familiar, twisted drumming driving these compositions along. Also, the more cosmic bits don't really have much going for them, except as short interludes in between the bouts of devastation.

While there is enough variation and quality all through the 47 minutes, 'Catch Thirtythree' still struggles a bit to maintain meshuggah's high standards for the whole duration, especially in some transitions that feel slightly forced. But even if the consistency isn't 100% steady (it's humanly impossible to maintain the degree of metallic excellence of 'In Death - Is Death'), this is still a bomb of a record. The aforementioned variation ensures that you won't get bored or simply overwhelmed, like on 'Nothing' or 'Chaosphere', and actually makes the heavy parts hit you an extra bit harder.

The band members have said 'I' and this record are part of an experimenting phase that's now over, so bets are on to figure out where they go next. Wherever it is, you can bet it'll be heavy.

the good: the usual high technical level, more variation in the composition ensures better dynamics, some truly fabulous 'songs'
the bad: basically a one-tracker that's not easy to sit through all the way and makes little sense with the parts taken individually, 100% programmed drums, some filler in the atmospheric bits

6 comments:

  1. I like this band. They are certainly different. I have to admit that I don't put this album on all that much. It's good once in a while, though.

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  2. Being a bit of a dinosaur I have not heard these guys, but do know of them. I remember seeing this at Wal-mart and being surprised they had it.

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  3. I have heard of, but not heard, Meshuggah, but it sounds interesting. I also like unique original sounds too. Stuff that needs extra attention, but makes it all worth it!

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  5. Yeah! Nice review man...I love Meshuggah, they're definitely pushing the boundaries. I was also kinda bummed about the programmed drumming. There was infact a bit of a controversy about the drums on the record. Mustaine supposedly claimed that the drums were so complex and so fast that he doubted that Haake could actually play them live. Then on their tour for supporting the album, Haake did a 20-minute drum solo at the start along with a programmed drum machine. Mustaine was beaten into submission when Haake totally outplayed the drum machine. I can imagine the look on Dave's face when he saw that going down. He is in my opinion one of the best drummers out there today in the metal category. There's a very cool video out there on the net with Haake and Thordendal jamming it out together at some drummer program. I'll see if I can post the name of that file, watch it and be amazed.

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  6. fred - yeah, it's not heavy on my rotation either, but when i have a long while i like putting it on, like a movie almost.

    mark - that is surprising. i guess it must be because of their successful american tours of late. but it's still pretty un-mainstream stuff! :)

    dpth - you should like meshuggah then. :) i'd start by 'destroy, erase, improve', if you plan on listening to them soon, but all their albums are good. difficult, but good.

    adi - i'm glad you liked it, it was a great suggestion! i read about that situation with dave, and i must say my admiration for haake grew even more after that (hence my bigger frustration about him not playing on this record). and i'd love to watch that video!

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