From the bottom of my heart, I truly do not know how exactly to best introduce someone to Meshuggah; much less how to begin a review of yet another tectonic paradigm shift neatly wrapped up as their latest (and longest; 67 minutes) 13 track LP – Immutable. As a self-diagnosed ultra-punisher and borderline-disciple of the band, the privilege of sharing my piece on my all-time favorite band’s imminently forthcoming new record is impossible to understate. Umeå, Sweden’s heaviest export returned to the studio almost exactly one year ago to etch yet another dissonant and gracious sonic offering into the core of the earth, and the time is finally here for the masses to both gather in anticipation and brace for its inevitable impact. I don’t believe it would be possible for anyone to feel an adequate sense of preparation before an hour of being crushed by and finally being left trembling in its wake. I could tell you that they’ve “done it already” or that the band has simply “thrown all their back catalog into a blender” – as true as those statements may be on the surface, in a much broader sense they more importantly lack an ample amount of depth and substance necessary to convey the overall girth of their greatest release since 2005’s Catch 33.
I’ll try my best. Here we go.
“Broken Cog” begins from the very instant you press play. See for yourselves. Guitarist/primary songwriter Mårten Hagström and longtime bassist Dick Lövgren appear to have made the very deliberate decision to take the audience’s breath away immediately and without warning. Building upon the initial percussive and polymetric ostinato that borders on a primitive tribal incantation, the addition of Fredrik Thorendal’s signature drone accompaniment begins 0:33, another seemingly-deliberate decision to pay homage to the aforementioned Catch 33, immediately sets the mood knob to extremely dark for the remaining 60+ minutes of groove study. Just as vocalist Jens Kidman utters quietly, “the trap was sprung…the chasm beneath us will open and swallow the rest”, the ceiling above shatters and the ground beneath your feet has been dematerialized. Think “Dancers to a Discordant System” or even “I Am Colossus” brought into the present age, only to pummel your eardrums with a Sabbath-esque dooming and tritonus throng courtesy of the string trio above. Kidman seems to escape the tug of the leash for only about a minute in the intro’s final climactic moments before ducking back down to build tension before the album’s lead single reminds you exactly why you were allowed to taste it first.
Album order/flow is never overlooked by this bunch even in the slightest, and the placement of “The Abysmal Eye” and “Light the Shortening Fuse” being right after such a daunting leadoff is musically an “ace in the hole” with regards to how A-list artists oversee an upcoming record’s rollout process. Familiarity collides with added context in such a way that is bound to soothe the palettes of any of those at home who may have been left wanting something more or different out of these early offerings. Safe delivery of the product aside, I’m personally hard-pressed to find any objections to these first two singles — from the first time they were imprinted on my brain. If anything, “LTSF” may – in my opinion – stand the test of time stronger and more firmly than “TAE”. The lead track brings the audience raw speed and visceral aggression in a deeply accessible manner, while the mid-tempo bounce riffs interjecting all throughout the literal-djent in the sophomore single simply add a healthy pinch of tasteful vibes to better round out the first quarter of this record.
The next chunk of uncharted waters begins with “Phantoms”. Go ahead and snag yourself a neck brace before you sit down for this one, if you sit down at all. Turn the volume up. Loud. Louder. Right below headache-levels of loudness. Dance around the downbeat with the band. It’s fun. This song really is just straight up FUN to listen to. I’d believe it if it were presented to me as an Animals as Leaders or even a Volumes track. Upbeat Meshuggah in 2022…genuinely wild to take this one in. Just shy of the 3 minute mark, you find yourself alone with a single guitar track insisting that it is time to run. Remember that neck brace you bought for this one? I honestly wouldn’t recommend taking it off for the remainder of the record. If that extended bottom-string polymetric riff doesn’t make you go full-on demon mode, your volume isn’t quite loud enough. From the cliffhanger ending of song 4 which left us suspended in silence and hanging by the throat, we’re swiftly beaten back into a fleshy pulp by the now-familiar groove that first hooked everybody in from the first album teaser: “Ligature Marks”. Way more than simply just “Break Those Bones II” as some will say in reference to the lead single picked from 2012’s Koloss cycle: a few Reddit posts even insisted at first that this video was an inauthentic clone who was playing it off as Meshuggah prior to the band’s confirmation upon announcement; this song is another fine addition to an already stellar repertoire of singular-theme-driven, extended studies on compositional minimalism centered around groove. Where some of the more impatient listeners might have written this track off as seeming “barebones” in its delivery, I feel just as strongly that it should be noted how Thorendal has once again proven that less is indeed more when it comes to layering droney or lyrical lead segments on top of a constant theme, in the form of an unwavering rhythmic backbone.
With an eerily-similar instantaneous slap across the face for an introductory hook, we approach the halfway milestone at the base of the objectively-gargantuan structure of “God He Sees in Mirrors” (Gotti’s Seasoned Mirrors? This is the part where you give my tired ol’ brain a well-deserved pity laugh…take your time). Centered around what I can honestly only adequately depict as a frantic racquetball match set to a robotic, almost percussively-accurate rhythmic accompaniment, this cut may end up serving as a not-so-gentle reminder of the increasing muscle tension building in your neck and upper-back that I can only assume has been inevitably and predictably worsening with every passing song. Final harmonic refrains eventually will give way to the most unexpectedly-breathtaking song throughout the entire record. Arriving back to the now-chronic “33” trope the band has cemented through private studio usage or even in the form of boutique outboard effects pedals, 33 whole-ass years of pioneering their own special brand of dissonance in extended range instruments have all led to this – the staggering, nearly 10 minute instrumental epic entitled “They Move Below” (Nothing’s exit cut, “Obsidian”, doesn’t count and I can only hope that all of y’all feel me on exactly why I make this assertion so firmly). This song is as beautiful in the initial two and a half minutes as it is unrelenting from the first distorted guitar run. Rest assured, however, for the fact of the matter still remains – and always will – that this song was held to the same ironclad standards as every other one you’ve come to love with Jens’ screeches leading the pack. Dense, intimidating, bold, truly immutable; I’m quite curious if another track on this album has more innate replay value by itself, (maybe especially) even without and completely devoid of prior or proceeding musical context. I’ll move on by leaving this sentiment with one more word: impressive. In every sense of the word.
And yet that wasn’t enough ground for these titans to break. If I can both skim over “Kaleidoscope” and still convey the need for another dose of ibuprofen (if survival is your goal), this subtle reminder of the Violent Sleep-er pick that is “Our Rage Won’t Die” is truly a brilliant segue back to the vocal-free zone packed up and delivered under the name “Black Cathedral”. What an apt title. The shortest cut from the band’s longest record has only ever left me wanting more. The album’s release has likely reduced much of the need to avoid musical spoilers in this kind of review-type setting, but if only for the sake of genuinely savoring this one yourself I implore you to curate your own closed-eye atmosphere in which to immerse yourself in this far-more traditional Scandinavian tremolo passage leading you towards the LP’s third and final single. “I Am That Thirst” was noticed in real-time to wash away the lion’s share of doubts and apprehensions amongst an already anxious and eager online fanbase. Watching the court of public opinion shift so dramatically across most of the inhabited world was a heartwarming way to spend that specific Thursday evening, to say the least.
And WHEW, that f u c k i n g ending…good lord man.
Alright, we’ve made it through 10 out of 13 tracks. Game face.
“The Faultless” packs such a decisive punch, following suit with a huge chunk of introductory grooves that do not allow any sort of prep time. This one, instead, turns the clocks back to 2002; hell, even 1995 Meshuggah can be observed once the arpeggiated bridge shows its face. As if to effectively put a pretty little bow on a discography which already stands tall without any postured bookending or superficial musical gimmicks, your trebuchet-trajectory above and around the barline suddenly plops you flat on your ass to bear witness to another shocking allusion to riffs past. My first impressions sent my mind on a direct collision course with the likes of “Closed Eye Visuals” off of Nothing or perhaps dating further back all the way to the first verse from “Sublevels” which rounds out the very rear of Destroy. Erase. Improve. Drummer/lyricist (and, admittedly, a personal hero of mine) Tomas Haake chose such an unexpected melancholy mood to, in my opinion, fall in place with the tangible tone conveyed by the melodic accompaniment so that together they may be more profoundly impactful as a sum rather than that of which it’s comprised.
“Heartbreak, bereavement, and despair…”
As comparatively as I tend to think when I describe parts of this record, I would be remiss if I failed to mention – even in jest – that “Armies of the Preposterous” must have been given the early working title “The Demon’s Maiden Name is also Surveillance”. I mean like, come on. This new take on displaced 9/8 triplet patterns is a massive “fuck you” to those who sit complacent in disdain, who offer little to the conversation but their own stagnant and stubborn dissent. If the trick-floorboards didn’t leave your body suspended in mid-air as if it was all one giant Looney Tunes punchline at the :57 mark of this song, I have to assume that it already vanished in the wake of the riff long ago. Try as you might, but at this point of the record we both know that your neck is too sore to react appropriately. Mine isn’t too far behind you, and I’m just the dweeb writing about it.
Aleve is gonna give you more bang for your buck, just something to keep in mind for your next deep dive.
But nonetheless, the towering arsenal of modern & vintage tube amps have been set to clean for one final piece. This one brought a tear to my eye, entirely due to the idea behind the song’s namesake: “Past Tense”. No amount of recapitulation or common thematic basis quite holds up to this stellar meditative beacon in the shape of the number 33 – as in Catch 33. If the song “Mind’s Mirrors” propagated its species with the extended-outro from “In Death – Is Death”, the results would surely spawn Immutable’s closing number. I was so personally fulfilled by their paying homage to such a niche facet of their past selves. Could I have bared to hear one more bone-breaking groove to end my trip through what realistically could very well be the final Meshuggah album? Of course I could. Shit, round all the way up to 20 while you’re at it. I could just as easily binge my way through hours upon hours of this very type of dissonant ambience. Beggars can’t be choosers.
I hope to god that Immutable won’t be the aging-band’s final offering, but having to consider such a possibility can only bring me comfort in knowing that they will have bowed out at the absolute peak atop the very same mountain they raised themselves. Hoping I’m wrong; I can only congratulate Meshuggah on all of their endless accomplishments, and extend my deepest gratitude for doing the work to which they’ve devoted their entire adult lives.
“Vision will blind. Severance ties. Median am I. True are all lies.”
FFO: power, ego death, music