Immutable by MeshuggahRelease date: April 1, 2022
Label: Atomic Fire Records
Since I last endeavoured to review an album from Sweden’s Meshuggah, my understanding of the extremities of the heavier genres has much improved. For their 9th studio album, Immutable, the quintet have taken some brave decisions in terms of expanding their sound. Guitarist Mårten Hagström explains “For us, it wasn’t all that clear that we were making a new album. We knew we could do it, but did we want to do it?…We had to decide, are we doing this or what else are we doing? After a long, long discussion, we agreed on certain things. We would make an album with as few restraints as possible”.
Throughout the 13 tracks, the band have introduced melodic elements yet the overall sound is still utterly brutal and as ever, loaded with technical playing and complex rhythms that confound with every listen. Opening with the slow grinding groove of ‘Broken Cog’, eery yet melodic guitar chimes flicker as vocalist Jens Kidman whispers (!) in your ears. It’s quite a different sound for Meshuggah and most encouraging for me, as this music really pushes my levels of comfort. As the track contorts into a heavier set of riffs, Jens returns in full growling voice, booming “CHAOS!!!!! FOCUS!!!!” before the track shudders to a halt. Wow.
I recently watched a short film on YouTube where a blogger tries to explain how drummer Tomas Haake performs his incredible percussive feats. I was stunned at how easy he makes these astoundingly complex rhythms look to play. It was explained how the underpinning beats allow guitarists Mårten Hagström and Fredrik Thordendal to make it sound like they are playing in weird time signatures, yet it’s effectively 4/4. Watching the film makes the outlandish twisted riffs and beats of ‘The Abysmal Eye’ more sensible to a discerning listener like me. I kept coming back to this album, not just because I needed to for review, but because I was actually really enjoying this relentless music. These grinding riffs and Dick Lövgren’s gut wrenching bass lines are deeply hypnotic. Previously my ears logged into Jens’s vocals too much, when it’s primarily all about the music, his vocals actually act as an instrument too.
A storming track like ‘Light The Shortening Fuse’ is a slippery bastard to get hold of. The technicality of these punishing riffs and Tomas’s drumming hit new heights of complexity. Then the brilliant breakdown drops as the drums become merely thunderous and there’s a little oasis of melodic guitar work. I need a little something to allow room to breathe, then we’re back into the tumultuous fury. Itchy riffs chisel out a granite hard set of riffs in ‘Phantoms’ that in another world, might actually work as the theme music for a superhero movie. There’s a whole new level of thought going into the tracks on this album, the band really seem intent on trying out new ideas and the record is more vibrant for it. The swathes of soaring guitars at the end adding real appeal to someone whose ears are more into melody than might.
Tomas’s drums stop and start like mighty hammer blows on ‘Ligature Marks’, as Jens sparingly matches the groove with some restraint. The spidery riffs are expertly aligned to some marvellous tangential lead lines from Fredrik and there’s more dynamic to this track as it shifts through different soundscapes. ‘God He Sees In Mirrors’ is the first track where my attention wonders a little as the riffs and patterns are so jumpy and less of a consistent groove for me to latch on to.
I didn’t think I’d hear Meshuggah do tender like the intro to ‘They Move Below’, but the liquid guitars from Fredrik and Mårten shimmer like fireflies in the night sky. It’s a lovely interlude to have to allow some respite, but is short lived as the song cranks into another blood curdling and savage set of riffs and head cracking beats. I await Jens arrival but wait, this is actually an instrumental and the lead work is excellent from Fredrik as he gets to show off in a way he can’t when Jens is in control. It’s this aspect of bands like this that I truly enjoy, sometimes I feel the growling vocal style can detract from the amazing musicianship on display. Having said that, I have trained myself not to focus so much on the vocals on this album, gaining a better appreciation of their music.
Tomas’s juddering beats on ‘Kaleidoscope’ are primal yet expertly controlled as the song flows around the propulsive groove. The whole thing sounds super tight, yet weirdly elastic because of Dick’s rubbery bass lines. It is hugely disorientating and that’s the brilliance of Meshuggah. The brief ‘Black Cathedral’ is an odd guitar only interlude that serves well to act as breathing space before the final quartet of tracks are unleashed. ’I Am That Thirst’ is a supercharged track with some incredible playing as the time signatures really try to twist your head. ‘The Faultless’ features a brilliant spiralling riff that amazingly loops back on itself, with a cracking hooky lead line that hovers over it like an impetuous wasp.
With a name like ‘Armies Of The Preposterous’ this track has a lot to live up to. Bereft of any melodic elements I struggle with the brutality of the riffs and beats, but then again, I can’t complain, this is what Meshuggah have built their considerable back catalogue doing, for the most part. So it’s a relief when the soothing tones of album closer ‘Past Tense’ appear. Even when doing something as calm and reflective as this, Meshuggah bring an element of doom as the underlying atmosphere of the track is not one of joy. But by their standards it showcases that their music is not all about bluster and power.
I needed to atone for my previous attempt to appreciate Meshuggah’s music. I thought long and hard about taking on this review with a limited knowledge of this genre of music. Bizarrely I do possess some Meshuggah albums, after Rory Friers mentioned them as an influence, I checked them out, about 10 years ago. Since then I’ve become more appreciative of the levels of technical excellence these musicians can create. I must mention the superb sound of this album, mixed by Rickard Bengtsson and Staffan Karlsson and mastered by Vlado Meller. Once again, the adorning album artwork from Luminokaya is incredibly distinctive. Meshuggah have been making this music for over 30 years now and are still hugely innovative and influential. Immutable is an absolute masterclass in musicianship and is undoubtedly a modern metal classic.