Meshuggah – I Review

Meshuggah – I (EP)
Fractured Transmitter, 2004

1. I

While fans of Swedish progressive/experimental death band Meshuggah wait eagerly for their next release Catch 33, in the meantime, the band has whet the appetites of what is to come with the EP, I.

The catch? One song. One glorious, twenty-one minute song.

While the world of innovative metal is no stranger to long, drawn-out, completely overblown tracks (all in the name of art, of course), twenty-one minutes is definitely and officially over the top and off the charts. So which is it, a cry for attention or something beautiful that just happens to be nearly as long as a television sitcom?

First, to compare with previous Meshuggah releases. Back in the golden olden days, they played really, really fast. With “I,” this makes a comeback in spades. Think of the days of early Metallica, Anthrax, and Slayer in terms of thrash speed and ferociousness. At a time when artsy death metal seems to lean more on being slow and plodding to convey an evil enigma, this is a welcome return to the angry form which once fully encompassed the genre. More incredibly, this speed has not changed the band’s ideals of making complex, sophisticated time signatures and changes from being a trademark of their music. Why yes — it seems they have found a way to bring in Destroy Erase Improve and marry it to Nothing. It’s a resolution that longtime fans of the band may be able to accept rather than lose their band to the world of art rock.

Secondly, to compare with the rest of the world of metal at the moment. Technical metal has been on the rise across the pond in Europe, where anyone can catch a generic metal act with corpsepaint and a super-tuned-down guitar growling about evil Christians. Being that jaded, it’s no wonder why the appreciation has turned towards those with more skill and original ideas. Meshuggah is a band that has long since been either loved or hated, but still watched regardless. Compare this to the American band Tool, where they have gotten more complex and arty over time, yet not changing their sound too drastically — Tool has the same legion of folks who wish they would go back to making simpler, less self-indulgent music. Meshuggah is in the same boat, winning new fans by blowing them away with mastery, yet driving away those who remember and love fast paced chugging and nonstop anger. It’s a tough spot, one where a band can either choose to alienate their old fanbase in the name of progress or sell out to keep the status quo.

In listening to “I,” it seems none of the above matters at all. This is a band with the capability of playing however fast they would like, whenever they would like. For the first seven minutes of the track (or so), the listener is assaulted by this concept. A complete blast of raining drums, lightning-fast soloing that sounds nothing like a solo you would expect in the traditional sense of the word, and perfectly accentuated vocals that work as an instrument to compliment rather than shine above the music itself. It’s an aural blast from hell. The song changes completely around the 12-minute point, however, losing itself in a difficult-to-tap bender of time change madness. The aggression is still there, but the later of Meshuggah’s catalog of work takes the forefront with dissonance and character rather than simple fury. Things calm down on the track altogether around the 15-minute mark as mood seems to be the primary focus, and songwriting as a whole is disregarded in the name of creating a sound.

The idea behind this song/EP is simple: Meshuggah is going to create whatever the hell they feel like creating, and they could care less about anyone else’s opinion. Oh, sure, they will mix things up a bit, because who moves on to the future without remembering a bit of the past? In fact, the track as a whole seems to be a diary of their history — it starts out with the killer speed noise wall that got them noticed, evolves into more technical prowess, and ends on a purely arty note.

But the question remains, is it any good? And the answer can only be purely subjective depending on your metal flavor. Those with an appreciation for Zappa will enjoy the latter half, while those who “just wanna rock” will be amazed by the first half. As a whole, is it a song? No, it’s not a song. It’s 21 minutes of masturbation, to be perfectly frank. This doesn’t make it any less intriguing, but it’s definitely not something you would put in a CD changer on “random” for fear that it would come up and you would be stuck listening to it for twenty one minutes.