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Nuclear Blast (2008)
Rating: 8.5/10

For the last 20 years Sweden’s Meshuggah have been destroying the planet with their unique sound. Often described as “controlled insanity”, the band has been praised by critics and fans alike for their artistic approach to both album art and music. Meshuggah count themselves among a small circle of bands that consistently amaze their fellow musicians. From the sound of the custom built eight-string guitars to the tribal percussion work to the masterful handling of heavy, they are truly musician’s musicians.

So what can one really say about a band like Meshuggah? Anyone who has heard Chaosphere (1998) or Nothing (2002) already understand the kind of pummeling they are in for on the band’s latest, obZen. For those who have never heard Meshuggah, they are perhaps best described as what it feels like to have a train hit you while you are strung out.

If you listen closely enough you’ll hear elements of Ministry, King Crimson, mid-90s black metal, Black Sabbath, Primus (you can’t tell me he didn’t learn that bit in ‘Pravus’ from Les Claypool), Megadeth and Mental Destruction, although always in small doses and always buried deeply in the heavy sound. obZen takes the band’s sound to another level by becoming even heavier than most metal fans believe humanly possible.

Not only is obZen heavier, it’s also more technical. The time changes seem more comfortable than they did on the band’s last album, Catch Thirtythree (2005), which, in turn, make this one sound more like a fluid album than a psychedelic fistfight. In that sense, Meshuggah have certainly matured over the last few years. While previous efforts have been all about “heavy and technical”, this album thankfully includes some additional dynamics that make it feel like an album. Like the songs were intended to be together and ordered in this particular way.

Pretty much everything here is phenomenal if you enjoy music that refuses to bite on any current trends. ‘Combustion’ and ‘Pravus’ are easily the most impressive from a metal standpoint. They are both unbelievably technical, dynamic and heavy as hell. As ‘Combustion’ opens the album you are immediately faced with the decision as to whether you will allow the beating to continue or if you will run and hide. ‘obZen’ is heavy in a more traditional way, spiraling downward musically while the screaming vocals ascend skyward. Despite the fact that these two entities seem to be going in opposite direction it’s easy to close your eyes and imagine yourself in a dusty circle pit on a hot summer day as the sound of Meshuggah lays waste to an outdoor arena. This song was tailor made for festival season. ‘This Spiteful Snake’ is the only thing close to a respite, providing a moment of clarity with which to reattach your head before descending into the madness again with ‘Pineal Gland Optics’.

obZen is everything you expect from Meshuggah and a little more. The fluidity of obZen is likely to open some bigger doors for the band without them having to compromise their sound for commercial success. As a matter of fact, this could be considered a blueprint for expanding and exploring without compromising or alienating. As with all Meshuggah albums, obZen is a must have for fans of technically impressive music. Open minded doom fans may want to give this a try as well.

Mark Fisher

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