Ah, Meshuggah. Whatever one’s opinion of them might be, there’s no denying that the Swedish masters’ constant innovation has had an enormous impact on metal of almost all kinds. However, we’re at a point where the amount of bands that are either heavily inspired by them (or choose to ape their sound entirely) increases exponentially year after year; and so, the question of whether the forward-thinking giants can remain in their long-held position at the top arises. With a new record hardly two months away, we’ve recently been treated to “Born In Dissonance”, the first new track from the band in about four years. But how does it hold up, and what does it bode for the new record?
A bit of quick context for the uninformed: Meshuggah originally started out as a heavily Metallica-influenced thrash band, before venturing into the world of seven-string guitars and free jazz solos on their late ’90s releases Destroy Erase Improve and Chaosphere, the latter of which is often lauded by old-school fans as their best work. The much more downtempo Nothing followed, swapping out fast-paced thrash for extremely low-tuned, lumbering riffs that could tear planets apart, after which I and Catch 33 took that to a more experimental end. 2008’s obZen was hailed as the perfect marriage of Meshuggah’s earlier thrash efforts and the eight-string experimentation of their later works, while Koloss infused an earthy, tribal aspect into their sound.
A fair amount of Meshuggah fans maintain that Chaosphere is their best album, as mentioned above, even despite the band’s continued momentum through the next decade. And that’s where “Born in Dissonance” comes in to give those fans quite the treat.
The first and perhaps most important thing to mention is that according to drummer Tomas Haake, “Born in Dissonance” — along with the rest of their forthcoming LP, which has rather uncharacteristically lengthy title The Violent Sleep of Reason — was recorded live, which is something Meshuggah have not done for about a decade and a half. This predictably lends a much rougher-around-the-edges feeling to the song, with the intro riff steamrolling ahead at full speed in ways extremely reminiscent of Chaosphere‘s sound. The second most obvious thing is that Fredrik Thordendal’s solo in the middle notably sounds a lot more like the tap-heavy free jazz leads found on that album than any of the slower, atmospheric leads that dominated Meshuggah’s 00’s work. Furthermore — and I may be wrong about this point, in all fairness — it very much sounds as if it’s been recorded on seven-string guitars, which is definitely interesting considering they’ve stuck with eight-string guitars, which they themselves popularized, for well over a decade now (“The Demon’s Name Is Surveillance”, which is a six-string song, being the only exception).
But “Dissonance” is no nostalgia trip, and definitely sounds a lot more streamlined and intricate than Chaosphere did, the obvious differences in production quality aside. Jens Kidman’s harsh vocals sound much more present than they have in previous records, albeit losing a bit of that neat robotic touch they often had. The differences are slight, but only more and more noticeable with each successive listen.
In terms of what the track bodes for the album as a whole, it certainly isn’t particularly experimental, or covering ample amounts of ground Meshuggah haven’t treaded before: but the differences at hand alongside the live recording setup are definitely clear signs that the band have not given up on evolving their sound quite yet. Sure, “Dissonance” has had some detractors, convinced that the band won’t live up to their glory days after over two-and-a-half decades of being active. But these four minutes of music are nowhere near sufficient to determine how the entire album will turn out, and I personally remain convinced that Meshuggah will easily blow all competitors out of the water once more.