I was never much of a Meshuggah fan. I mean, I appreciate their music more than I listen to it on a day to day basis. Nothing is a masterpiece; Destroy, Erase, Improve changed what I thought metal could do. But I don’t spin those albums in my day to day. Something about the sound lacks emotional impact for me and, outside of a few select songs, the heavy parts feel too technical and rigid to me. That’s why I’m always excited to hear what can be done with djent, nominally a genre “founded” by the aforementioned legends of the style. Add more chaos, experimentation, and variety to the genre and you have something immensely entertaining, challenging music that can also kick some major ass.
Enter CB Murdoc and their 2016 release, Here Be Dragons. How we haven’t highlighted this release until now is beyond me; it’s one of the best albums in the genre I know. At the core of Here Be Dragons lies a thickness of tones which is intimately of the djent variety. The guitars are massive and often chuggy, breakdowns abound, and the overall belligerence created by the bottom of the scale is one of the main “movements” of the album. But on top of all of that are layered immensely powerful vocals, time signatures which go far beyond syncopation for their aggressive attitude to meter, and little moments of experimentation that are hard to resist.
Take “Everything Is Going to Be OK” for example and its stupendously mind bending opening moments. The drums (possessed of an excellent snare tone by the way) start fast enough but then everything lurches and the bass is…what the fuck is the bass doing? Its tone is so blown out of proportion that it shouldn’t work but composition and attitude pull it off, running through the entire track with its bloated nonchalance. That kind of off-kilter vibe runs through the guitars as well, as they titter and totter across the runtime of the track. The vocals add that extra layer of aggression, creating a complex, challenging, and immensely satisfying monster of a track. Oh, did I mention that it has an ambient, eerie electronic break which leads into a breakdown at its middle, a breakdown also made up of yet another weird-ass guitar lead?
And the entire album is like that as well, swimming from bizarre inflection point to another and doing it with a fair measure of grace as well. It takes the basic formula of djent, namely everything louder, slower, and thicker than everything else, and stretches, contorts, exhorts, tortures, and pushes what it can do to the very limit. Even today, three years later, Here Be Dragons remains a jaw-dropping, audacious album, and a powerful exploration of what can be done with the underpinnings of djent and progressive metal. I don’t know if this band exists anymore but if they do, whatever they make next is a release to watch. In the meantime, we have the unending, layered insanity that is their 2016 release and that should last us some years more before we can figure out everything this band tried, and succeeded, to do here.