Back when this Blog was first devised, it was sort of a hub “digest” of all my various internet output, under one easy “roof.” So people could then tell that my things were not stolen from elsewhere on the internet, I kept my net-handle in the title. The name of my net-handle was simply chosen because I enjoy the Prog band King Crimson (and Gentle Giant) and is not in fact my real name. Forget about the name. Imagine its called “Music Nerd Blog” instead. You’ll get the idea.
I’ve been obsessing about music since about the year 2000. Over this time I’ve bought what must now be nearly 1,000 albums, and heard hundreds more through friends, relatives, streaming services and whatever else. I’ve also watched over a decade’s worth of music videos and heard countless individual songs on the radio, free covermounted CDs, websites and whatever else. All that, as well as read years and years worth of music magazines and websites.
I’m a nerd. Basically. Only, instead of James Bond or Vintage Clothing, its Music that I obsess about. Lots of people are nerds and don’t even realize it. Sometimes its obvious; trainspotting, stamp collecting etc. Sometimes its less obvious due to presentation. Some (make that many) football fans’ depth of knowledge about players and transfer costs and club histories would make many tram-enthusiasts seem normal by comparison. The amount of information that some people know about Reality-TV celebrities and their sex-lives would easily overpower my knowledge of bands, or the most dedicated historian and their knowledge of French Military Tactics. Everyone has a thing they get nerdy about, whether or not they realize or admit that it is similar to the more famous nerdy things like Star Wars. I don’t particularly like Football or Reality TV or French Military Tactics. I like Heavy Metal music. That’s my one thing. That’s what this Blog is all about.
Welcome to my First Impressions series of articles too, incidentally. In this series I (or sometimes my friends, or readers) pick an album for each entry that I will listen to for the first time. I then write in depth about what I know about that album or the artist that created it and the genre and subgenre to which they belong, before describing the experience of listening to it in real time, in a sort of semi-stream-of-consciousness way intended for entertainment purposes. I also enjoy writing reviews of albums, but when I write reviews my goal is to be helpful and provide you with information with which to aide your decision about whether to try out an album or not. When I write a First Impressions article however my goal is purely to entertain the reader, explore how much I know about music and be my own psychiatrist in the process.
I may go into some very specific detail and assume you have heard everything I’ve ever heard and perceived everything in the manner I’ve perceived it, and call out very specific sections of music and draw comparisons between things that the casual listener may find completely unrelated. Don’t worry, most of these songs are on Youtube and most of the terminology is on Wikipedia and Urban Dictionary anyway, so if there’s anything that goes over your head, you can always get clarification in a second web-browser-tab (or ask about it in the comments).
According to the aim of the series, the albums are considered by the public and music critics knowledgeable about the subject to be Classic albums within Rock and Metal, or at least within their own Subgenres. Classic albums that I’ve somehow missed out on, despite my nerdly need to hear and understand almost every piece of recorded Metal music ever.
If you have an album that you’d like to read a KingcrimsonBlog First Impressions article about, please suggest it in the comments, I’m game, I’ll give anything a try.
So that’s the preamble out of the way, on to the article:
Today, I’ll be listening to 1998’s Chaosphere album, the third full-length studio album by the Swedish Metal band Meshuggah.
Meshuggah are a difficult band to categorize. They are a sort of one-off band, like Faith No More; they aren’t part of a movement and nobody else sounded like them at the time, although people might take parts of their sound later, nobody quite sounds like their whole sound… and like Faith No More’s tenuous relationship with Nu Metal, Meshuggah can be linked to Djent, which happened years later, but they aren’t part of it themselves. If Djent was Melodic Power Metal, Meshuggah would be Judas Priest.
Meshuggah, apparently though, are a really ugly, harsh, nasty sounding band for fans of more Extreme Metal than I would usually like myself, and are apparently more suited to readers of Terrorizer magazine than people of my particular tastes. A lot of Meshuggah fans online seem to really hate Djent bands for their clean vocals and lack of extremity. Hmmm…
Nevertheless; despite the internet making it very clear to me that Meshuggah are not Djent, I’ve been listening a lot to Tesseract, Periphery, Animals As Leaders and Circles this week, and I feel like writing a First Impressions article today… so, out of the albums which I have to hand, its either Meshuggah or Europe’s The Final Countdown… and I think I’ve written enough Hair Metal articles lately, so you as readers could probably use a little break before I write that one. So; Meshuggah it is!…because Djent! – Take that, internet!
Anyway; aside from the not Djent thing, (I mean, it doesn’t necessarily mean I won’t like them; Black Sabbath are not Stoner and I still listen to both Stoner Rock bands and Black Sabbath, and similarly, despite Motorhead being not Thrash… you get the picture), the one thing that probably stands in the way is the whole “extreme” thing. Listening to all this Melechesh recently though, I think that maybe there’s at least some chance it won’t be too extreme for my tastes. Sometimes bands can have extreme traits but not be overwhelming in their delivery and execution. Maybe Meshuggah could be one of those rare bands?
Lets find out….
“Concatenation” opens the album up. I have no idea what that word means. I’ll look it up. Joining up strings of things (Wikipedia’s example is Ice Cream becoming Icecream). Strings… guitars, geddit? Also, I bet with such a mathy, polyrthymic, technical band it probably aptly describes the actual structuring of the song too.
When it opens up, I can’t actually quite make out what’s happening. At all. This doesn’t bode well. Its got quite a difficult production… kind of robotic in a Strapping Young Lad sort of way. I can’t focus my ears and brain down through the fog to actually visualize what is being played yet.
Haake’s vocals really remind me of someone, but I’m not sure. No doubt he’s been incredibly influential and loads of people after him copy him. He kind of reminds me of a Black Metal version of Burton C Bell, mixed with a Finnish Randy Bylthe. I say Finnish mainly because I was listening to the new Sonata Arctica album the other day and their singer’s slower, spoken-word style vocal sections had a really notable “we’re not from the UK or US” thing to them. An accent I guess. He’s like Randy Blythe with a Swedish accent. There… what was so hard about that… come on, brain.
The song hits a nice groove around the two-minute mark and suddenly I can make out and understand, then throws out an odd, squeaky guitar solo I wouldn’t expect that sounds sort of Dream Theater Keyboard-esque. The song is pretty hammering and intense. You know what’s odd, there’s a riff on here that really reminds me of Mudvayne’s debut. I didn’t expect that. Hey, this song is pretty cool actually, once you get used to the production… I’ve just came straight off (like, literally interrupting a song in the middle) listening to Animals As Leaders and the difference in production threw me for a loop temporarily. If Animals As Leaders were a human, Messuggah are kind of like a pissed-off robot. Similar shape if you aren’t wearing your glasses, but the details are quite important.
“New Millenium Cyanide Christ” is next. It opens with a riff that sounds exactly like what you think Meshuggah probably sound like. Thordendal has an identifiable sound, that’s for sure. He’s got a Toni Iommi style player-personality audible in his work. This song seems better than the last one; a bit more groovy and accessible. The last song was Exhorder, this one is Pantera…if you get me?
The guitar solo here is great. Its an element of Meshuggah I wasn’t expecting. It adds a nice layer of depth of this already deep and dense monolith/chasm.
There’s another neat part where they play this stop/start riff where it ends on a little roll on the floor tom, which really reminds me of Mudvayne too. I think McDonnagh plays/steals that exact beat. Also, the part that directly follows it, is really like Lamb Of God in that its got this low chuggy double-kicky part that sounds metallic and thrash-based, but then an eeirie high-pitched slow series of notes rings out over the top, altering the overall mood. Lamb Of God definitely use that trick a few times.
“Corridor Of Chameleons” opens up, reminding me very much of Fear Factory. Then the almost rap-delivery vocals come in. Haake is slightly less shouty than previously – I wan’t expecting that either… well played, Meshuggah, well played. This song is faster than the second one, but just as accessible. Its quite enjoyable thus far. It sounds like a car chase in a very populated street.
When it loudens-up with the next section it gets real balls, or “umph” if you will, then when that gives way to a guitar solo it gets even better. Then they do one of those search-light leads… you know, where the lead guitar slowly slides between notes and evokes a spotlight from a helicopter looking for a fugitive? One of those.
There’s a fucking great breakdown, followed by a part that sounds as straightforward as Hatebreed. A very nice addition. The whole middle of this song reminds me of Limp Bizkit’s “Full Nelson,” – specifically the guitar behind the “Knocked the fuck out” bit. (Only in a very vague way… but it makes me go “Oooh, remember that Limp Bizkit song?” as opposed to “This sounds like that Limp Bizkit song!” if you understand me.)
“Neurotica” – Apparently not a cover of the King Crimson song of the same name – opens up with some nice rolling toms. Almost Sepultura-esque if not for the crazy guitar tone that sounds like obese cyborgs. This song is very fun, it would suit being the background music in a youtube montage of memorable moments from the Dead Space videogame series. Again… the vocals are less pissed-off and more rhythmic. Also, at one stage, they feel like they’re going through a killswitch and Tom Morello is turning them on and off for effect. Its cool.
This song is fucking awesome! The drumming is great, I love the way that crash-cymbal comes in around the 2.20 mark. It reminds me of that china cymbal in Opeth’s “Deliverance.” The weird guitar solo is delightful…it reminds me of Wall-E. The rolling-toms bit comes back; the vocal patterns remind me of Chad Grey actually… This song is quite accessible actually, I wonder if it was a single?
“The Mouth Licking What You’ve Bled” comes next. Its kind of familiar formula at this stage. Its faster than tracks 2 and 4. The guitar solo is great. The song is pretty heavy. It feels like its relentlessly beating at a barricade. It feels like a tide of violence. Its very unstoppable and threatening sounding. Definitely heavier than most Djent songs. I can see the connection in the rhythms for sure though. Just like Priest and Melodic European Power Metal – their fatherly role is clear.
“Sane” follows. It starts off with one of those searchlight (hey, a Concatenation!) leads. Rather than following the established “fast song-slowsong” flow so far, this one tricks us with a kind of medium-paced intro but then turns out to be a fast song. Pummeling. It has another one of those neat guitar solos… I’m very surprised and impressed by all those – can you tell?
There’s a lot of parts that reminds me of either Fear Factory or Lamb Of God… or Periphery’s heavier moments, but overall its really clearly its own thing. They aren’t massive Fear Factory comparisons, just that vague stuff I explained. This stuff must have sounded like an absolute revelation when it came out.
“The Exquisite Machinery of Torture” opens up with a nice awkward rhythm and brings in some nice tom rolls, and a strangely David Driaman-esque whispered vocal. It also reminds me of “Tribe” by Queensryche (the whole “slipping through the undergrowth” bit) only fifty times meaner. Seriously, even if you don’t usually believe me when I compare things, investigate that comparison…
Then a cyborg mouse playing a rusty trumpet marches around… only it’s a guitar solo (…played by a ghost?) [Investigate THAT comparison, motherfucker!]. I’ll give Meshuggah this… they are damn original, and they are damn talented. This has been a really impressive and enjoyable record so far.
“Elastic” opens up with possibly the Djentiest riff of the record so far, with a creepy robot church bell ringing over the top. I’ve almost gotten tired of the formula by this stage, but luckily it’s the last song, so they’ve timed that well. This is pretty neat! I like the way they’ve panned the different parts in that cut-out section. And hooray, more of those mad-ass Jazzy solos with unusual guitar tones. The section at 4.25 where it hammers stop-start djents (sorry, I couldn’t think of anything else to call them. Stabs? Pulses? …Slams?) over a dying spaceship’s emergency siren is interesting. It fades out slowly and that’s the album…save for the 15 minutes of droning noise and the bonus track of some Meshuggah music played backwards. Cool song. Cool album.
Yes. That was fucking fantastic. I’m not sure if I could listen to it twice in a row, but it is unquestionably an excellent record. Intense, relentless, technically impressive and yet with just enough variety to stop it causing a headache.
I think if they ditched the opening track, it would be even better, but even as it stands…damn, that was good stuff. I can see why it got the reputation it did. And its nice to know it isn’t too extreme for my Blast Beat and dissonance disliking tastes. I’ve just had a little quick skip through later albums in their discography too, and its cool they did things like “The Last Vigil” and broke up the hammering. I think they’re something I could get into as long as there are breaks in the hammering.
Now… if only someone could capture the cool rhythms of this, mix it with some Rishloo-style beautiful clean vocals, and maybe throw in a Saxophone for good measure… [Oh, Altered State, you shouldn’t have!]