So much should be said about Meshuggah yet so little needs to be said about Meshuggah, and their brand of progressive metal. In terms of how seminal they are in spawning an entire subgenre (along with a whole slew of microgenres), they are rightly placed among the greatest bands of all time. They are major influences of extremely successful progressive metal bands like Periphery, TesseracT, Vildhjarta, Monuments, and so many more. So much that the onomatopoeic term “djent” was created to describe their unique extended-range downtuned palm-muted chug sound. This band has been releasing records for as long as they have been alive, and it is an honor to be able to review their latest, and tenth studio record, Immutable!
Before this review, I was fortunate enough to be part of a select group of metal music journalists from across the world for the album release listening party for Immutable and have published my experience as well. I was naturally extremely excited to take a deep dive into the record again to pen down a full review!
Immutable – the virtue of permanence, unchangeable, resolute, a more apt descriptor for Meshuggah’s latest gigantic piece of work is supremely apt. Fans of the band, especially those who have spent years really digging deep into the Meshuggah sound, taking their time to digest their approach to songwriting, will be both very pleased at the sheer familiarity of the sounds that hit them, as well as be surprised at the shards of nuance thrown in all over the record. From the opening moments of “Broken Cog”, the off-kilter chugs, the confusingly extended bars, the syncopated time signatures, the eerily dissonant and ambient melodies over the riffs. It’s all very classic Meshuggah. The latter half of the track really is where the song comes into its own, where the choked chugs give into unmuted grooves while still maintaining the almost-pleasant dissonance. The lead single “The Abysmal Eye” ramps up the tempo opting for tremolo-picked riffs over chugs, yet the elements are all there. Meshuggah’s trademark barked vocals take more of a center stage on this track, and at the end of the day, is a good choice for a single as it captures nearly every element that Immutable has to offer!
It would be tedious as well as selfish to write entire paragraphs on each of the thirteen tracks, even though I prepared copious notes for exactly that purpose. Immutable is a gigantic album, running in at nearly ninety-three minutes! Though it is recommended by the artists themselves that Immutable be consumed as a monolith and not a sum of its parts, it is understandable that this can be exhausting for even the most ardent of fans of the band and the genre. The overtly lengthy passages and the dense layers of sound tend to wear down the listener with the constantly oppressive barrage, and yet this is a compliment to the band!
However, mention must be made of truly standout tracks. First in the is “Phantoms”. Opening with your classic fustercluck of a time signature, it is the haunting melody that attaches itself to the riff that adds significant heft to the repetitive rhythm. It is clear to me now, that I personally prefer Meshuggah at the higher end of the BPM spectrum, yet after the high-tempo buildup, the “modern” breakdown drop hits like a trailer cab to the larynx. It is on these sections, where the drums are given room to breathe, that we are truly treated to the syncopated brilliance of the Meshuggah songwriting machine. Another example of Meshuggah veering into “modern djent” territory is the main theme of “Kaleidoscope” quickly raising it to another personal favorite! The key change is so so …. So delicious! That is how you keep seemingly monotonous riffs fresh and exciting.
“Light the Shortening Fuse” and “Ligature Marks” definitely make nods to previous works in the Meshuggah catalog, as early as references to Destroy.Erase.Improve, and Nothing along with minor influences from Frederik Thordendal’s Special Defects’ Sol Niger Within“. I am That Thirst” gets bonus points for a certifiably metal song title. The opening riff with its minor scale choice is very close to being a death metal riff and makes it special. It is nearly impossible, even after several lessons to NOT grin widely when Jens barks out the title “I…. AM… THAT… THIRST!” It’s moments like these as well as the wacky outro section that makes this genre so interesting.
The wackiness continues to feature in “The Faultless” with its ascending/descending chromatic riff. It is evident that Immutable is taking no prisoners when it comes to locking into an aggressive groove and digging into it with little to no care towards repetition, in fact wielding it to reel the listener into a near trance like attachment. And just when I thought that we’d never get another “Bleed” (Meshuggah’s most well-known song off 2008’s ObZen), we are treated to “Army of the Preposterous”. All that needs to be said is that we should all say a collective prayer to the picking wrist/hands of all those brave enough to cover this track.
The album outro “Past Tense” opens with a deeply creepy fusion of Doom metal and Ethnic folk influences with the emphasis on sliding notes, with note choices that are high, uncomfortable, by design. Choosing to end with a track like “Past Tense” is akin to a horror/suspense movie slowly fading to black after an unresolved plot point. It leaves the listener deeply disturbed, grasping for resolution, only to be met by the silence at the end of this gargantuan piece of art!
I purposely left two tracks off Immutable for the end because more needs to be said about them. The first is “They Move Below”. This ten-minute juggernaut may just be Meshuggah’s magnum opus (till they decide to do something more outrageous in future releases!). The first two and a half minute song is a lullaby ballad of acoustic layers with a sense of calm but with an expectant dread. At the end of each bar, the listener waits for the drop, yet when it comes, it remains thoroughly satisfying. This ten-minute giant is also instrumental, and placing it nearly at the dead center of the record provides a neat bookend to the record, while not cheapening the experience with a cheesy mid-terlude (though one can argue that the first three minutes ARE the midterlude). “They Move Below” is a djent-drug trip. During the interview conducted at the album release party, drummer Thomas Haake emphasized that Meshuggah are very visual artists in their approach to songwriting, opting to create imagery with their choice of phrasing, layering, ordering, and arrangements. This is neatly evident in “They Move Below”, there is a sense of impending doom right behind the screen throughout this piece.
The second track that needs its own discussion is “Black Cathedral”. I have only one question for Meshuggah, “what the actual #@!%?” This track is part troll, part demo idea, part black metal, yes you read correctly, BLACK METAL, build up that keeps on going and going, till every fiber of your being is rejecting the idea as an auditory hallucination. Either inside joke or testing ground, guitarist Martin Hagstrom is playing with fire with these absurd gestures. There was a visceral need for the drums to kick in, and yet they never do! Auditory blue balls have never felt more real! I almost want to redact this entire paragraph as Spoiler! territory to allow every one of you to feel the absolute sense of bewilderment and emotional turmoil that is “Black Cathedral”
Not much can be said about the musicianship on Immutable. Meshuggah do one thing, they are the best at that one thing. That’s it! Notably absent from the writing was guitarist Frederik Thordendal which affected the writing process, yet also sped up the cohesion of ideas centering around ideas written by guitarist Hagstrom, bassist Dick Lovgren and drummer Thomas Haake, along with vocalist Jens Kidman.
Complaints are few. Listener fatigue is an ever-present danger with Meshuggah, and Immutable is not moving away from that necessary evil. The more grievous sin is the album art, which in my personal opinion is simply god awful, and takes away so much from the initial impression of what is clearly a superlative record.
Immutable is a win for the Meshuggah future breed machine. A hefty piece of groovy, aggressively confusing, yet satisfying slab of progressive djent metal. Modern Meshuggah shows us that they are still relentless and uncompromising in their message, unyielding to current trends…. IMMUTABLE!