James Brown, Meshuggah, Philip K. Dick, The Metal Apologist, Tomas Haake

The Metal Apologist (Part III: Meshuggah)

{from June 14, 2007}

What do mathematics, the slow complex psychic evolution of humankind, and James Brown have in common? They find a nexus point in Sweden with the arcane metal band Meshuggah. Meshuggah are a REALLY good band. And most people in the metal world know this. But I’m not quite sure to what extent they realize it. Because Meshuggah are equal parts sophisticated and straight-up kick-ass. There’s folks who don’t give a fuck beyond kick-ass. And since metal is such a ghettoized format (only metal types of people tend to buy metal records; not many other genres find themselves quite so exclusively holed up). Of course, it’s not as bad now as it was in the 80s (like I remember the 80s) but from what I understand, metal was SERIOUSLY hated stuff. This was the era that birthed the accusation of Judas Priest as driving a kid to murder. Nowadays, your mom buys the new Mastodon record before you do and the cast of “Friends” raises metal horns (Not really on either counts but you get what I mean). Anyway, my point is that I feel that for all their popularity not enough people get the brilliance of this band. And nothing deters the narrow mind like the tag of metal. So it’s their loss but still…something needs to be said for this…

Meshuggah’s ostensible quest is to relate dense psychic states through their lyrics and, through a significant refinement of the metal mores, through their music. For example, they never charge or stampede the ear. This is usually a state most bands seek through the sync of drums and guitar in complete cutthroat concert. Meshuggah on the other hand orchestrate elaborate polyrhythms: guitars create complex odd-numbered rhythmic figures that sound not unlike a large spacecraft crashing down to the ground in slow-motion while the drums groove, nay, bump to beats that are big, funky, even reminiscent of Motown. What?! Why, you might wonder? Well, it’s hard to explain unless you’re actually listening to it but Tomas Haake (their drummer) demonstrates that there’s a deceptively easy charm and movement to finding the lowest multiple of 4 divisible by 19. Pretty remarkable.

Again this is unmistakably metal and as such there is a prominent manifestation of lead guitar in their music. But these aren’t the kind of solos you’re used to. They sound altered, austere, and alien. They don’t virtuosic at least not in a demonstrative egotistical way (although make no mistake they are composed with not a little bit of tedious care and craft). They are somewhat melodic but not at all lyrical; something like if the ship in Event Horizon made its own sound like the UFO from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Sinister and mechanical in execution, yet conveying emotions; just not ones that you’re used to.

Lyrically, Meshuggah inhabit the mind space of broken-poet schizophrenic cyborgs from 8 Philip K. Dick novels simultaneously. The may be the most obtuse metaphor I’ve ever come up with but just check it out. From the song “New Millenium Cyanide Christ”:

I’m A Carnal, Organic Anagram.
Human Flesh Instead Of Written Letters.
I Rearrange My Pathetic Tissue.
I Incise.
I Replace.
I’m Reformed.
I Eradicate The Fake Pre-Present Me.
Elevate Me To A Higher Human Form.
The Characters I Am,
Made Into A Word Complete,
Then I’ll Be The New Norm.

Self Inflicted Fractures.
I Replace My Bones With Bars;
Aluminum Bleeding Oxide;
The Drug Of Gods Into My Pounding Veins

(A Human Puzzle For All To Scorn.
No Face.
No Back.
My Scarred Edition I’ll Display;
The Organic Word For Nothingness)

My Receiving Eyes Exchanged With Fuses;
Blindness Induced To Prevent Destruction.
Ceramic Blades Implanted Past My Ribs To Save Me From The Dues Of Inhalation.
I Tear My Worldly Useless Skin.
Staples To Pin It Over My Ears.
Non-Receptive Of Ungodly Sounds –
I Disable The Audio-Generators Of Fear.

Hexagonal Bolts To Fill My Mouth,
Sharpened To Deplete The Creator Of All Violence;
Without Speech There Will Be No Deceit

(My Feet I Crush. The Flesh I Cut Away,
So As To Not Produce The Sound Of Their Presence On Rotten Ground)

Baptized In Vitriolic Acid.
A Final Touch.
A Smoothing Of Features.
Completion Of The Greatest Art;
To Cast The Godly Creatures.
Humans, Once Astray;
Made Divine.
Stripped Of Congenital Flaws.
We’re Incandescent Revelations In A World Of Darkened Forms.

(Confide In My New Age Dogma.
Swallow The Indoctrination.
You’ll Come To Love It Here,
The Suicidal Atmosphere.
Let Me Into Your Common Mind.
I’ll Plant My Thoughts Into Its Soil.
Walk Among Us Self-Made Gods,
Deified Through The Pains Of Self Torture)

Come Join With Me To Save A Failed Humanity.
Follow The God Of Cyanide Into The New Eternity.
Behold; A Sacrificial Rase A Cleansing Worshipping Of Pain.
The New Millenium Christ Here To Redeem All From Lies

(I’ve Come To Save You All. I’ve Come To Light Your Way)

Wow, something about the redeemer of the future, today! I didn’t know where to begin with this one and I don’t know where to end but holy shit, Meshuggah are a REALLY good band.