Meshuggah is back for the first time in six years with their longest album to date, the 63-minute behemoth that is Immutable. I was fortunate enough to attend an online listening session hosted by drummer Tomas Haake and Meshuggah's label Atomic Fire, where my entire body was systematically decimated by riffs until I no longer existed. Thanks to medical science, I'm back from the cold void of death and can assure you all that Immutable may very well be my new favorite Meshuggah album.
Here are my notes from the listening session, track by track.
There is absolutely no warning to the start of this track. Zero. It just comes in and immediately starts punching you in the face. Atmospheric guitar lightens the load a little bit until the song finally opens up about after about a minute of putting you through the grinder. Vocals are atmospheric as well – nothing harsh, an unsettling mixture of spoken word and echoing whispers. The original "punch in the face" bit comes back later but you're used to it at this point. Not that it doesn't still kick your ass. It does. This song also really does the whole "drone" thing well and slowly drags you down until it brings in the growls around four minutes, when everything slows down and goes lower. It's a horrifying opener, maybe Meshuggah's most unsettling?
"The Abysmal Eye"
And here we go, right into a double bass chuggy riff. There’s immediately a lot of stop and go – it’s almost groovy, but it segments itself just enough to trip you up after a pretty consistent first track. This song keeps you guessing, and not in that "what the fuck is going on" Chaosphere kind of way, but in the way that they move the groove around so it's slightly disorienting. How does this band keep coming up with new rhythms to center songs around? It’s incredible. Still, they play with the whole "static tonality/drone"-type thing again on this one like they did with "Broken Cog" and it works really well. The end riff makes me wanna pick up and throw my entire house.
"Light The Shortening Fuse"
A little slower. "Focus" is the word that comes to mind so far. This record feels like Meshuggah knows exactly who they are and what they wanted to accomplish. Everything is so laser focused down to the flow of how they've introduced the listener to each song so far. It's as if you're slowly spiraling downward. The production also might be their best yet. "Light The Shortening Fuse" feels like it could fall apart any second – the wonky groove keeps dancing right around where you expect it to be, unlike "The Abysmal Eye" that felt more like it was happening in short bursts of energy. This one feels like a top just about to run out of momentum, but never does. There's a huge atmospheric break about three minutes in that divvies up the experience nicely, and hey! Tomas Haake drum fills! Like, "a regular groove you might hear in a Tool song-type" drum fills. Very cool.
And we're out of the tuned-down-to-drop-hell range and into more of a mid-tempo, upper register sort of riff. The palm muting in the chorus really immediately changes the feel of this song, even though (I'm pretty sure) it's the riff from the intro. Amazing how subtly this band can change things up. On the topic of the "laser-focus" thing, what I'm already loving about this record is that Meshuggah is taking only a handful of ideas and stretching them out into one song. It gives this feeling of consistency throughout so far, and again – really makes for a well-paced album. Then all of a sudden this song DROPS way, way down to god knows what low string and just starts beating the absolute shit out of you. I mean, no warning at all – there's a pause, there's a low note, and then you're back down in the depths that you came from. There is no escaping the vortex.
Hey, it's the song from the Immutable teaser! Everything is hitting at once. There's a hi-hit guiding the groove along, but this is akin to punching holes in a cave floor to remember how to get out of the darkness. They’re also huge holes, judging by how hard the band is hitting. How they break up those full-band hits is pretty cool too, in that it slowly dissipates from these massive punches into each instrument starting to diverge rhythmically, only to come back together. There's also a certain looseness in this. Maybe it's the tuning being so absolutely low, but the hits are just so damn devastating. The guitar solo starts off slower and, instead of going nuts, starts adding harmonies and really rides out the groove. We’re five tracks in now and every track I’ve thought “this might be my favorite track.”
"God He Sees In Mirrors"
There it is. There's the song where you have to sit there and ask "how the fuck do I even count this." Not that the others have been a metric walk in the park, but this one… oh boy. Sure, Meshuggah brings things together a little more in the verses, but still. The pauses between each individual verse are strung together with silence and snare rolls are cool, and I genuinely have no idea what melody I'm hearing in the chorus. It's like Allan Holdsworth came back from the dead and laid down a chord progression over a Meshuggah song. Beyond what Thordendal usually does, anyway. These are full chords. Then there are the low notes that keep seeming to pull you back into the main riff. Almost like you're trying to escape and they just keep pulling you back into this maelstrom.
"They Move Below"
Clean guitar with harmonies. Lot of very discernible melodies, which is a break from the atonal stuff up to this point. There are also clean leads and so far this song does a great job building up layers upon layers. But in that menacing Meshuggah kind of way – think a grander version of "The Last Vigil." The album's runtime and tracklist seems to be leading up to this one – it starts off hellishly atmospheric and only gets increasingly crazier. There are full-on slow-burning riffs that culminate in a sludgy, churning riff that gives "Demiurge" a very serious run for its money. As if a light comes on in the darkness, but the light is fire and everything is obscured by smoke and debris. It's this gargantuan swirling mass that just keeps churning without destroying you. "They Move Below" is a nine-and-a-half minute instrumental that doesn't feel anywhere close to that runtime. We're now seven tracks into this album and I am still just as on board as I was the second I hit play.
Meshuggah makes damn sure to remind you that, while the last track was a slow-burning nine-plus minute instrumental, this is still a Meshuggah record. Tons of staccato dead notes between the notes themselves, adding a really percussive quality to this track. It's also one hell of a way to kick off the second half of this thing. This record has so many moments so far where it's this huge full band groove riff that I'm not sure how anyone can listen to this without wanting to full body headbang.
Black metal tremolo picking on the low strings? Yes please. "Black Cathedral" is a two-minute instrumental with no percussion. Which does feel weird because I keep expecting it to turn into Meshuggah's first black metal song, but it doesn't. It just sits there and glowers at you from the dark, swirling about and being generally menacing. I am currently afraid of whatever this is about to explode into.
"I Am That Thirst"
Oh. Now there's black metal tremolo picking on the low strings AND the high strings, on top of the rhythm section once again hitting as hard as possible. Lots of bending and fluidity between all the tremolo, giving it all this very sinewy quality. This and "Black Cathedral" are a very smart way to position the second half of this record, in that it almost feels like the band is trying to let you know that things are going to be different. That they're still inventing, still creating something new, and still pushing the bounds of what it means to be Meshuggah. There are little jumps here and there that, after you're lulled into thinking things are maybe starting to get straightforward enough, there's something to throw you off just a little bit. It's a cool technique that keeps you guessing, keeps you wanting more even this far into the record.
Another big ass groovy one. This is definitely going to be the one whose opening riff will be stuck in my head until I can hear this song again, and I don't know when that'll be. Which is a problem. Think "Monstrocity" but even more infectious. "The Faultless" also seems to be having a competition with itself in terms of being pissed off. Like, this song is just so heavy and low, but it's only this seething because it's trying to figure out a way to one up the sheer pissed off power of itself. And then, the clean vocals are back! Or as "clean" as Meshuggah gets. It's like a demon throat singing through a tube that's coming directly from hell. I've mentioned "hell" and "vortex" a lot at this point. Maybe this record should be called Hell Vortex. That would make sense.
"Armies Of The Preposterous"
Just when you thought "alright, there are two tracks left. Maybe this thing is going to start to slow down," this one comes through and throws approximately 100 punches in the span of two seconds. Has anyone checked how many limbs Tomas Haake has these days? I mean, I can see Tomas on this listening party and it looks like he only has two, but I'm not sure if that's a filter or what. "Armies Of The Preposterous" is a flurry; the dying throes of a storm that is unleashing every single ounce of rage. I love it.
Ending this album with more clean guitars. Even clean guitar Meshuggah sounds super menacing. I keep waiting for something heavy to come along and destroy whatever's left of me at this point, but it never does. Which frankly is even better than if it did do that. There's this incredibly foreboding feeling to this track as it keeps shifting around and dropping and adding atmospheric parts. Like it's done here, but it's still watching you from the dark.
Immutable is a slow-churning vortex of swirling atmospheres, ten-ton debris-type grooves, and vocals that seem to come from everywhere at once. This is Meshuggah at their finest hour and should be listened to only when you have the time to truly dedicate to it. It's a lot, but it's more than worth it and I cannot wait to spend more time with this album.