Most bands could only dream of being where Meshuggah are after three decades. The progressive metal masters spent twenty years waiting for everyone else to catch up, then ten years being the coolest kids on the block. Meshuggah helped create the modern scene and they are firmly established as one of the most important metal groups of all time. That doesn't mean they still can't surprise us. Immutable might not be as heavy as Meshuggah's last few albums. But it's also the most accessible thing these trailblazers have ever put out.
Immutable opens with clean vocals. That's right, clean vocals. Jens Kidman is one of the most consistent frontmen out there. His mechanical yell is just as much a part of the Meshuggah sound as Fredrik Thordendal's guitar tone or Tomas Haake's drums. But on "Broken Cog," we hear him doing his best Randy Blythe impression. He speaks in a menacing whisper as the music thunders around him. It's about as heavy as you can expect from eight and nine-string guitars, but they don't hit with the same vicious attack as previous albums. The polyrhythmic pulse is less aggressive, closer to Gojira than Obzen. And "Broken Cog" is far from the only example.
Meshuggah's long career has seen them experiment with different subgenres, all while retaining their own unique sound. They've messed around in technical death metal, helped define the djent movement at the turn of the last decade and pushed the boundaries of prog and hardcore at the same time. This ran parallel to metal's growing respect for groove and rhythm over grandiose displays of speed, culminating in the recent resurgence of nu metal. Meshuggah wouldn't be caught dead hanging with the nü-metal crowd back in the day. But on Immutable, there's a sense that their position may be softening. Maybe it's the Korn vibes on "Ligature Marks" and the bouncy intro riff of "Kaleidoscope". Or the fact you could slip a Chino Moreno cameo into the nine-minute centerpiece "They Move Below" and it wouldn't feel out of place.
Purists shouldn't panic yet. If you're scared of anything that came after 2000, "Black Cathedral" serves up a dose of pure old-school black metal. Singles "The Abysmal Eye" and "Light The Shortening Fuse" sound like hidden tracks on the last three Meshuggah albums. Haake remains one of the most unique players to ever step behind a drumkit. There are times where it seems impossible that it is all the work of one set of hands. Cerebral time signature changes and palm-muted chords are still staples of this band's music.
Immutable is very aptly named. There are precious few acts who you can identify within seconds and Meshuggah are one of them. They haven't changed that much. If Obzen was the magnum opus, Koloss and The Violent Sleep of Reason were victory laps. On Immutable, Meshuggah didn't want to get stuck in a rut. There are new ideas at play, ones that formed in the post-Obzen world courtesy of bands like Spiritbox, Tesseract and Loathe. If Immutable is what it takes to fully fuse the worlds of extreme and alternative metal, it will be another mark on Meshuggah's long rap sheet.
Another Meshuggah album, another Album of the Year contender. As it should be. These guys just can't seem to miss a step.