Bands have been chipping away at Meshuggah's block for a while now, hoping to take away a piece or two to call their own. Such acolytes include Textures, Gojira, and The Handshake Murders; Emerging adds Obsidian to the list. On its full-length debut, this Dutch band takes Meshuggah's blueprint in thrilling new directions, yielding a sound that's ultimately its own.
On the surface, this blueprint seems simple – downtune guitars, scrape out precise, mathematical riffs, and slide polyrhythmic drums underneath like tectonic plates. Those are just mechanics, however. The resulting effect, the intangible essence that Meshuggah reaches and its imitators don't, is a steely mechanization that transcends simplistic emotions. Meshuggah isn't "brutal" or "angry"; it's a hulking juggernaut that stares through you before slowly running you over.
Obsidian absolutely nails this vibe, yet adds speed and melody that lights up its exoskeleton. While the band frequents Meshuggah's first-gear territory, it's not afraid to machine-gun its kicks and let loose its guitars. The result is a welcome sense of breathing, of rising and falling, in contrast to Meshuggah's grim-faced clench.
Dig the sumptuous vocal harmonies that briefly grace "Kobalt," a texture that brushes by like a passing velvet jacket. "Footprints" tiptoes through proggy palm-muting before spreading its wings with gorgeous, sustained jangles. "Mirrored" breaks down to rippling clean tones, while "Time" swirls with breathtaking harmonies. The guitars are jazz fusion-esque in harmonic complexity, draping metallic crunch in rich, abstract voicings. Close your eyes, and the album takes you to another place. It doesn't say where, but it's quite far away.
In typical Rusty Cage fashion, Emerging comes in a classy digipak with refreshingly legible liner notes. The lyrics are appropriately abstract: "Back in my mind, it runs itself / Wires condensed into structures / Reshape my life / I try / Hide away from emptiness." The faceless growled vocals are the only weakness; thankfully, they lay out enough to let the guitars shine. If Meshuggah has painted itself into a corner in recent years, Obsidian opens the door to new colors and possibilities.