Why I Love Meshuggah's 'obZen' | Revolver

Why I Love Meshuggah's 'obZen'

Meshuggah pushed musical intensity to its uppermost limit on groundbreaking sixth album
tesseract meshuggah, Steve Brown
TesseracT's James Monteith, 2018
photograph by Steve Brown

Meshuggah are undoubtedly one of the most influential bands on me as a musician, but also on the majority of bands in modern metal today. I first discovered them on the None EP when I was around 16 — at the time, I thought they sounded like a slightly confusing Metallica. I lost track of them until I was in my Twenties and heard Nothing, which blew my mind. The combination of groove and complex rhythms and the low-end, single-string riffing was like nothing I'd never heard before. After working my way back through Destroy Erase Improve and then buying Catch 33, which came later, I was obsessed. Meshuggah are a band who, on every album, at every stage of its evolution, pushes new boundaries and creates the seemingly unimaginable.

ObZen, which turns 10 this year — where's the time gone?? — was the peak of Meshuggah pushing musical intensity to its uppermost limit. The opener "Combustion" sets the tone for the record with its relentless speed, and then the slower crushing sound of "Electric Red" goes to the other extreme, whilst retaining equal levels of brutality.

Nothing could have prepared the world for the next track, "Bleed," which is one of the band's finest moments in terms of groove and technical agility. Not only is the picking speed so fast that inhuman levels of efficiency are required to play the riff cleanly and accurately, maintaining that for five minutes is a real athletic challenge.

The album progresses with a similar theme: The intensity level remains at 11, but there's a huge amount of diversity with grooves, rhythmic patterns, tempos until you hit "Pravus," which begins very intensely but then teases with some emotive melody for the first time on the record. The album closer throws another curve ball with its slightly lower-gain intro, which then develops into one of Meshuggah's finest groovy riffs to close the record.

ObZen came out at a very significant time in my career, as I'd been playing with TesseracT for around 18 months, and it was very early days for the band. We had only played a handful of local shows to date, and although the project had existed for four or five years on the internet, we were a very young band and still finding our feet. We definitely wear our Meshuggah influences on our sleeves, and they had a profound impact on us at this time.

We had a band outing to see Meshuggah on the obZen tour when they played the LA 2 in London, which was a 1,000-ish cap room that has now made way for a railway station — I'm still upset about this, to be honest, as I loved that venue, but I digress. I'd seen Meshuggah at festivals before, but this was my first time seeing them in a club environment, so I was beyond excited. I have a distinct memory of the guitar line checking before the set and the tone was phenomenal; such a crisp bite on the top end and powerful but highly controlled low mids — a sound that has gone on to inspire the majority of modern metal bands today. The band played and it was mind-blowing ... It's all a bit of a blur now, but I remember witnessing something I felt was very special and important at the time.

In 2011, we played a show with Meshuggah in India and we toured with them last year with Megadeth. Watching them every night close up and from different perspectives was a learning experience every night. They are one of the most phenomenal live bands I've ever seen and I'm very grateful to have had these opportunities.

In terms of creativity with brutality, no one else comes close to Meshuggah, and although 10 years old, obZen sounds as fresh and important today as it ever has. Every metal fan needs this in their collection.

James Monteith plays guitar for U.K. prog-metal band TesseracT, who are set to release their fourth album, Sonder, on April 20th. You can follow him on Twitter here.