Meshuggah are definitely one of the more original and individual bands in existence, having even essentially given birth to the hit-and-miss sub-genre that is djent. However, for all of their boundary-pushing and creative extremity, they started out as a thrash metal band and went from there. Even in their early days, though, they had atypical qualities to their music. These would slowly become their dominant feature over time, but early on these aspects of their sound were balanced out by some more traditional approaches too.
It’s with this in mind that we turn to these spiffing new reissues from Nuclear Blast. Appearing on vinyl for a limited one-time only pressing, these contain new artwork and audio remastered for vinyl.
After a demo release, the band’s first official foray into the musical world was with 1989’s Meshuggah EP, which is the first of the reissues that we turn to today. As mentioned above, the young Meshuggah was a different beast to the contemporary version. Playing what can be described as progressive thrash metal, this three-song release owes an obvious debt to Metallica but is not without its charms.
Glimpses of what the band would become can be seen here, but overall this is essentially a new thrash metal band playing music they obviously enjoyed. It holds up surprisingly well for such an old release, and will probably surprise a lot of newer fans that only know Meshuggah’s more recent work.
Two years later – 1991 – Meshuggah would release their debut album Contradictions Collapse. Considered a classic in some circles, albeit one that is overshadowed by what came next, Contradictions Collapse allowed Meshuggah to further refine the progressive thrash sound of their first EP. Increasingly technical and with further hints at future sonic deviations from the thrash metal template, this is an album of riffs and stomping beats.
On this album, Meshuggah demonstrated to the world that thrash metal had more to offer than just what the old guard had delivered, and already the band were starting to carve out their own niche in the extreme metal landscape.
The band’s next EP came in 1994, the five-track None. On this EP Meshuggah took their thrash metal influences, mixed them with some of the modern groove metal influences of the time, and firmly forged ahead with mind-melting polyrhythms and buzzing groove. You can hear the roots of what would later be termed djent on this substantial EP, and it’s hard to imagine that this style was once fresh and innovative. Meshuggah themselves, of course, have always sounded fresh and innovative, although their imitators usually have not.
None established a prototype that their next album truly picked up and ran with, and then all Hell broke loose.
Destroy Erase Improve was unleashed on an unsuspecting world in 1995 and was more of a success than probably anyone was expecting. Merging together progressive and technical thrash/groove metal in a myriad of creative and innovative ways, this was a collection of songs that pounded you down with inhuman, mechanical precision and robotic intensity.
The band’s first post-thrash album was a roaring success and firmly put Meshuggah on the map. Many releases are rather too casually called groundbreaking or landmarks, but Destroy Erase Improve is an album that deserves such appellations.
If Destroy Erase Improve put Meshuggah on the map, then 1998’s Chaosphere really started to rewrite it. On Chaosphere, Meshuggah reached the peak of their post-thrash sound, before morphing once more into something utterly their own on 2002’s Nothing. Chaosphere is a monster, an unstoppable monstrosity of industrialized harshness and uncaring groove. Combining technicality and simplicity into songs that crystallize what the band were attempting to do on their previous album, Chaosphere was the band’s first undoubted classic.
It’s probably criminal that I haven’t yet mentioned the band’s incredibly impressive drummer Tomas Haake. All of the band know what they’re doing, of course, but Tomas is a machine. From Contradictions Collapse onward he has been powering the band forward with complex and unimaginable beats, and on Chaosphere he developed his atypical art even further.
What a great way to end this current slew of Meshuggah reissues. Each one has its merits for sure, and it’s extremely enjoyable to revisit the band’s early material with what they sound like these days in mind. If you’re unfamiliar with this early work then I heartily recommend you check it out. It might not always be what you’re expecting, but it’s still worth your time.