Album Title: Immutable
Label: Atomic Fire Records
Date of Release: 1 April 2022
Immutable. An adjective meaning “unchanging over time or unable to be changed.”
In many ways, the title of this album is perfect. Over the past three decades, Meshuggah have consistently and stubbornly stood at the pinnacle of extreme progressive metal. The term ‘djent’ and the bands that plunder this genre were born largely thanks to the Swedish behemoth, a band that has consistently created music that’s both incredibly technical and challenging, earning the tag of ‘pioneers’ and rightly so. Refusing to compromise, and refusing to recover old ground, ‘Immutable’ is a great title.
Looking at it another way, though, to play devil’s advocate, the title could also be argued to be misplaced here. For ‘Immutable’ offers, somewhat paradoxically, yet more change and new elements to the Meshuggah sound. The very fact that Meshuggah never stand still just proves that they are not immutable. We could argue over the title for hours – as someone with a law degree, and who deals with deciphering legislation on a daily basis, this would see me in my natural element. However, to do so would be to miss the point of this review and bore everyone to tears. Instead, allow me to say that this might be my new favourite Meshuggah album.
This is, I grant you, a big claim, given the music that the quintet have created over the years. But I stand by this statement. On one hand, it isn’t that much of a surprise because I’ve never given myself over fully to Meshuggah. I’ve often found that as extreme, heavy, and technical that their output has been, it has sometimes lacked sufficient melody and immediacy for my personal tastes. I don’t question the ability of the musicians for one second because to do so would be folly of the greatest proportions; these five musicians are some of the most talented within the world of heavy music, able to do things that my poor brain simply cannot begin to fathom. But albums like ‘Catch 33’ and ‘Chaosphere’ were just relentless in terms of complexity and aggression, and just left me a little bit cold. I admire them, but I cannot lie and say that they are albums I gravitate to with any great regularity.
I enjoyed ‘The Violent Sleep Of Reason’, their last album, released a full six years ago. But I like ‘Immutable’ even more. And the key to my enjoyment is that, by the admission of Meshuggah themselves, ‘Immutable’ is more melodic and definitely more dynamic than most of what’s gone before. This revelation will not find favour with everyone, as music taste is entirely subjective. But for me, a more melodic and varied Meshuggah is very welcome news indeed.
I do have a ‘but’ though, and that ‘but’ is that ‘Immutable’ is too long. I’ve said it many times before, but generally, albums that extend beyond the hour mark are too long. ‘Immutable’ is comprised of thirteen separate tracks that come together to form a monolithic 69 minutes of music. It feels a little miserly of me to say, after a long six-year wait, that a band as good as Meshuggah have presented us with too much music. But I’m nothing if not consistent and, when you consider how intense their music is, the length of this record will likely test all but the most masochistic of metalheads.
Bear in mind too, that words like ‘melodic’ and ‘dynamic’ have different meanings depending upon the surrounding context. ‘Immutable’ is not melodic in the same way as a power metal record might be, so it is still an intense aural battering, of that there is absolutely no doubt. And when that battering lasts for well over four thousand seconds, that’s one hell of a beating in anyone’s language.
Let’s leave this small critique at the door though and move onto the music itself, because therein lies the real magic. Firstly, as with most of their studio releases, the production on ‘Immutable’ is fantastic.
The first immediately noticeable difference on this album is with the use of clean, whispered vocals from Jens Kidman around which the unmistakeable complex polyrhythmic riffs and beats thunder through the speakers, albeit a little less aggressively than they have in the past. The dark undercurrent is marvellous and cloaks the track in a menacing, unsettling atmosphere. Only towards the end do we hear the archetypal growls from Kidman, although he reverts to the whispers at the death.
The riffing from Mårten Hagström and Fredrik Thordendal within ‘The Abysmal Eye’ are much more in keeping with the more ‘standard’ Meshuggah sound if such a thing truly exists, as does Kidman’s deep, rasping vocal delivery. But for me, it is Tomas Haake that steals the show, producing an incredible beat the likes of which few could possibly emulate or even envision in the first place. Alongside Haake, the bass of unsung hero Dick Lövgren rumbles superbly, creating the most solid of skeletons upon which all else sits. It’s as you were for ‘Light The Shortening Fuse’, the other advance single with which most of us are already acutely familiar. As Someone who struggles with a simple four-four time signature, the smooth, effortless, occasionally almost unnoticeable changes just blow my tiny mind and I sit and shake my head in forlorn appreciation.
There are so many great moments within ‘Immutable’ that it’s hard to pick just a few in order to maintain the pretence of brevity. However, I have to mention the fantastic lurching, almost tribal sounding chug of ‘Ligature Marks’. I love the lead guitar notes that soar above the heavy riffing, injecting melody of a strange, haunting, almost dissonant style; it’s certainly an intense and ear-catching moment on the record.
The melodic intro to ‘They Move Below’, a monster of a song that spans nearly ten minutes, is utterly delightful and allows a period of calm and beauty to emerge just when it’s needed. It is a delicate, beautiful couple of minutes, but the calm is shattered in a heartbeat, only to be replaced by something equally beguiling, albeit of a much more aggressive and nasty disposition. The djent aspects of the Meshuggah sound loom large through the muted guitar notes that weave yet another mind-bending sonic tapestry. It is songs like this that ensure that ‘Immutable’ justify the accolade of being my personal favourite Meshuggah album – with this level of songwriting prowess, how could it not be?
But we’re not done, as ‘Kaleidoscope’ plays around with a more modern djent sound, whilst lacing it with their own inimitable complex magic, including some insane guitar leads that defy logic, at least to me anyway. But the biggest eyebrow raise comes in the form of ‘Black Cathedral’. The first time I heard it, I had to check the promo download to ensure that I was still listening to Meshuggah. It may only be two minutes long and an instrumental to boot, but it makes an impression. With fuzzy, fast-picked staccato riffing, it’s undeniably a black metal -inspired composition. And as such, it’s dark, foreboding, and downright evil. I wasn’t expecting this, and I suspect neither are you.
Add in some very demonstrable death metal nuances within ‘I Am That Thirst’, a hypnotic groove within ‘The Faultless’ and the all-out balls-to-the-wall speedy aggression at the outset of ‘’Armies Of The Preposterous’, and you hopefully get the idea just how varied and dynamic this record truly is, and why I like it more than any other Meshuggah record in their now nine-deep discography. It may be a little too long but that’s literally the only gripe I have. In every other way, it’s Meshuggah. But more than that, it’s Meshuggah at their glorious best. And that means that with ‘Immutable’, we’re in the presence of heavy metal greatness.
The Score of Much Metal: 93%
Check out my other 2022 reviews here:
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