In the six years since Meshuggah released The Violent Sleep of Reason, a couple things have become clear about that album: it was their weakest effort since debut Contradictions Collapse, but was more than strong enough to continue their perfect winning streak. If Violent Sleep really was the sound of Meshuggah coasting into some sort of veteran groove, it was a damn fine way to do so. But despite the songwriting not really doing much new, the album really wasn’t a coast, as it still saw them taking small risks, recording much of it live in the studio and giving it an earthier, more natural sound.
From “Stengah” to “I am Colossus,” Meshuggah is no stranger to starting albums off with something a little (more) different, but where those tunes felt like some sort of harsh stretching session for the polyrhythmic musicbrainparts, “Broken Cog” truly feels like the start of a journey. It combines their use of textural “lead” guitars (lots of those on this record) with the typically rhythmically tricky chugs and some near-whispers for most of its duration before finally exploding in a barrage of towering riffs and full screams from Jens Kidman. It manages to be both a suitable overture for the whole album and a wickedly dynamic tune on its own.
“The Abysmal Eye” follows and immediately takes a sharp turn, tossing a barrage of tremolo pull-and-release passages under Kidman and those textured leads, bringing a kind of Chaosphere-but-slower feel. It also features the first of many wild and weird Fredrik Thordendal solos, where his inverted melodicism sounds like a lost bit of computer code trying to find its home within the greater program. The entirety of Immutable doesn’t quite maintain this early level of immersion and holistic direction, but there’s still a ton going on, with the album’s first half also including the pounding heft and infectious chorus of “Ligature Marks” and the twitchy obZen-but-stranger vibes of “Phantoms.” The latter even has a pretty wicked drop-to-the-depths section that serves as the foundation for a great finish in which drummer Tomas Haake gets to play around a bit.
It’s at about the album’s midpoint that Meshuggah does something very smart and fresh: they break things up with an instrumental. And not the type of brief, soft outro or interlude you’ve heard from them before, but a full, nine-minute, prog-freakout instrumental song. “They Move Below” is a monster, starting with a couple minutes of soft, rather beautiful clean guitar before erupting with their signature monolithic riffs and atmospheric textures. The leads often blur the line between repeated motifs and outright soloing, sometimes pulling everything into the sky to add tension and at other times feeling more improvised (although never quite to full Thordendal robotic jazz). The rhythm riffs meanwhile bring the subtle but deliberate in-song evolutions at which Meshuggah is so adept, doing their part to carry the mysterious narrative along until it all reaches a rather natural feeling of resolution. With apologies to Jens Kidman – who is still at his ferocious peak throughout this record – one of the coolest tunes on Immutable is the one that leaves him out. It all still sounds 100 percent Meshuggah, just a new branch sprouting from their mechanical tree.
That there’s another 25 minutes of music after such a beastly track might be daunting to some listeners, but the album’s unofficial second half thankfully starts with “Kaleidoscope,” which beyond just being infectiously rubbery and catchy, also contains Thordendal’s most wickedly wild and wonky solo on the album. The last two true songs on the album (ignoring the outro) are equally killer. The riffs of “The Faultless” would find it as home towards the end of Nothing as they do here, while Haake’s playing sometimes give the whole thing the tiniest of stutter steps, adding yet another tiny rhythmic trick and slightly disorienting element to the onslaught. “Armies of the Preposterous,” meanwhile, is the type of brutal-prog-trip that dominated the latter parts of obZen, at times barreling forward right at the listener or just pummeling with relentless determination (with Haake putting on yet another of his “How is this just one dude?” performances).
All of these good things being said, Immutable is almost inarguably too long, both due to a few of the less standout (but still quite good) tracks getting lost a bit in the runtime, and a few other factors—there’s no reason for closing instrumental “Past Tense” to be nearly six minutes long, and there’s no real reason for interlude “Black Cathedral” at all. But these are very minor gripes, and the end result is a slightly inconsistent but still largely kickass Meshuggah record that continues their perfect winning streak.
Offering just enough in the freshness department helps Immutable overcome these minor inconsistencies, while also ensuring that it will stick in fans’ minds much longer than most albums released by bands entering their fourth decades. Veteran-era Meshuggah obviously survives through the small adjustments, relying on their performance mastery and riff craft to carry them to success. This means that they probably won’t ever make another Catch Thirtythree-level artistic statement, but if they can keep putting out records as devastating as Immutable, they’ll be just fine.
Since Meshuggah’s formation in the late 80s, metal has taken a million twists and turns and evolved into new styles and devolved into beloved traditions. In all that time, Meshuggah played the long game, working within their groundbreaking framework, expanding and contracting their unique artistic vision, and above all else, simply being themselves. The band picture accompanying Immutable’s promotion is a fitting image for this legacy. It sees them older, more bearded, and seemingly the survivors of some fiery war. The message is loud, clear, and received:
Meshuggah will outlast us all.