Meshuggah: Destroy, Erase, Improve

Tech metal, math metal, call it what you will. Fact is, the ill rhythms of this Swedish quintet have influenced too many of the great bastions of modern metal to mention. Tomas Haake tells Jamie Borthwick why Meshuggah are still the underdogs

Feature by Jamie Borthwick | 06 Mar 2008

It seems there is nothing quite so satisfyingly placid as the weeks after wrapping up a sixth full-length album of experimental metal. "It's been quite a relaxing couple of months," says Tomas Haake, drummer with Sweden's headbanger daddies Meshuggah.

Due for release on 10 Mar, new album obZen will coincide with the band's US tour in support of Ministry. Put to bed in late 2007, the nine track record rewards fans with all the time-bending grooves that have come to typify the long-running band; with tighter song structures and gratifying thrash-outs coming thicker and faster than on any of their recent EP output. Meshuggah seem intent on creating their agenda-setting metal around stronger, more traditional parameters of song length, with a curbing of their tendency to conceptualise recordings. The hope is that a slow-burning but accessible sound will arise.

"I think in lots of ways our albums are slow-burners," says Haake. "To some extent this one is easier to digest, but the music is still very complex and I think that it takes a certain amount of will from the listener to really get the hang of it. For me, personally, that's what I like. The albums that really treat me are the long-runners, the ones that I keep coming back to, year after year. We see that as a good aspect in writing an album and obZen is challenging the listener."

There was widespread disappointment in November when Meshuggah pulled out of their planned tour with Dillinger Escape Plan due to recording duties. But Haake stresses the time his band took to put the album together is keenly evident in the sound: "It's actually the first time that we've just scrapped all other things because we simply had to work on this album and not put ourselves in the sort of situation we've had before. One time we had to do the whole album in just three weeks. This time around we took almost six months to do all the recording and the sampling so we definitely took our time and as far as production goes I think it shows."

The production's on the money then, but Haake admits to foreseeing some rough riding ahead as they look to push the aggressively technical new tracks onto the live circuit. "A lot of the new songs are going to be great live, but a lot of it really, really tricky to play – it's difficult stuff."

Haake explains that as the recording process is so fractured, the band didn't start to rehearse the new material live until January and they expect only a few songs to be ready for the tour. "We never play any of the stuff together while recording. I always just record the drums and the drums only, then maybe the guitarists will lay their stuff that they've written and when it's finished we won't actually have ever played the songs as a band together, but it's all crystallising live now."

After some low-key shows in their homeland, Meshuggah pack off Stateside until the summer when they'll return for some European festivals by which time they should be ready to let rip with the majority of their obZen material on the live stage. Yet with such renown for the unique nature of the music, is there any pressure on them to make the songs deliberately obtuse? "It's never a conscious effort, it's just how the songs pan out. All the musicians in this band have written for this record and it's a very diverse mix."

And of Haake's own distinctive style, this is the man whose style has rubbed off on the sonics of Metallica, Tool, Deftones and DEP over the years. "I think there's more 'play' in the drumming. There's more fills and more flavours added to the drumming than on a lot of the previous albums. It's a different album for me as a drummer, but all in a good sense."

ObZen is out on 10 Mar via Nuclear Blast