MESHUGGAH — Destroy Erase Improve (review)

MESHUGGAH — Destroy Erase Improve album cover Album · 1995 · Progressive Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
siLLy puPPy
Although Sweden’s MESHUGGAH (Yiddish for CRAZY) had been formed all the way back in 1987 by lead vocalist Jens Kidman, the band which went through a few lineup changes and spent much of its early years existing as a Metallica worship band steeped in the classic Hatfield-isms that made that brand of thrash metal dominate the 80s which still reverberates so well far into the 21st century. While the debut “Contradictions Collapse” displayed an ample supple of “Master Of Puppets” reworked for the insane asylum, MESHUGGAH added enough sprinklings of experimental touches to slap any notion that the band was a mere puppet of the masters of 80s thrash but unfortunately the album failed to come off as something that really prognosticated greatness to come. Now that would come soon thereafter with the release of the EP “None,” which found a fifth member joining ranks in the form of Mårten Hagström who took over the rhythm guitar so Kidman could focus exclusively on vocals.

After a tour or two, MESHUGGAH entered the studios as a fledgling quintet and then something unthinkable happened. The ultimate chemical reaction had occurred and the band’s second full-length album was released to an unsuspecting world and frankly, the metal world would never be the same. While progressive metal was nothing new by 1995, what MESHUGGAH delivered with DESTROY ERASE IMPROVE clearly was. By entangling the filthy rawness of both death and thrash metal and inserting ample doses of technicality in the forms of strange unorthodox song structures, jittery off-kilter time signatures and instrumental antics straight out of the prog rock and jazz-fusion universe, MESHUGGAH had taken their thrash nascency into new musical worlds never dreamed of much less fully accomplished and in the process created a new extreme metal style that has since been tagged with the stupid sounding term “djent.” Ugh.

While “Contradictions Collapse” only hinting of the latent potential awaiting the day when the proper nutrients and sunlight would allow a full blooming bonanza, DESTROY ERASE IMPROVE is where spring has finally come with fertile verdant fields in the form of fully fueled aggressive technical metal workouts that focused on a rampaging stampede of staccato crunch and jazzified rhythmic mindf.u.c.kery. Different bands evolve at different rates but MESHUGGAH was a slow burner in their journey from thrash to smash. While DESTROY ERASE IMPROVE isn’t nearly as experimental and progressive as the following mind numbing albums such as “Catch Thirtythree” or “Nothing,” DESTROY still retains a great deal of thrash bombast with crunchy rhythmic grooves that stabilize the furious intensity from becoming too far into the experimental zones before the members were ready to fully explore the outer realms of space.

While the tracks alone are enough to celebrate and with a tight-knit quality so consistent that the album rightfully has been deemed one of the most innovative metal albums of the entire 90s, the other exemplary factor is how well the album is paced with the frenetic fury of the the first five tracks finding the intermission instrumental “Acrid Placidity” hinting at the psychedelic surreality that is possible simply from a slow contemplative clean guitar arpeggio fortified with atmospheric ambience and a melodic guitar lick that allows the undeclared melodic side of the album to shine instead of being banished to the status of a mere anchor submerged beneath the bantering din. But when that track is over, it’s time to resume operations at the molten metal factory and once again the cacophonous roar of Fredrik Thorendal and Mårten Hagström’s dual guitar attacks reign supreme along with the progressively wicked rhythmic bombast of Tomas Haake’s punishing drumming gymnastic and the accompanying down-tuned bass abuse of Peter Nording, who ironically would have to leave the band soon after due to the fact that he was suffering from vertigo!

It goes without saying that despite the divergence of the myriad subgenera that have splintered off into a vast metal universe, much of the technical wizardry that has ensued into the 21st century owes a thing or two to these Swedish masters of ultimate experimental fortitude and esoteric labyrinthine precision that was unheard of before and to be honest, it still surprises me how innovative DESTROY ERASE IMPROVE sounds nearly a quarter of a century after its initial release. Top that off and the title practically tells the tale of the band’s evolution from its derivative origins to its unique little nook of its own making. I also really dig how the cover art alludes to the whole A.I. thing as it displays a the destruction of the human being only to be replace by some sort of computer operated and easily controlled artificial version. While i wouldn’t call DESTROY ERASE IMPROVE my favorite MESHUGGAH album by any means, it’s certainly not far down the list and is the only album that perfectly balances the thrash metal leanings of the early years with the far-flung adventures to follow and there is absolutely no denying its importance in terms of innovation. Truly a top dog in the world of prog metal not to be missed.
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