MESHUGGAH — Catch Thirtythree (review)

MESHUGGAH — Catch Thirtythree album cover Album · 2005 · Progressive Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
4.5/5 ·
tapfret
From the "wall of sound" section of my collection comes Swedish metal kingpins, Meshuggah, with their fifth full length LP-CD and first attempt at a concept album, Catch-33. Released approximately 3 years after the less than enjoyable LP Nothing, the shift in album structure to a continuous piece on Catch-33 was prefaced a year earlier with the EP I, not only in its compositional presentation, but also in its lyrical theme. I may be completely off base as the lyrics contain enough metaphoric ambiguity, and there is a significant amount of interpretative discussion to be found on the internet about Catch- 33, that the concept of I appear to be expanding on the concept of self, inner struggles/paradoxes and pitfalls of defining self in reflection of others. To a lesser extent, one might even look at Catch-33 as a microcosmic extension of the concepts used in guitarist Fredrik Thordendal's Sol Niger Within. The ideas expressed in these thick metaphors are abundant with images of self being the primary perpetrator of psychological torture, even in the chemically stable mind. The summation of ideas seems to be presented early on in the album in one of its most recognizable lines, "The struggle to free myself from restraint, becomes my very shackles". Many of these ideas are expressed in the basic ubiquitous teachings of Zen philosophy and the core tenets of Buddhism. From a delivery standpoint, it is understandable that many may feel the ideas and depth of concept are lost in the profoundly distorted and incomprehensible screaming vocals of Jens Kidman. But in the case of Catch-33, there is a dichotomy in that loss of understanding by the listener is the representation of what is conveyed by that soft inner voice that speaks in paradoxes and generates the internal torment of confusion and loss of self. Instrumentally the band uses 8-string guitars for an extremely thick bottom end. The processing of the guitar sound is peculiar in that even during the most distorted sections the lowest guitar sound less like the distortion of amplification overdrive and more like two metal pieces (wire/fret) vibrating against each other. This creates unconventional accents in the rhythmic patterns that are mimicced frequently today, but were very unique at the time of this release. Thordendal's typical Holdsworthian soloing style is used primarily as a texturing tool throughout the album. A particularly unusual aspect of this album is that Tomas Haake's drum tracks are actually programmed rather than recorded. Haake explains that this occured in the writing process, the programming was used for laying down the guitar tracks and the band as a whole decided the samples "sounded really good" and just went with it. Interestingly, they did perform some of the Catch-33 material live with Haake playing. Catch-33 is separated into tracks for indexing purposes, but is presented as a single composition with different movements that seem irrespective of the track assignments. The composition displays a great deal more dynamic contrast than previous work. And while the use of "quiet" parts are nothing new to a Meshuggah album, they are never quite as extended as they are delivered on Catch-33. Nor are they ever delivered with as much of an avant-garde musical approach. Previous songs like Unanything, Acrid Placidity had a more generic "this is the mellow song on the metal album" feel to them. Even later, The Last Vigil, approached the use of undistorted strings in a similar vein, but did not come close in the complexity of musical idea. The sections of particular note I am speaking of are at the end of the tracks In Death...Is Death and Sum. There are a couple shorter undistorted sections, but these are the two longest. Each has intertwining guitar patterns and both contain some of the eeriest, most sinister sounding passages in the body of Meshuggah's work. I should hope that Thordendal and Mårten Hagström will employ more of this approach or even explore a separate project in the future. There is something truly majestic about that style. And even the percussive portions of the music display a depth of musical understanding that exceeds that of bands considered in the same paradigm. From the rhythmic structures that use multiple time signatures simultaneously, to use of jazzy dodecaphonics (12-tone), Meshuggah was, and continue to be unbound by expectation. When taking into account Meshuggah's body of work I find Catch-33 at the forefront of my appreciation for its unconventionality, diversity, and thoughtfulness. It is held from the regard of masterpiece outside of the metal world simply by the vocals. And as I stated previously, there is a fundamental value to that style in the story.I believe that the listener who is up for a challenge will find a very deep and rewarding experience in the intricacies and complex build of this mammoth construction. 4.5 stars.
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