Atomic Fire
rating icon 9 / 10

Track listing:

01. Broken Cog
02. The Abysmal Eye
03. Light The Shortening Fuse
04. Phantoms
05. Ligature Marks
06. God He Sees In Mirrors
07. They Move Below
08. Kaleidoscope
09. Black Cathedral
10. I Am That Thirst
11. The Faultless
12. Armies Of The Preposterous
13. Past Tense

When you consider that they are almost certainly the last metal band to create something genuinely unprecedented and groundbreaking from scratch, MESHUGGAH should really have nothing to prove at this point. Just about everything the Swedes have released since 1995's "Destroy Erase Improve" has been lauded to the heavens by fans and critics alike: a testament to how unique and unassailable their music has long been. But if one were to play devil's advocate, one might observe that the last three MESHUGGAH albums — as brilliant and crushing as "ObZen", "Koloss" and "The Violent Sleep of Reason" — amounted to a succession of variations on the same, streamlined theme, albeit with clear shifts in production and guitar tone from record to record. Modern classics all, of course, but none as jaw-dropping or revelatory as 2002's sound-defining "Nothing" or 2005's tech-psych odyssey "Catch Thirtythree". No one could credibly accuse MESHUGGAH of treading water in recent times, but it may be no coincidence that "Immutable" is easily the band's most adventurous, progressive, diverse and downright peculiar album to date. It is also their longest, at a generous and mind-expanding 67 minutes, and (as if to reassure the sizeable chunk of MESHUGGAH's audience that just wants riffs, and lots of them) frequently the heaviest and most brutal thing to ever bear their name. They may have nothing to prove, but MESHUGGAH are proving it anyway, possibly just because they can.

The opening "Broken Cog" is exactly the kind of obtuse and confounding starting point that an album of this magnitude deserves. It could hardly be anyone other than MESHUGGAH, of course, but from its mathematically perverse, staccato opening riff to its mid-song mutation into something entirely different and climactic, fidgeting coda, it feels evolved and ingenious to a degree that recent albums have merely hinted at. Superficially, "The Abysmal Eye" comes across as a classic chunk of MESHUGGAH bombast, but "Immutable" exists in a markedly different sonic world, with multiple subtle layers of ghostly synth and other alien ambience gently woven around the core of churning polyriffs and Tomas Haake's virtuoso drumming. Both "Light The Shortening Fuse" and "Phantoms" are comparably succinct and brutish, but where previous albums often reveled in the claustrophobia of repetition, these songs are exercises in perpetual change and nothing is ever quite heading in the expected direction.

Events really begin to veer off conformist course with the lurching syncopations and bug-eyed threats of "Ligature Marks", with its eerie, Moog-like lead motif and militant thudding, before "God He Sees In Mirrors" ups the tempo and the complexity, stuttering through five minutes of pitch-black aggro and white-knuckle tension. "They Move Below" is simply extraordinary: gliding in on waves of elegant acoustic guitar, it morphs into the mother of all lumbering, angular grooves, ebbing and flowing with utmost menace across nearly ten minutes of grotesque, unpredictable anti-funk. In contrast, "Kaleidoscope" is a ruthlessly precise, four-minute assault that perfectly sets up the abrasive but drum-less, death metal squall of "Black Cathedral" and, most satisfyingly, "I Am That Thirst", an instant classic and perhaps the neatest encapsulation of this album's imperious refinement and expansion of MESHUGGAH's trademarks. And the quality control remains resolute until the last. "The Faultless" and "Armies Of The Preposterous" each adhere to the inspirational brief, offering ferociously fresh takes on mid-paced and flat-out tempos alike. The closer, "Past Tense", ends this wildest of rides with hazy, echo-drenched guitars in fractious harmony, a melancholy footnote to an album that spends most of its time in a state of creative reverie.

Let's be honest. MESHUGGAH nearly always get great reviews, and they nearly always deserve them. But even by their own lofty standards, "Immutable" feels special. This is the real sound of progress, but with all the riffs you could possibly need. Beat that, everybody else.

Author: Dom Lawson
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