Swedish math-metallers Meshuggah haven't quite been themselves the past couple albums. Sure, 2002's Nothing and the more experimental Catch Thirtythree, from 2005, were filled with labyrinthine song structures, pummelling riffs and crazy screaming, but something was amiss (ditto for long EP I, from '04). But, man, about 45 seconds into Obzen's opening track, "Combustion," and it seems the band are back to form. Maybe it's the cool, ragged, bass-heavy production, the Tool-ish (sorry) opening riff or the general speed of the song (fast), but it's a great statement of intent. "Electric Red" follows up with a trademark plodding, off-kilter, tom-driven beat and "Bleed" goes for a speedy, machine-gun bass drum attack. All sides of Meshuggah get covered aptly within this opening trio of tunes. The drumming of Tomas Haake is, as always, a highlight, the man's limbs operating seemingly at odds with each other throughout the album, bringing these songs to Meshuggah-levels of confusion, but never sacrificing the toe-tapping beat. The disc does get a bit wearing at 52 minutes, and it all becomes familiar enough after a while. But that's Meshuggah for you, and this intense disc is their best since the classic Chaosphere.
I think this album has a lot more energy to it. Do you agree?
Haake: Oh, yeah, totally, it does. We wanted a more live-related album and with that came this different attitude and energy to the tracks. The overall vibe we had when we wrote this album and what we wanted with it made that energy stick out.
What does the album title mean?
It's a play on words between obscene and Zen. Also, "ob" means "anti" in Latin. The artwork suggests that the human species seems to have found its Zen in bloodshed and warfare, and that's what the title suggests. The three hands [on the cover] make an arc of sixes, which suggests the inherent evil in man. That also ties in with a lot of the lyrical content.
You experimented with programmed drums a couple times recently but went back to live drums for this disc. Is it safe to say the programmed drums are history?
I would never say never. To us, it doesn't really matter what tools you use, it's all about the final outcome. It's not a matter of how you get to a certain point; it's a matter of what you do when you're at that point. It's a matter of the end result. (Nuclear Blast)