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Much ado about Nothing [2002-10-21]

It’s been four years since Meshuggah released Chaosphere, except a collection of rarities (aptly titled: Rare Trax) little was heard from the Swedish thrashband. 2002 marks the return with extensive touring and the release of Nothing (no pun intended).

The Ozzfest
Meshuggah just came back from a tour with the infamous Ozzfest: “The Ozzfest went really well. We were surprised about how good the crowd took it, most bands on the stage are very different from what we’re doing. The other bands have more the kind of ‘jump jump jump metal’, as I call it, going on, but we were happy to be on that tour”, tells drummer Tomas Haake by phone. I heard some people accusing Meshuggah of selling out and even saying they changed their sound to appeal to Slipknot-fans on some messageboards, which surprises Tomas: “I never really listened to Slipknot. I only saw one video on MTV and I really doubt if there is any similarity between us. What do you expect with 9 guys? I don’t understand and I don’t really see the point”. The Ozzfest slot came about when they initially planned to record the new album: “It wasn’t a mistake, but when we confirmed the Ozzfest tour we put ourselves in a lot of stress. After Chaosphere we told ourselves to never do an album in that kind of situation again. Without the Ozzfest we probably would’ve entered the studio in autumn 2002. The recording process was a lot smoother than Chaosphere so I think it turned out really well and I’m satisfied with the album”.

Dynamics
Given the stressful circumstances involving the recording of Chaosphere, are you satisfied with it in hindsight? “Yeah, I’m satisfied now, although I wasn’t for the first year. I wasn’t sure what to think of the album. Listening to the album reminded me of the vibe we were going through at that time. I heard all the slight flaws in the drums and things we wanted to do differently. But this time around we feel a lot better”. Nothing is much more mid-tempo oriented, was that a deliberate choice? “It’s just how it turned out, the direction was already there. Chaosphere was more a deliberate constant punch in your face. It had to be cold and machine-like and a lot faster. But this time around we felt that what we missed on that record was dynamics. At the time, when we recorded, we didn’t want the dynamics there, but at the same time, looking back on it, we felt we didn’t want to do a similar album again. We wanted to take a side-step into each album we made and I think we succeeded in that”. Personally I missed the melody that made the previous albums so special, a Meshuggah album needs to have a few melodic solo’s: “definitely” says Tomas. On the other hand I think the new album is a bit one-dimensional in the sense that it’s mostly mid-tempo, “Yeah, if there’s one thing that this album might lack, it would be a fast song. I can appreciate it when we get that kind of comments from fans or listeners. We are really egotistical when we’re in the studio. We record for ourselves without thinking of our fanbase or the people who buy the record. If we take too many people’s interests into consideration it would probably make us end up with something we can’t really stand for”. I might add that, within a band, you already have four opinions to worry about, “exactly!” agrees Tomas.

The addition of a string
The big change for this album is the use of 8-string guitars, how did these come about? “A couple of years back, a year after Chaosphere we started discussing the new album and the idea came about to play the album entirely on bassguitars as opposed to normal guitars. We never came to seriously try that, because the bass, despite obvious similarities with a guitar, still the attack and such would’ve made that very difficult. Playing chords on a bassguitar also puts a lot of strain in your hand. I’m glad we didn’t dig too deep into that, it would’ve been meaningless. Around that time we got introduced to a guitarbuilder who builds all kinds of guitars and he sent us one of his own 8-string guitars, a proto-type, with which we fell in love. There’s another guy who handwound the pickups and they have a very special sound”. This also means that Mårten and Fredrik will have to change guitars when playing live. The guitars haven’t been used in the live environment, though: “At the Ozzfest we didn’t play much new material yet, but there will definitely be guitarchanges. We mastered the album 2 days before we went on tour. The day after we were done recording it, we mixed it and the day after that we mastered it. So we didn’t have the chance to rehearse. On our upcoming tour with Tool we will bring newly built guitars with us and we will have to change”. Because the 8-string guitars act in a different way than normal guitars, they had an influence on the sound of Nothing: “They definitely have limitations, but we don’t feel those boundaries have any negative impact. On the contrary: it has been a unique and fun experience and it also helped us with the songwriting for the new album. We found the new sound intriguing and the actual sound helped us with how the album became. I think fans that got hooked on us with Chaosphere might be perplexed in how the new sound is. I think it’s closer to Destroy Erase Improve, partly because of the dynamics. This album has more warmth and atmosphere than Chaosphere”.

Definition of sound
The band hasn’t been the most productive in the scene for the last 10 years. What is going on with the band inbetween those albums? “This time we can’t blame nothing but ourselves. With Chaosphere Fredrik was tied up with Special Defects, we also moved to Stockholm which took us a year”. Was the move from Umeå to Stockholm a careerdecision? “There wasn’t a band-reason to do that. It was more a joint decision of all bandmembers, but even downhere we’re pretty isolated from the metalscene. As for the making of Nothing, the delay was us trying to find inspiration and defining the direction we wanted to take. The addition of the 8-string guitars reignited our songwriting and defined the path to take”. If you compare the Special Defects album to Meshuggah you’ll find Sol Niger Within has a much broader ‘musical horizon’, do Meshuggah limit themselves in any way? “I guess we have boundaries, in a certain sense, but it’s nothing that would tie us down to anything. We’re only tied down to what we feel what we can do with the band. The whole setup of Meshuggah as a band with the type of singer and the type of musicians we are makes us fit better in a certain context, in that manner you could say we have boundaries, but everything’s pretty open and we feel we can do anything that we want to. So it’s nothing that bothers us”. Speaking of Special Defects, any chance for a follow-up on that? “There might be. Fredrik does not have any plans now, I think he found himself in an awkward situation making an album all on his own working with pretty much ‘hired’ musicians. I think he went through an ‘up’ period when completing that album. But working with drummer Morgan Ågren was kind of difficult since Morgan, although being one of the best drummers on the planet, is not familiar with the style. So getting his ideas communicated to Morgan was difficult. Nevertheless, Fredrik definitely is open to the idea”.

Mathematics?
Meshuggah is considered a ‘technical band’, with a lot of polyrhythmics going on, albeit the main-grooves are pretty much in 4/4 (unlike popular beliefs). How do these polyrhythms come about? “These days the polyrhythms come naturally. We know each other so well that we don’t have to make it complex deliberately. On the first album the working process was very different. It was much more focused on weird chords and structures. That has changed a lot. From time to time I put the first album on and laugh. You can really hear there is a bunch of young kids with a lot of energy and the will to do something and that makes me laugh every time I hear it. Our music is now much more based on what we feel”. Although the guitars play some odd meters, Tomas doesn’t feel he has to: “What the guitars are doing is basically what I’m doing. The drums just follow the basic thought”.

To end things up, any plans for touring Europe after all the US dates of last year? “We’re looking into that right now and hope to tour Europe late february early march, We also hope to tour places we never been like Hungary, Bulgary and such. And of course Holland, England and the usual places...”Photography: J.C. Farthing

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