Four years after releasing the decent “Chaosphere,” Meshuggah returned in 2002 with the album “Nothing.” This marked a radical departure from the previous album, highlighted by slower song tempos and seemingly-simpler song arrangements.
As stated before, Fredrik Thordendal and the rest of his band are clearly capable of crafting good music given their past accomplishments, but it seems like after getting exposed to such blights to music like Tool and Slipknot, they decided to craft an album that's almost like a nightmare-inducing amalgamation of downtuned nu-metal nonsense fitted in half-baked industrial song structures and with some Allan Holdsworth-inspired guitar solos thrown in to break the monotony.
Jens Kidman isn't at the top of his game on this album. While I'd never consider him a masterful metal vocalist, I can sense the laziness oozing from his vocals on this album. In nearly the whole album, he delivers monotinous hardcore barks that don't show any variation or even much emotion throughout. What's sad is that despite the “angry” aesthetic to his vocals, they don't evoke anything from me. The only real variation in Kidman's vocals are in “Spasm,” and while the change is welcome at first, they sound a little goofy after a while. If someone made Ben Stein (a man infamous for a monotinous voice) really angry and got him to scream about cryptic gibberish, that's what Kidman's vocals sound like on this album.
Fredrik Thordendal is the lead guitarist and mastermind in the band, and while he certainly has a lot of technical skill, he's not utilizing any good songwriting in this album. His “riffs” (if you can call them that, they sound like downtuned powerchords) are the main reason why I hate this album. They're so downtuned that they sound like they came out of a Korn album, and give this album a nu-metal flavor that should NEVER be in a metal album. Again, I have nothing against downtuned guitars, so long as the guitarists create interesting riffs with some energy in them, but in “Nothing,” you don't get that. The guitar structure in most of the songs sound really repetitive, and not in a good way like in a finely-crafted Godflesh album, but rather in a mechanically-sterile sense. The only good thing about Thordendal's work on this album is his guitar solos, which I'll cover later.
Marten Hagstrom is the second guitarist and he's in charge of supporting the rhythm. Hagstrom's and Thordendal's guitar work is so downtuned that they sound like bass guitars. The rhythm on this album isn't anything special, as the song structures totally lack the heavy metal thunder that should be in any metal song that isn't atmospheric black metal or drone metal. Last time I checked, Meshuggah isn't either of those, so I don't know why they're crafting guitar riffs that don't have the heavy metal spirit in them.
Thordendal handled the bass guitar on this album, and while it certainly sounds heavy, it doesn't do much since the guitars don't sound any different from the bass.
Tomas Haake is one of the most acclaimed drummers in the metal genre, and like Thordendal, he has a lot of technical skill, but all the technical skill won't save an album whose percussion lacks energy. Throughout the whole album, I heard some complex fills, but no percussion that had any agression that made me want to bang my head furiously (the same can be said for the guitars).
Aside from all the nu-metal nonsense Meshuggah pulled here, one of the crimes committed her is that the songs are highly forgettable. This is so because of the previously mentioned poor choices in songwriting, which keep me from getting interested in the songs.
If I had to choose any songs that would qualify as decent, I'd choose “Glints Collide,” “Nebulous,” and “Closed Eye Visuals.” “Glints Collide” and “Closed Eye Visuals” have the best guitar solos on this album. “Nebulous” for its more inspired musicianship and energy, and like most of the other songs on here, has a good guitar solo to go with it. I think its sad that Thordendal's guitar solos sound this good because of the fact that they're coupled with such bland riffs.
The album closer, “Obsidian,” changes things up a bit by incorporating a trance-inducing intro followed by more of the same downtuned nonsense in past songs.
However, songs like “Stengah” and “Straws Pulled at Random” range from being boring to annoying. “Stengah” is particularly annoying with its opening guitar riffs, which sound right at home with a nu-metal album.
The production for this album isn't bad, as you can hear all of the instruments and vocals clearly. After sampling the 2002 and 2006 versions of this album, I think the newer version brings the guitar more to the front, but it still doesn't save the album from being the mess that it is.
If you're new to Meshuggah, DON'T get this album. If you want to hear Meshuggah at their prime, get your paws on the albums “Destroy Erase Improve” and “Chaosphere.”
If you're looking for technical metal albums that unlike “Nothing,” have the heavy metal spirit flowing through them, I suggest you check out Blotted Science's “The Machinations of Dementia,” Spastic Ink's “Ink Complete,” Cynic's “Focus,” Atheist's “Unquestionable Presence,” and Gorguts' “The Erosion of Sanity.”
If you're looking for metal albums from 2002 that'll tear you up, get your paws on Immolation's “Unholy Cult” and Rotten Sound's “Murderworks.”
Pretend that “Nothing” is just that, nothing.
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