You’ll rarely find a band that’s as heavy as Meshuggah. In fact, most of the metal music out there feels like pop music compared to the Swedish extreme metal masters. The thing about Meshuggah is that they know the secrets of creating crushingly heavy music. It’s not all about pushing your distortion pedals over the limit and blasting those drums as hard as one can. There’s something about the songwriting practices that can make music so intricate and heavy. In the case of Meshuggah, it’s all about their use of unexpected combinations of intervals, rhythmic patterns, and even unusual chord voicings. And, of course, there’s something about those 8-string guitars.
The guitar duo of Fredrik Thordendal and Mårten Hagström are responsible for creating some mind-blowingly heavy riffs, the kind no one other than them could conceive. However, the guitarists here work hand in hand with powerful and extremely complex polyrhythmic patterns by drummer Tomas Haake. In their perfect chaotic harmony, they gave us some of the most crushing riffs of all time. Here, we will explore the group’s best examples. But beware – you might suffer from neck strains after headbanging to these songs.
You can find the upcoming Meshuggah tour dates here, the list is available below.
New Millennium Cyanide Christ
What’s so great about Meshuggah is that they usually carry this immense groove while keeping a very steady tempo. Such is the case with a piece like “New Millennium Cyanide Christ,” one of the first songs that defined their classic style. Released back in 1998 as the first and only single from the “Chaosphere” album, it still remains as one of the band’s classics and crowd favorites.
Their 2004 song “I” is just something else. Released as a one-song EP, this exquisite piece shows the band’s full musical, technical, and creative capacity. In fact, according to Tomas Haake, the entire song was done pretty much randomly.
Still, right from the very start, we can hear some of the heaviest and even weirdly catchy riffs, accompanied by crushing drum beats. Together, they create a very unique polyrhythmic chaos. However, no matter how weird this may sound, there’s perfect order in Meshugga’s musical chaos.
Going from one section to another, we can hear an abundance of mind-blowingly heavy riffage all throughout the song. Lasting well-over 20 minutes, not many can listen to this piece from start to finish. The sheer heaviness and polyrhythmic mess can make you go insane.
With the release of their fourth album “Nothing” in 2002, Meshuggah finally sorted out their style. Adding in some details and nuances here and there, it’s the record that defines the band as we know it today. But among all the elements here, we’re mostly interested in their riffs.
At the first listen, the intro riff of “Rational Gaze” seems pretty straightforward. But just like with other songs on the list, we have a very unique blend of rudimentary melodic movement along with very intricate rhythmics. The moment you’d try to play or properly count and headbang to this one, you’d realize how unconventional it is. Combined with their more modern sound on this album, the song brings a full brutal package.
Meshuggah’s “Obzen” album brought the band major success. However, this also came with a burden – how would they ever be able to top that one, or even just keep up with the standards they’ve set so high? Four years later, in 2012, they proved they’re worthy by releasing their followup, “Koloss.”
The song that we’re particularly fond of is “Demiurge,” which was written entirely by Mårten Hagström. Rhythmically-wise, the song is just a little simpler compared to some of their other stuff. However, the riff bears so much heaviness with it, bringing those lowest strings on Hagström’s and Thordendal’s guitars to the boiling point. It’s also worth noting that Jens Kidman’s vocals go perfectly with the song’s riffs.
“Combustion,” the opening track from the band’s “ObZen” album, is the closest thing Meshuggah ever came to making a thrash metal song. There are some slight rhythmical trickeries here, but all of the riffs make this song a true banger.
And we finally come to their ultimate piece – “Bleed.” Coming from the “ObZen” album, it is the song that, to many, still defines what Meshuggah is all about. The main riff is mostly played on the open lowest string, but it also adds some pretty haunting chromatic movements.
But the song’s strongest point is the drum pattern that goes perfectly with these chromatic (and chaotic) riffs. Just a pure avant-garde metal masterpiece.
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