Feb 152012

 (BadWolf stirs the pot on an issue that’s been generating a lot of discussion recently.)

I’d like to address some  speculation floating around the blogosphere now that the internet has had its first taste of Meshuggah’s new record, Koloss. Namely, our allies in metal at Heavy Blog Is Heavy and MetalSucks. Apparently, these people seem to think that Meshuggah may have somehow lost their relevance to the next generation of metalheads, who are being raised on Djent, itself the offspring of Meshuggah’s  influence.


First, just so you know where I am coming from: I love Meshuggah and mostly hate Djent. Meshuggah’s Destroy Erase Improve was the first ‘extreme’ metal record I ever owned. As for Djent, I was an early adopter and early abdicator. I stand by Cloudkicker and Animals As Leaders resolutely, but their largely instrumental/ambient take on the genre is very different from the now-proliferating pop-metal variety. I also stand by Periphery’s demo tapes, but the instant I saw that ‘Icarus Lives’ video and heard Spencer Sotelo’s voice, I knew it was time to jump ship. Anything that evokes Linkin Park is incredibly bad, unless that project involves Trent Reznor. Now we have Djent evoking Fred Durst, but replacing his trailer park machismo for otaku-pandering roleplaying that gestures toward environmental and social consciousness, but fails to evoke even 1/100th of the mastery Gojira display with such grave subjects.

Now that you know where I stand, on to the offending quote (from HBIH):

“… Amongst the praise [of the new Meshuggah song], however, were murmurs of discontent. Now bear in mind that I am unable to differentiate between existing naysayers and those genuinely turned off by the slower, more methodical sound displayed [on the new song], but not everyone was impressed. One voice said it sounded like “a more boring Vildhjarta without all the cool things they do.” Another said “it’s alright? I mean…what exactly is so revolutionary about this? Or is it just because it falls under the Meshuggah brand?”

Obviously it would be incredibly naive of me to call the end of Meshuggah or decry the entirety of Koloss before I’ve even heard it based on this minority reaction, but it does make me wonder: with all this djent djenting djentily all over the djenting place the damn time, is there much left for them to do? I have a feeling that their knack for pummelling riffs, unrelenting and highly technical drumming, and the presence of the undeniably iconic Jens Kidman will shine through, but I don’t think it’s as inevitable as everyone thinks.”

Now hold on one cotton picking minute! Highly influential bands release frequently excellent records every year, frequently to the indifference of younger and less informed fans. What makes this instance so different that it deserves consideration?


Let’s change that statement around and see if it still holds true: Last year Autopsy released their first post-reunion full-length, and I’m sure Whitechapel fans felt lukewarm toward that record. How did the greater part of metaldom receive it? I remember rave reviews. The year before that, Suffocation — a band with more direct influence on that subgenre — released Blood Oath. Did anyone question the relevance of Suffocation then? Of course not. And that record was a critical success as well. Suffocation are headlining Maryland Deathfest this year, are they not? Rewind back five years. Exodus released The Atrocity Exhibition: Exhibit A; I do not recall a single person wondering if that record would have any sort of relevance in the aftermath of Municipal Waste and their re-thrash brethren. Quite the contrary: re-thrash helped revitalize Exodus’ career. I doubt that ill-advised re-recording of Bonded by Blood would exist without re-thrash: If a market exists, it will be filled.


Now for another historical example, this one to address the fan opinion that Meshuggah sounds like “Vildhjarta without all the cool things they do.” Without any specifics, I can only assume that reader means the ambient electronics and colorful melodies which differentiate Djent from Meshuggah’s style. Well, in 2008 another very influential metal band released a record with a great deal of stylistic touches mined from the generation of bands they helped inspire—you may have heard of them. Cryptopsy? Well in 2008 they released The Unspoken King. That record’s clean singing, breakdowns, good cop/bad cop vocals, and ‘hot female keyboardist’ went over REAL well with the kids. Sarcasm detected? Good. I’ve yet to meet a deathcore fan who hold Cryptopsy up as worthy of their attention.


Let’s get right down to it: Meshuggah is not just some old metal band with a few good records under their belt. Meshuggah were contemporaries of all those bands I just mentioned, and have been garnering critical acclaim for TWENTY YEARS. Or have we forgotten that their career predates The Black Album?


Meshuggah may be the gods of Djent, but to call that subgenre their legacy would do our Swedish heroes a tremendous disservice. Meshuggah have influenced a great many bands whose careers long predate Misha Mansoor’s and who, in all likelihood, have already achieved success that will eclipse his. To name a few bands: Tool, Lamb of God, The Deftones, Strapping Young Lad (Devin Townsend), Gojira, Isis, and The Dillinger Escape Plan (you will note none of these bands ever tried to ape Meshuggah’s sound and then drown it in electronic swill—coincidence?). And even if Periphery permanently join these bands on the red-carpet circuit, the realities of a changing industry all but assure that their legion of followers will not.


In short, Meshuggah is an institution, just as Mayhem is an institution, just as Slayer is and Pantera was. And like those bands, their importance is not in question, but their continued success is. Meshuggah will live as long as they continue to create good music, independent of what their imitators think of them.


And about those imitators—they are pop-metallers. I do not have a problem with pop music when it is done well, but the thing about pop is that all but those who do it the very best are utterly disposable, and their fanbases are largely annuals, not perennials. Most of the headbangers from the 80’s who followed glam-metal never dove deeper into the genre, and fell away when their heroes did. The same goes for Nu-Metallers and lovers of pop-metalcore. I went to high school with those people. I watched it happen. They listen to Dubstep and Bon Iver, now. The people who stay in the community for life are those music lovers who dive into the past and invest in the future, not the present crop of auto-tuned TV-dinner guitar heroes. The people who are making Djent now, but don’t respect Meshuggah? They will end up listening to Pitchfork-selected indie when they get bored with Djent, instead of exploring more and more varieties of metal music. When will it happen? When they lose enough money for it to make a difference in their lives.


And I guarantee you, as they mellow into adulthood, Meshuggah will continue to write, record and tour, as will the bands who took them as sources of inspiration, but have too much self-respect to copy from them wholesale.


The only question, then, is how good will Koloss be? I know the answer. On Feb 27th, I’ll even tell you. But something tells me you know what the answer is. The sun never sets on a real artist.


  1. Good article. I think you’ve presented some very valid points, and I say this as a long-time metal head who has never cared for Meshuggah or Djent. I appreciate their skill and have nothing bad to say about them, it’s just that for me personally the sound is an emotionless machine-like cold.

  2. Very good article. Kinda got my blood boiling a bit. I almost hate going to concerts anymore because of the kids you mention.

    The younger generation of metal heads only care about gang shouts, breakdowns and bass drops. They’re too ignorant to their influences that it can ruin it for the rest of us.

    But I digress, I sound like a crotchety old man already. It’s pointless to preach to these assholes so I just put on my headphones and tune all that shit out.

  3. I don’t read the MetalSucks piece as casting doubt on whether Meshuggah is still relevant or has anything new to show us. It seemed more like a musing about how the current generation of djent addicts are going to react to it (without saying that reaction is going to be valid.)

    The HBIH piece does that, too, but seems to go a step further, questioning whether Meshuggah has anything left to do in light of the djent take-off (while deferring final judgment until the album becomes available for listening). Even you recognize that the answer to that question will depend on the music itself. Just because Meshuggah was significantly ground-breaking and vastly influential doesn’t guarantee that the new album will be another landmark release — though their track record certainly provides good reason for faith that it will.

    With all that said, I do think there’s merit to your observations about what djent represents and whether fans of the movement are likely to become members of “the community for life”.

    • What I’m saying is, there are some bands whose every album will be a landmark release until they release a disappointment, by virtue of their name. Meshuggah are most definitely on that list.

      Further, what more would they prove, or change? Their sound is so distinct that changing it would be a disappointment–New Coke, if you will. In 2012, they have nothing to prove.

      Regardless, I think Koloss does prove something.

      • Aye, verily. They’ve done everything from straight-up thrash to brooding hypnotic groove, and pretty much done it all again on a single album.
        One would like for them to use some melody instead of pure rhythmic attack though, like on the last 2 minutes of Straws Pulled at Random. But, that would probably be too much of a departure from their style.

      • “Further, what more would they prove, or change? Their sound is so distinct that changing it would be a disappointment–New Coke, if you will. In 2012, they have nothing to prove.” I’m with you there.

  4. Excellent piece of writing. The description of Meshuggah as an institution is spot on, and the fact that there is a distinction between that institution, and all else, only validates that the institution supersedes any topics of decent regarding the bands relevance.

  5. Isis influenced by Meshuggah? One certainly can’t hear it in their music… Now that one thinks about it, one doesn’t exactly hear Meshuggah’s influence in the many djent bands, so much as Periphery’s influence or Veil of Maya’s influence. That might just be one’s own perception though.

    Thank you for reminding one of Exodus’ The Atrocity Ehibition and The Human Condition by the way.

    • The influence Meshuggah has on Isis is largely compositional: Meshuggah;s big innovation is a trifold layer of sound: percussive guitar chords under alternating arpeggios, but on top of polyrhytmic drum beats arranged in such a way that the parts are staggered–they begin at one measure but repeat at subty different tempos such that each part progresses at a slightly different pace. Meshuggah tends to use mroe riffs faster, while Isis explores the one riff much more slowly.

  6. Meshuggah blows dead dogs for quarters and Gojira is the jizz mop for the shots that missed the mark.

  7. As somewhat of a latecomer/outsider I was always confused as to how the djent movement got so wide spread andwhy its is so ridiculed. Byrd’s comment got me thinking: I’m guessing that kids who start these bands tasted meshuggah and felt “these crazy riffs are tight, but i can’t mosh to this, lemme add some breakdowns!!! *chugga chugga*.” Which is to say, the djent movement seems to be an attempt to throw some blood/adernaline/random body fluid into the “emotionless cold machine”. I feel like ultimately this experiment was a worthwhile endeavor.

    Also, did you get beat up by the Linkin Park dudes in High School or something? bah, im just pullin yer leg a bit, but I do find it surprising for people to STILL hate that band. They are not even the same band anymore, and even when the started they at least seemed more articulate/ calculated than their contemporary “knuckle draggers”.

    You totally got your point across about them being an institution though. Whatever they put out now almost wont matter, because they’ve already established their relevance. On the same token though, one might wonder “So What?.” Like byrd also commented, though I can appreciate their skill and accomplishments, do I really give a fuck about them? I’mnot saying I do or dont. But, for a similar comparisson, for a Band like Suffocation, grand masters of Death Metal who STILL school younger bands live that play before them, since we know thats what death metal should sound like, I totally undestand the youthful irreverent inclination to say “Okay, what else is there? what else can I I do with this?”

    I don’t mean to ramble but I am having a difficult time expressng my feeelings on this matter. I think that in the end one of my main points is these short lived experimiental explosions are just as culturally relevant as the long running institutions that gain roots, and both warrant equal amounts of respect AND disrespect. Were not punk and hardcore ultimately short lived explosions? The ramifications of those are still present today. Now though, since the very foundations of music listening has changed irrevocably, its a lot harder to tell whats gonna stick. Even the microgenres themselves are mutating at an exponentially rapid rate, as new shit is being proliferated more and more, faster and faster, faurther and further. I djent probably is not gonna stick around, but I can say that about ANY genre thats been created in the digital age this past decade.

    Let me say this in all serious: I listend to this new Meshuggah track and thought it was terrific and will likely by the album on it’s release, but I am more EXCITED by that track debut by Hacktivist.

  8. Great article! +1000

  9. To my mind, Meshuggah is the aural equivalent of Picasso. The genius and merit are unquestionable, but the direct aesthetic appeal is limited to a high-minded few. The first time I heard the term djent, I thought it referred to something unsavory involving public bathrooms. I checked Urban Dictionary and found this: “A depraved and perverse encounter in men’s public toilets, closely related to ‘dogging’, whereby a ‘Djenter’ would enjoy watching other males relieve themselves in a public convenience, often taking sexual gratification from the experience.”
    I’ve never been able to shake that connection, and hence, have never been able to give the genre a fair shake.
    Regardless, thanks to BadWolf for a great piece of writing.

  10. Typical hatred of anything of anything that comes remotely close to being accessible to the general public. Such is the law in metal-land.

    Nonetheless: djent is a fucking bore, and Meshugga is a bore. ‘Look at how complicated we can be!!!’ BLEECCCHHHH. Technical virtuosity is interesting for about 30 seconds, after which I go to the bar or leave and find someplace that ISN’T a big nerd-fest.

  11. And 5 years later djent is stronger than ever.

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