Jones, Deirdre H., Guitar Player
IT'S A VEXING QUESTION, BUT ONE WE always seem to ask metal guitarists in GP interviews: What is the future of the genre? Is anyone raising the bar, taking things to the next level, or flying a new kind of metal freak flag? Frequently, the response is uncertain, or more cynical musicians will lament the fact that many guitarists are simply recycling the same old stuff we've heard one hundred times before ("I liked it the first time--when it was called 'Metallica'").
But Sweden's Meshuggah (the band name means "crazy" in Yiddish) seems to perk up the tired ears of the most jaded metal players. Blending a headache-inducing barrage of drums with bombastic riffs, atonal leads, odd time signatures, and rapid key and tempo changes, Meshuggah defies being pigeonholed. In fact, the band has been called everything from experimental jazz to grindcore to hi-tech metal. Amidst the tumult, guitarists Marten Hagstrom and Fredrik Thordendahl further defy convention by deftly phrasing their riffs against polyrhythmic beats and launching legato, jazz-inspired leads. Meshuggah was still riding the success of its sixth studio release last year, ObZen [Nuclear Blast], when GP caught up with Hagstrom at his forest home in Sweden as he prepared for the band's North American tour.
As ObZen has been out for a while now, and you've had a chance to sit with it, do you still feel good about the album?
It's starting to sink in, and it's still the solid album we thought it was, but it is becoming very clear what works--and what doesn't--in a live situation. Some of the stuff we thought were the strong points when we were making the album don't really hold up live, and some other parts that we didn't think much of have grown to be quite wonderful.
What has been the response of your fans?
When someone tells you their opinions about your music, or how it makes them feel, it's still kind of weird to me. The privilege of the listener is that he or she has a first-hand experience that's not polluted by any preconceptions. It's quite a different thing to have been through the process of writing and producing an album, and then having to adjust to what you created, and how it makes you feel now. I find that our music might affect someone tremendously, but not in the way I would have anticipated. But, regardless, I'm happy that there are good feelings about the album all around.
An interesting Meshuggah feature is how you typically play such rhythmically complex riffs over a basic 4/4 beat.
Yeah. Sometimes, it feels like there's more focus about what stands out technically--and how strange it sounds--rather than what we've actually tried to achieve in each song.
I've heard people say that what we do is not even music. It's weird. Comparisons to Allan Holdsworth tend to come up because he is a big influence on Fredrik, but my approach is pretty melodic, and I don't get as involved in the complex solos as Fredrik does. So, is it really an issue? Perhaps it was more so in the past, but I believe we have integrated that fusion style of playing so much into our sound now that it's seamless. It has become our own form of expression.
How did you develop such a varied rhythmic emphasis? The complexity really informs the band's style.
We all grew up listening to thrash metal--which is a very percussive style of music. As a result, the drums are a big part of our music, and, basically, we consider that all of us play percussion. Even when Jens [Kidman, vocals] sings or screams, his voice is a percussive instrument. Our sound is based in this bombardment of combined rhythms and counter-rhythms.
Do you carry equal responsibilities for songwriting?
Whoever comes up with a song part--whether it's a complete idea or just a piece of the entire arrangement--finishes the whole thing. I think we're a little different this way. We record our ideas on Cubase SX--which is an excellent tool for outlining rough song structures--and present them to the band as completely as possible with programmed drums. …