Meshuggah – Contradictions Collapse (1991)
More jazz-metal! I can’t blame myself for listening; it’s a fundamentally interesting combination to behold. Obviously, this band became famous for their monotonal, polyrhythmic approach, which is complex sounding, but actually very simply structured. The amount of effort it takes to create this sort of work is somewhere in the middle. Contradictions Collapse, on the other hand, is more a ‘normal’ sounding debut than anything. Along with their 1994 EP None, it’s a good look into how much a good sense of harmony and variation can enhance a thrash album… or one of Meshuggah’s later works. These days, I tend to listen to those more for their atmosphere than their rhythmic achievements. Basically, I’d call this a less extreme counterpart to Atheist’s Unquestionable Presence, or Pestilence’s Spheres; both albums considered benchmarks of technicality and jazz influence in their genre. In 1991, however, Meshuggah was working in an somewhat less extreme thrash metal vein; much has been made of the evolution of Jens Kidman’s vocals, which here contain a significant portion of melody while remaining shouted/screamed.
So as previously mentioned, the jazz influence is strong on this album, but obvious ‘jazz-isms’ aren’t really found here. Probably the biggest example here is how the guitar riffs and solos are constructed. Sometimes it’s quite melodic; at almost times there are a lot of ‘unusual’ chord patterns – 7th and 9ths, not very many power chords, flexible tonality that often straddles the line between major and minor, and so forth. Rounding things out are a few simpler, more ‘generic’ thrash riffs that basically glue together the more complex parts of the guitars. The solos definitely fit into the jazz framework, with their improvised sound, and there are some brief softer moments on the album as well. It also shows up in the drumming, which incorporates plenty of offbeats, but is actually more straightforward than Atheist’s aforementioned work, or the drumming on Focus by Cynic. It also has one thing those albums don’t – a significant portion of blastbeats. They’re not as prevalent as they’d be on your average death metal record, but there are a few songs where the drummer throws them in. Even with the jazzy embellishments, this is still based in ’80s/early ’90s tech thrash; hence the overall aesthetic of the album. It even has lots of gang shouts, which I think disappeared from Chaosphere onwards.
From a pure aesthetic stance, this isn’t nearly as heavy as anything following it. Even None is much closer to their signature sound, and a good deal of that comes from its substantially improved production. The overall song structures are still closer to this than they are to Destroy Erase Improve, which in itself was only a partial step towards atonality. What distinguishes Chaosphere from what came before (remember how this was supposed to be a discussion of Contradictions Collapse?) is not the increased complexity of the rhythm section, but the disappearance of all the jazz elements that made prior efforts more dynamic. I, being a 20 minute song, naturally had to recapture some of the variety of this early period to keep interesting over its duration, but the construction of its riffs and rhythms owe basically nothing to the jazz-isms that populate this album. Obviously, listeners who are only familiar with Meshuggah’s signature sound might be turned off by how conventional this can sound at times, but it’s still an early milestone for technical metal, and for the grafting of jazz onto thrash. It also has catchy riffs, interesting solos, and a good sense of melody, and that doesn’t hurt.