Meshuggah – Destroy Erase Improve (1995)
The revenge of the Swedish hip hop scene.
It’s either here or on their previous EP (None) that Meshuggah really got into their signature sound… although technically, Destroy Erase Improve is still a more melodic (sort of) and elaborate Meshuggah than the one you’ll hear in recent albums, if only by margins. It’s also rather faster and thinner in ways rather reminiscent of the band’s debut, but suffice it to say that the band changed up their formula enough to apparently win quite a lot of sales and critical acclaim.
Destroy Erase Improve is, in fact, a surprisingly complicated mixture of complex and simple aspects. We might as well start with the simple parts for simplicity’s sake – first of all, this is where Meshuggah’s signature “riffs” come to the forefront, but so many of those riffs are single note/single chord or at least chromatic, short, etc in a very monophonic fashion. It’s certainly direct, if you’re into that. The much vaunted polyrhythms that presumably fill the band’s press releases are also not too complicated in execution, since they always seem to center around basic 4/4 progressions (although it takes them quite a few bars to synchronize sometimes). They do, however, require significant practice and rhythmic understanding to perform. Consider changing your name to Tomas Haake if you seek to do it; I’m certain that will bestow the great precision that you require upon you.
While much of the instrumental end of this album is a textbook lesson in how a musical arrangement can be much less complicated than it sounds, Meshuggah managed to put some depth and complexity into these arrangements regardless. If you want to blame anything, try the nonlinear, and otherwise more complicated song structures that Meshuggah uses. While there might be plenty of monophonic chugs, they’re bridged together in a variety of fashions. It helps that the “jazz interludes” from the last album are still here, and they get used to aid contrast or enhance sound density on a regular basis. Without the dynamics that these help provide, Meshuggah’s otherwise constant hammering would presumably sell some Advil or at least bore to the point of ennui more than bore into the listener’s skull.
Fancy poetics aside, this is still a notable, band-defining production. Essential listening for anyone who likes the rhythm-heavy, yet somewhat minimal style Meshuggah helped popularize, but maybe not for those who want more overt variety or conventional construction in their music. I would like to compare Meshuggah to the hordes of “djent” bands they inspired, but I haven’t got the data for that, so maybe you’re just going to have to do that yourself…
Highlights: “Beneath”, “Soul Burn”, “Vanished”