They’re Swedish and they’re named after the Yiddish word for “insane”. They play custom-made, eight-stringed guitars whose sounds go deeper than the Marianas Trench. They are one of the most pioneering extreme music bands of the past 15 years. None of their albums sounds like the preceding ones. This is Meshuggah, a band like no other.
Catch Thirty Three might just be an album like no other too. A 47-minute “experiment”, artificially broken up into 13 sections, it is not designed to be played live and, much to the chagrin of the band’s cult following, does not even feature “normal” drums but rather a programmed set using percussion fiend Tomas Haake’s own beats. I’m not sure how many people would actually have been able to spot the latter if they hadn’t known beforehand, but it is fair to say that the drums are not the focal point.
Instead, Catch Thirty Three is like the extreme metal equivalent of a piece of classical music, designed to be listened to uninterrupted in one sitting and certainly not on an iPod with its annoying one-second gap at the start of each “chapter”.
Catch Thirty Three does not concern itself with anything as trivial as a verse and chorus and instead is dominated by battering, looped guitar riffs and juddering rhythms that are repeated mercilessly and befit the cold, dehumanised concept behind the lyrics (“I float through physical thoughts / I stare down the abyss of organic dreams / All bets off, I plunge / Only to find that self is shed”).
The first six “chapter”, “movements” or “tracks” (certainly not “songs”) cover the ground above before guitars explode and sound, literally, like bombs detonating at the start of Mind’s Mirrors. A creepy, robotic vocal emerges and then a lone guitar twangs in the distance. Eventually it is joined by another that broods in the distance and gives a distinct aura of impending doom, a sense that is vindicated when the intense, claustrophobic cyber metal of In Death – Is Life kicks in.
With me so far? The centrepiece of the album is next. In Death – Is Death is a 13 minute journey through guitars that growl while others wail like an animal in pain, followed by a jazzy interlude whose motif is echoed through an altogether more metallic bluster. We then get reflective, maudlin guitar noises that really do come across as the soundtrack to the soul leaving the body before distant, feedback-like guitar squelching ominously leads into the opening vocal “Argggggggh!” of Shed.
From here to a few minutes before the end it’s slow to mid-paced, repeated riffage and rhythms, with growled vocals acting like an instrument in their own right. Then, almost by surprise it stops and the last four minutes behave as a near-silent outro with the occasional, delicate guitar line for an epitaph.
If you can make it that far, you’ll have been rewarded with a listening experience like no other. Not necessarily one you’ll want to repeat too often, but certainly a unique one. What would have made this experience complete would have been a sci-fi DVD that the album could have soundtracked to, but perhaps even that was outside the scope of this “experiment”.
I’m sure there’ll be plenty of people who’ll be hoping that Meshuggah return to something a little more conventional next time round. However, it’s hard not to be impressed by something so technical, so complex, yet in parts so aggressive as Catch 33. Anything but easy listening.