Interview: Meshuggah Discuss Their New Album, 'Koloss'
Fredrik Thordendal and Mårten Hagström discuss the band's latest album, Koloss.
5 p.m. Soundcheck
The scene at the House of Blues backstage lounge is not unlike a typical Saturday afternoon in many living rooms across the States. The band members are casually sprawled across the immense couches to watch the final moments of Game 3 of the Western Conference NBA quarterfinals. Kidman, who appears to be fighting a head cold, quietly sips on a cup of tea and taps away on his laptop, while Hagström, Lövgren, Haake and Thordendal munch on nachos and cheer as the Los Angeles Clippers narrowly clinch a one-point victory over the Memphis Grizzlies.
When the game ends, the discussion turns to Koloss and a theory that’s been making its way around the internet. Though the new album contains 54 minutes of eight-string chugging, otherworldly solos and hypnotic grooves, it is still relatively restrained compared to previous Meshuggah albums. Online critics and bloggers have surmised that Meshuggah took this direction on Koloss after experiencing the difficulty of replicating obZen’s extremely technical tracks onstage. The band members are quick to dispel any such conjecture.
“Actually, I’d say that the songs on Koloss are as challenging as anything off obZen,” Thordendal says without hesitation. “They might sound easier, but they aren’t. They’re just hard…in a different way.”
“‘Bleed’ and ‘Dancers to a Discordant System’ are the most challenging [tracks on obZen], but we can still play them,” Hagström adds. “But going into Koloss, we didn’t think about that. Even though we might say to ourselves, ‘It would be nice if we’d write some songs that we can actually play live,’ it doesn’t come into effect when we’re writing; it’s just about creating cool shit.”
As Hagström is quick to point out, Koloss still has its share of wickedly complicated barn burners, namely “The Demon’s Name Is Surveillance.” “‘That’s, like, the ‘Bleed’ on the new record,” he says. “We’re not even playing that live yet, because I still have to really work to get the techniques and mechanics of it down.” While the remainder of the album’s tracks might not present the same technical challenges as the relentless, shifting riffs of “The Demon’s Name Is Surveillance,” a deceptively large amount of attention is required for the band to nail the right groove and vibe.
Keen to illustrate this point, Hagström launches into a story about how even these apparently simple songs fooled one of their own, Fredrik Haake, who is Tomas’ cousin and also a drummer. Fredrik, who is lighting director and operator on this tour, manipulates two lighting control consoles connected to the onstage lighting rig. Because he’s essentially “playing” the lights on the fly in conjunction with the music, he has to know each song cold. “Fredrik was saying that he thought the new songs wouldn’t be hard to learn,” Hagström says. “But then when he actually had to learn them it was a totally different experience. He’s had to take notations on the new tracks, which is something he’s never had to do before.”
Yet for all the complexity of their music, Meshuggah make it look easy. When their manager enters the room to inform the band it’s time to soundcheck, the guys leisurely ready themselves and make their way downstairs to the stage. Haake arrives first and runs through a series of drum patterns. The renowned drummer is focused and measured with every roll, crash and double-kick. Even during the mundane exercise of checking levels, his virtuoso, fluid and seemingly effortless technique is stunning. Hagström, Lövgren and Thordendal soon appear with axes in hand, and Kidman follows shortly after.
After a few minutes dedicated to dialing-in the guitarist’s sounds—which all emanate from Fractal Axe-Fx guitar and effect processor units that feed out to the venue’s P.A. system—the band rips into “Combustion,” from obZen. The sound is immense and instantly overwhelms the venue to the point that the staff, crew and opening–band members cannot help but pause and turn toward the stage.
Kidman stays for one song before retreating to the dressing room. The rest of the members stay behind and spend another 20 minutes working through “Dancers to a Discordant System” until they are pleased with the sound. With that, the theater falls silent and each of Meshuggah’s members departs the stage as nonchalantly as he arrived.
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