(Nuclear Blast)

01. Combustion
02. Electric Red
03. Bleed
04. Lethargica
05. Obzen
06. This Spiteful Snake
07. Pineal Gland Optics
08. Pravus
09. Dancers to a Discordant System

RATING: 9/10

There seem to be two divergent schools of thought on MESHUGGAH: those people whose perspective was permanently altered by the band's revolutionary "Destroy Erase Improve" and "Chaosphere" albums, and who've been unable to warm up to what the band's been up to since then, and those who discovered them around "Catch Thirty-Three" and are more enamored of this decade's output from the band. With "ObZen", though, it's time for the old-school fans to come in out of the cold (well, maybe not that prick yelling "Abnegating Cecity"!! in the back of the club) and join the movement again — "ObZen" is the most streamlined, urgent, grab-you-by-the-throat record MESHUGGAH has made since "Destroy Erase Improve", if not ever.

For one thing, "ObZen" is practically catchy, by MESHUGGAH standards — "Combustion" is about as straight-ahead as these guys get, with a solo that seems built more on feeling than jagged angles, and some riffing that largely skips the oddball time signatures and just sets about with some head-down frantic rocking. Sure, it's still hellishly syncopated, heavier than a lead coffin lid, and overseen by the frenzied bark of Jens Kidman, but it's more a call to arms than a flowchart, and it's like a jolt of caffeine.

That directness infuses the whole of "ObZen", even when the band does get more tricky later on — while it's still very much trademark MESHUGGAH, from the guitar and bass tone to the staccato beats to Kidman's exhortations, it seems more focused on grabbing the listener's attention, creating a tension but then releasing it in simpler, more cathartic payoff rather than creating a more murky and overtly challenging soundscape. The end result is accessible without losing any of the essence of what makes MESHUGGAH who they are. And it's a testament to the band's prowess that even when they get positively rudimentary, as on the simplistic but seething "Bleed", the results are still as harrowing and heart-stopping, and the sound still as instantly identifiable, as when the music requires charts and diagrams (and fear not, by chorus time the song gets all crazy again).

There's a danger in proclaiming a record as a group's return to form, or calling it accessible — big red flags to longtime fans. But this is no case of your favorite band wussing out. If anything, MESHUGGAH's new dose of clarity has only made their lethal prog/thrash fusion that much more lethally focused, and their sound even more brutal and compelling. "ObZen" isn't really even that much simpler than MESHUGGAH's past works – they're just so goddamn good by now that they make it sound easy and effortless. This is a distillation of the band's last fifteen years of mindfucking into a defining statement so cleverly-crafted, it manages to come across as monolithic and opaque even with a million skittering moving parts. Pure MESHUGGAH, pure chaos, pure control.


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