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Listen to MESHUGGAH while you read.

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“Fans pretty much know what we’re doing right now,” expressed Meshuggah’s drummer Thomas Haake on their live shows. “There’s not gonna be some kind of major change as far as what we sound like and what we look like. It’s kind of going to be pretty much what we’ve been doing in Australia previously. We try to step it up a little for each show definitely but people know what they are going to get from Meshuggah.”


Known for their intricate and technical musicianship, Haake says that when it comes to reproducing the songs in the live arena there are certain ones which are more difficult to replicate but overall it does not have much of an effect when it comes to creating a set list.


“Different songs mean different stuff to different people in the band,” he continued. “Whereas a song like ‘The Violent Sleep of Reason’ might feel really good to play drums to and be easy for me, it might be really hard for one of the guitarists so it’s not going to be exactly the same for each member of the band. Usually, it’s not that big of a deal but it’s never gonna be quite as it is on the album. Live music always brings extra kind of adrenalin and stuff and that doesn’t necessarily make you play better. A lot of times it will mess you up a little bit and you tend to miss little things here and there but at the end of the day, it’s not about perfection in any way. It’s not about nailing everything because it’s more about the output of the band and the experience of the night, not dwelling on the fact you missed a note. That doesn’t really matter, it’s not important.”


As far back as the writing process, Haake admits that consideration is given to which songs will work well in a live setting and which ones don’t, but that thought only extends as far as initial reaction.


“If you have a whole album or you’ve written a whole album you usually have the obvious songs that stand out as being good ones live,” he explained, “whereas you have others that you think probably won’t go so well. There’s various reasons you might think they are only good for the album like maybe they are too introverted or they just don’t really fit the live stage kind of thing so we are definitely aware of that and sometimes you even have that in mind when you write something and you wanna write something that would maybe come across better live whereas some songs you don’t really care. Sometimes actually the ones you don’t think are gonna be live tracks at all are the ones you end up playing all the time so it’s hard to say.”


With fans becoming accustomed to hearing revolutionary and more intricate music with each release, Haake says that while Meshuggah’s output will always be scrutinized, the members of the band don’t feel any outside pressures to take it to a new level every time.


“I think to some degree that’s something we put on ourselves in the sense that we really wanna challenge ourselves and that’s what keeps it fun,” he enthused. “You try to do that and you try to challenge yourself and when that comes naturally technique will usually come into play but sometimes it’s just a formality. It’s constantly looking for something that is within the framework of Meshuggah and we’re not gonna try to do that cheesy pop sound all of a sudden of course. We still have this framework that we’ve got to remain within and we want to do that. We’re a metal band, we’re not gonna change. We’re not gonna start doing clean vocals – that’s not gonna change. So there’s a certain framework and certain limitations to what we can do in the band but apart from that you just try to come up with new rhythmic ideas, tonality ideas, and new ideas that make a song feel fresh to us and if it does then that’s fine regardless of whether it has a very technical aspect to the playing or whether it’s super simple.”


When Meshuggah first came onto the scene thirty years ago, the musical landscape was vastly different to that of today, but Haake believes that a young Meshuggah helped play a large part in the initial stages of that musical revolution.

“I definitely think we had an impact on the scene,” he reflected. “Back then there was a lot of hardcore bands like Refused so there was a tug of war between the hardcore and the metal bands. Back then they would all be pretty much sober shows where there wasn’t booze involved. These were young kids but there was definitely competition. We played our best to play our asses off and so did the hardcore bands so there was this tug of war going and we always used to play shows together so there would be three metal bands and three hardcore bands in one night. I think that was really healthy for us and made us step up our game because some of those hardcore bands that we saw were really kicking it and really awesome. That kind of helped us I think in the sense that we knew that we had to step it up and we were really trying to do that.”

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“With that, at least locally, we did put our mark on the scene but it was more locally then than anything else. We didn’t start touring until the mid-1990’s pretty much so anything up until then was only Sweden and locally. It’s not like we made an imprint on the music scene as a whole back then. With our first album, Contradictions Collapse, we listen back to that now and we just laugh when we hear it and think what the hell were those fucken young kids on? (laughs) They were definitely trying to prove something but at the same time, we didn’t sell many copies of that album outside of Sweden. It was more in the later years with the song ‘Bleed’ for example that we started to branch out on a global scale. There are certain milestones I suppose that really put us on the map musically.”


In their earlier days, Meshuggah were largely influenced by the dominant bands of that area, particularly Metallica, and Haake says in reflection it is difficult to pinpoint exactly when they fully developed a sound of their own.

“It’s hard to say,” he pondered. “It’s not like all of a sudden it happened. It was like we eased into our own sound over the years. Definitely, early influences were Metallica and Anthrax and Holy Moses, bands like that. In the early 90’s when the whole grunge scene took over the world, there were only a few metal bands still going strong and Pantera was one of them. Pantera had a very strong effect on us as well. They are one of those bands that we tend to forget mentioning they had a big impact on the aggressiveness of our band. That kind of helped us step that side of things up too. You heard Pantera and it was so aggressive – overly aggressive – and you tried to go there yourself and become more aggressive so they were another inspiration. Already on our E.P in 1993, you could hear us trying to do something like that but it’s also obvious that was a grunge era and you can hear a bit of that in the music as well. I guess we started becoming our own band after that. To me, it’s more around the album Chaosphere where we really started to do our own thing and walk our own path and not sound like anything else that we had heard.  That’s something that has happened more and more over time with each album. You’re trying to lock in to what it is that is the sound of Meshuggah and then try to recreate that with each album.”


Meshuggah’s most recent album, The Violent Sleep of Reason, is also their most commercially accepted globally with it exceeding the bands highest chart position ever in many countries. While not surprised by this, Haake sees it as somewhat of a changing of the way heavy metal music and its various sub genres are being regarded around the world.


“We were considered a really extreme band back in the 90’s,” he mused, “especially for our genre. By today’s standards we’re not. We’ve kind of kept in our line and kept doing the same thing and tried to push the boundaries a little bit with each album but the world around us has spun faster if you will so there’s so much more extreme music now and in a sense we don’t really have to try too hard to be somewhat of a commercial working thing, it just happens because the rest of the music scene around the world is changing and with time it has turned more and more extreme. If you look at the musicianship in young bands today it’s pretty fucken amazing. There was nothing like that when we grew up. The bands that we listened to were Slayer and Metallica and Anthrax and Metal Church and they were good songwriters but they weren’t always necessarily super spot on when it came to playing live. If you look at bands today – like many of the young bands we have had on tour as supports – it’s pretty amazing where the level is. It’s awesome.”


“We’ve been together so long,” he surmised, “and it’s not so much about being perfect and nailing everything; it’s more about delivering a package to our fans that will hopefully satisfy them and really make that heavy show work. We’ve been doing this for so long that maybe in a way it’s easier for us in the sense we’ve been doing it for thirty years almost and if you’ve been doing something for three years it’s not gonna be as easy to have that impact as an older band who has already done it.”


Written by Kris Peters


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