The paradigm-defining Swedish progressive metal band Meshuggah just released their new album The Violent Sleep of Reason today, but we’ve already had weeks to listen to two singles the released leading up to the album: “Born in Dissonance” and “Nostrum.” There’s any number of things I could say about how bone-crushingly heavy these two songs are, which you can probably read in a hundred other blogs and metal industry news sites. I could also talk about how the band is continuing to use some of the same riff-writing techniques the band has used for decades. I could even show how many songs on the new album are great examples of musical structures scholars and fans have already found in Meshuggah’s music. (Meshuggah has definitely attracted it’s fair share of scholarly research — conference papers, several Master’s theses, chapters in doctoral dissertations, and even an article in one of the most prominent music theory research journals, Music Theory Spectrum.) But instead, I’d like to talk about something Meshuggah does in “Nostrum” that I don’t think I’ve ever seen before, either in writing about the band by other critics and scholars, or in my own analyses.
(Update October 11, 2016: Dr. Olivia Lucas, who received her PhD from Harvard this last May, has just written me to tell me that in chapter 2 of her dissertation about extreme metal, she observes a similar kind of isorhythm to what I describe here in the Meshuggah song “Pineal Gland Optics” from ObZen (2008). She pointed out that in “Pineal Gland Optics” the pitches form a repeating pattern, but in the second riff from “Nostrum” there is no repeating sequence of pitches, so it’s not exactly the same, but it’s pretty similar. Based on the few pages I’ve just read, I highly recommend her dissertation to anyone interested in rhythm and meter in Meshuggah’s music!)