Catch Thirty-Three

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Though they probably never intended it to, Meshuggah's 2004 EP I -- featuring a single 21-minute song -- helped open new possibilities at a crucial career juncture for the long-heralded Swedish originals. That's because, for all of the justified acclaim at having established a wholly unique and instantly recognizable sonic imprint, Meshuggah's recent efforts had started to seem a little tired and repetitive, leading some critics to accuse the band of treading water in a progressive death metal pool of its own creation. Fair assumption or not, the group wisely decided to replicate and extend that single-song strategy on 2005's appropriately named Catch Thirty-Three; although the reality that its virtually nonstop 47 minutes are in fact broken down into 13 sections could also be viewed as a not so elaborate ruse to disguise just another, typical Meshuggah LP. After all, many of those breaks are totally arbitrary (the first three, sub-two-minute tunes, for instance, offer no good reasons as to why they shouldn't have been labeled as one title) and a considerable number of subdivisions ("Autonomy Lost," "The Paradoxical Spiral," "In Death -- Is Life," "Personae Non Gratae," etc.) still find Meshuggah wailing away on that familiar template combining harsh vocals and nightmarish melodies over coarse, mechanically advancing, oddball tempos. However, it's also apparent that, by doing away with the rigid formality (real or perceived) of individual song breaks, the band has bolstered its confidence for exploring ambient sounds and quieter dynamics. "In Death -- Is Death" offers the prime example with its interspersed bouts of noise and silence, but the adventurousness continues over uncharacteristically melodic portions of "Dehumanization" and the mild case of electronics and programming (as well as robotic voices) heard on "Mind's Mirrors." And whatever your opinion about all of these conspiracy theories, there's no question that on "Shed," with its tribal percussion and whispered vocals, Meshuggah deliver a masterful career highlight. So, in conclusion, does all this mean that Catch Thirty-Three represents a radical shift for the band? Not quite, but it does take care to fulfill the expectations of longtime fans while breaking enough new ground to feel like a potential bridge to continuing innovation -- not treading water -- in the very near future.

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