Latest Release: The Ophidian Trek (Nuclear Blast) Website: www.meshuggah.net
Sweden’s Meshuggah are a unique entity that create instead of defying genres, as seen with the djent movement. Their sound combines manic experimentation, fusion, extreme metal and a general predilection for the outside note but all done with surgical precision. Their skill in employing polyrhythms in unison to create a complicated and jarring musical effect for the listener makes them one of the more creative extreme bands out there continuing to push the musical envelope. Having toured relentlessly, their second live filmed DVD release titled The Ophidian Trek captures the band in their prime and also sees the band celebrating twenty five years of their mind bending career. Rhythm guitarist Mårten Hagström spoke to Loud Online on capturing the event for all to see, the touring cycle behind it and how they maintain the power despite demands galore.
The latest Live DVD The Ophidian Trek is intense. Do the strobe lighting effects throughout the show ever throw you off your timing?
Not really and obviously it is impossible to not notice those strobes. But, it is kind of like you are so involved in your own bubble and so focused on what you do that it might be a distraction but it never really gets to you. It is just some exterior thing so you disregard it.
Which part of Tomas Haake’s drumming are you honing in on to stay in time?
It depends on what song it is. Sometimes, it might be a hi-hat or it might be the snare. Most of the time, it is the kick drum because they stand out a lot in my in-ears. I try to keep my in-ear mix simple even though I have everything represented there. In the drum department I have kicks and snare pretty dominant so between those, the rest of it doesn’t need to be that clear because we all fill in the blanks. We play to a click track so it doesn’t really matter what Tomas does or doesn’t do.
What was the most challenging song of the set list?
It is hard to say. ‘Bleed’ is always tricky because of the simple fact of the strain of playing all of those triplets for fucking seven and a half minutes. On a good day it is pretty ease to play but if you’re coming into a cramp or something like that when you’re going into ‘Bleed’, it might be quite a challenge from a technical standpoint. When it comes to just keeping track of all of the parts, I think that the segment that we play from Catch Thirtythree is really hard if you lose track because there is so much shit going on with so many notes and so many parts that are almost random so it takes some focusing.
You contributed largely to Catch Thirtythree too so when you’re playing it live, do you curse yourself for writing something so complex?
Oh I am always cursing myself when I’m playing live. It is almost a relief when it is ‘Bleed’ because that is Frederik’s [Thordendal – lead guitar] song so then I can get pissed off at him. I consider the hardships of playing our stuff is an unfortunate by-product of reaching the expression we need. So it is something we have to live with but sometimes we do question ourselves but sometimes we do stuff that really doesn’t make any difference, especially when it comes to guitar parts. There are certain parts in our music and I’m not sure that people are picking this up or not but instead of just playing alternate notes or playing different notes to get it to be a chord or a dissonance between me and Frederik, most of the time we play alternates. So if he hits a low note and knowing it is the same chord the next time but I hit a high note, then he hits a low note and so next time it is the other way around, just to spread the stereo image of the guitars in the live set. Nobody pays any attention but myself and Frederik know it is there. Sometimes you can burn yourself for being too anal about the way you want things to come across.
In huge festivals, production crews that come in may not be aware of all of the things you have set up for your live set. You want it all to go smoothly.
Yeah, exactly. In certain respects we are really lazy or even sloppy but in other respects we are certainly control freaks. For instance, all of the recordings we did for the latest live DVD has no audio coming from anyone else. For Wacken, they have the audio for Front of House [FOH – sound over PA to audience] but we did not use that. We record pretty much every show we play because we have everything set up to a hub. So, everything that goes out to FOH and everything that goes into our in-ears [fold back via an earpiece], runs through our set up on stage where we have this rack set up with computers. So for the whole Ophidian Trek tour we recorded maybe sixty or seventy shows as far as audio goes. But the funny thing is that we used the audio from those particular shows that we actually filmed. It is just that we did it to have stuff to use, not for the live DVD but for other live releases such as extra material and stuff like that.
The film combines interspersed footage between the Brixton Academy venue and Germany’s Open Air Wacken Festival. Was there a lot of work to do that?
No, for us it wasn’t a lot of work in any respect. The after process of picking and choosing what Anthony Dubois [director, editor and producer] put together was massive for him. We set it up so that we had people filming us so that it was just a matter of disregarding that happening and that was the problem.
You stated you lift all the audio from the live shows for future releases. Does that mean that the recent I re-release was from a similar approach of putting out stored material?
Yes, exactly. The reason we started doing it this way is because we could. We’re running everything through a central unit for the convenience of touring and having everything set up. Obviously you have back ups but we have set it up so that when we roll into any venue and if there is a PA there, we only need to plug a couple of cables in and we are set to go, apart from miking up the drums. So, it is a fluid set up. We did it for practicality and convenience but we realised that all we need to do it press record on Cubase and we’ll record every show with every channel separated so why don’t we do it? I mean, just for fun so that when we fuck up badly we can go back, listen to it and laugh over a beer. But then it turned out to be something good to have because let’s say we had a really good take of ‘Dancers to a Discordant System’ that was recorded in Romania, it is great to go back to and say, ‘next time we need some extra material we’ll use this because it was fucking great, we nailed it this time’, you know.
Looking at the visuals, whose idea was it to have cameras running around the mosh pit?
It was actually an idea that came around when we talking to Anthony Dubois about making the DVD, who shot most of the footage. We knew we were recording that Brixton Academy show and we both knew that we needed a lot of cameras for this to work. For something to be set up on stage, we need FOH and balcony shots but to get it to be a real live experience we needed to have cameras where it is hard to put cameras. I think most of those shots are on Go-Pro from a headband so I think it is something that Anthony pitched and we liked that idea so we had him sync up with the Nuclear Blast office in London to have them to get suitable persons to film it.
Is it weird playing huge festivals and having a massive gap between the front of the stage and the front of the crowd, pushed up behind a barrier?
Yes it is and especially since it is not the norm. Let’s say that you play two hundred shows on an album like Koloss and maybe forty of those shows are really big festivals. So most of the time, you’re in an environment where you can feel the crowd and when you’re indoors, you can hear them in a different way. Playing those huge shows looks cool from the outside and if you stop and look up to take it all in, it is really massive. But when you are playing, all you are seeing are yellow security guys, that is all there is because it is such a long way to the barrier now. It is alright, when you stop playing you can look up and hear the crowd but you don’t get that club intimacy that you really enjoy.
How do you think your style in playing has changed over the years?
Ah, there have been a few changes. We used to have more of those thrash roots going on as far as guitars go, back in the day. Clean cut, power chord playing and riffing. The introduction of the eight string guitars made quite a difference from a guitar point of view in the way you approach both writing and playing. I think that being older and being in a band that has been around, we’ve learned a lot about where to apply the pressure, so to speak, to get the results that we want. So we’ve become a slower band in many respects but I guess, more importantly, we’ve become a more dynamic band. That is the playing that taps into the playing style as well. There is more to fuck up these days because some songs almost have a stoner vibe but some are like ‘Bleed’; very intense. So it is more diverse, we need to be better from a technical standpoint now than we had to be say fifteen years ago.
The album Catch Thirtythree is almost seen as a seminal album for the whole djent scene. Were you aware that you were onto something at the time?
Yes and no. We were aware that we were onto something for ourselves, for our own sake. We had that idea of making almost like a classical piece, like a big chunk of work that would be the Meshuggah trip into a nightmare that didn’t follow any conventions. The whole idea was to come up with a cool riff to start something and then to go from point A to point B without considering it being too long or too awkward. We didn’t put any limitations on it whatsoever. The only thing was it could turn out to be nineteen minutes or it could turn out to be an hour and a half. It turns out it was forty seven minutes or so. It was our way of letting go of everything. To be honest, not many people around us including the label and people working for us were really thrilled that we were doing it. They thought it was a bad idea. When we came out with the album, it was not viewed as a seminal album. When it was released, some people thought it was really cool and we got some pretty good reviews on it but a lot of people did not like it at all. It was just too long and quirky. I think it is an album that has grown with age and come into its own with the years.
Finally, in looking over the DVD now, do you prefer festivals or own headline shows?
Our own headline shows, definitely. I mean, festivals are great and they can turn out to be a great party with massive amounts of people and fun like that. But it is not like going up in front of your own crowd where people have paid for tickets to see your own stuff in particular and you know that you are playing in front of the people that put you on that stage, literally. That is something that makes it more special.