“So Complete in Beautiful Deformity”: Unexpected Beginnings and Rotated Riffs in Meshuggah’sobZen


Olivia R. Lucas

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The music of Swedish extreme metal band Meshuggah is known for combining a rigid ".fn_meter(4,4)."-based hypermetrical song structure with riffs having a variety of durational spans. These looping riffs fall in and out of alignment with this background structure, but rarely overcome it, as their cycling is cut off at the end of the hypermetrical segment. Some riffs, however, further complicate this structure by seeming to beginin media res. This article studies three such riffs from the 2008 albumobZenas a way of analyzing the larger juxtaposition of rigidly regular quadruple hypermetrical song segments with riffs that struggle—and usually fail—to destabilize those structures. In my analyses, I move between conventional transcriptions and spectrograms, with an eye (and ear) toward questioning what each can tell us about musical events. Finally, with lyrics often centered on the desire for radical freedom or enlightenment, and musical patterns that ritualize the suppression of elements that break the “order” of ".fn_meter(4,4).", I suggest that Meshuggah’s use of rhythm and form explores ideas of freedom and rigid control, liveliness and predictability, with which listeners engage via a variety of embodied listening practices.

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Music Theory Online

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