Beggar are set to release their new album, Compelled To Repeat, on 3rd April via APF Records (home to a great roster of metal bands!)
Here, the band discuss their love of Swedish experimental / extreme metal act, Meshuggah.
Meshuggah’s music fundamentally revolves around a paradox. It has fascinated me since I first heard it, and Catch 33 – the album that led me into their world – is a celebration of that paradox.
My first glimpse of their parallel universe was a radio edit of I – taken from a one- track EP that clocks in at 21 minutes, though the version I had was cut down to about three – and I was bewildered by it; a maelstrom of laser-precision chug and sci-fi thrash with a moment at its centre in which the drummer sends his limbs in three different directions as the vocalist roars about ‘re-disintegration’…
Intrigued, I hit HMV. I clearly recall picking up Catch 33 on CD, along with Beecher’s This Elegy, His Autopsy (another incredible concept album) and putting it on as a fifteen-year-old at a friend’s party and being immediately propelled downwards into a different, warped, paradoxical plane.
The paradox is this: a layering of simple and easily apprehended rhythmic structure over a preposterous, writhing complexity. You might say that in this way all polyrhythm is paradoxical – one rhythm going one way and another going in a different direction while the track moves forwards as a seamless whole. But it’s the stark pairing of these two disparate elements, martial 4/4 mixed with god knows what, that is the most recognisable part of Meshuggah’s sound. It’s their particular concurrence of the straight-ahead with the utterly sideways that makes you immediately recognise it as Meshuggah (although there are other elements that others have jumped on, such as the eight-string guitar work that spawned the genre Djent, for which Marten Hagstrom has since offered an apology).
Meshuggah do it in a way that no one else does and it creates a marked cerebral effect. The mind automatically hooks onto the drummer’s hands on the snare and cymbals but is then dragged into an attempt to follow the labyrinthine forkings of the guitar and kick patterns. And conversely no matter how furiously the latter snakes out of the listener’s grasp, the steady grip of the former locks the listener into the forward march of the music. You can’t help but do both at the same time. This is, to quote one of Catch 33’s song titles, ‘The Paradoxical Spiral’.
Catch 33 embodies this paradoxical spiral throughout: the ‘ever-downward dive, only to surface’ that captures something of the transcendent essence of the best kinds of metal music; the ‘struggle to free myself of restraints [that] becomes my very shackles’; the resolute forward thrust that only bends back into ‘life’s unending swirl’. The whole album pushes outward but simultaneously inwards and downwards. The paradoxical spiral that captures the movement of Meshuggah’s music is the metal equivalent of Alfred Jarry’s pataphysical spiral, the Great Gidouille on Pere Ubu’s belly.
The rest of the Meshuggah catalogue is strewn with this sense of opposed ideas suspended in counterpoint. The single track I (the Roman numeral one and the expression of a unified subjectivity) paints the ‘I’ as a ‘fractal illusion’ and is itself as a track split into a multitude of fractal parts. There is an entire album called ObZen, evoking the harmony of obverse truths held in opposition; there is ‘Concatenation’ (a poetic technique found in things like the Pearl poems in which the last line of the preceding verse is the same as the first line of the next, forming a spiral of meaning); there is ‘Inside What’s Within Behind’; there is ‘In Death – Is Life’ and ‘In Death – Is Death’.
Meshuggah are among the most inspiring metal bands ever to have come around. But that inspiration can only ever manifest as a question of attitude or approach. Even if you have the chops, you can’t copy Meshuggah’s music because it immediately smells like a counterfeit.
What you can take from it is this principle of opposites in harmony, of lateral movement producing forward movement and vice versa, like a combustion engine or like a spiral – and that like life’s unending swirl their music is an exercise in absurdity and paradox.
Many thanks to Beggar for writing about their love of Meshuggah.
You can read more from the Why I Love archive here.
You can watch/listen to Beggar’s latest single below. Be sure to check out the bands Bandcamp page.