RIFF or RAFF: MESHUGGAH vs. MESHUGGAH

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Today in RIFF or RAFF, we’re pitting your beloved Meshuggah against itself to determine the greatest riff in their catalog. The combatants are primed and ready to djent. One riff will riff, the other will raff. Let’s do this.

LAST WEEK Vegglampe’s Anaal Nathrakh riff pulled out a strong win over Dubya’s Keep of Kalessin selection in our battle of the dragon riff. For his victory, Vegglampe is getting a prize from his Bandcamp wishlist. Congrats!

dragon-winner
NEXT WEEK’s theme comes from Leif Bearickson. I want you to send me your best SOLO BACKING RIFF. Y’know when the drums and bass and vocals drop out to allow the rhythm guitar to play a riff? That’s what I want. The prize is a selection from your Bandcamp wishlist! Want to be the riff wizard? Here’s what you do:

  • Write 100-500 words about why you love this riff, and why we should love it too
  • Include a link to a place where we can stream your song
  • Include the timestamp when the riff kicks in
  • Put “RIFF or RAFF” in the subject line
  • Submit your riff at toiletovhell@gmail.com

THIS WEEK I asked you to submit your finest Meshuggah riff. I will admit that I am not a fan of the band, but hopefully your riff selections will win me over. Enough talk, let’s riff.


obZen was a bit of a return to form for Meshuggah after spending two straight albums playing at or below 150 bpm (these are Nothing and Catch Thirtythree‘s SOLE defining feature, don’t try to argue with me otherwise with things like ‘facts’). obZen plays host to several of what I consider to be Meshuggah’s all-time best songs, including “Bleed”, which has become something of a signature song for the Swedes, but my heart rests with the album opener.

“Combustion” spends little time beating around the bush, spending a few seconds playing the main riff at a muted volume before exploding into life at 0:09 with the precision of an engine and the energy and ferocity of being chased through the jungle by velociraptors. This continues unabaited until we hit our RIFF at 0:48. There is no moshpit you cannot conquer, no PR you cannot crush, no challenger you cannot flatten to this riff. Very few bands in my listening experience can pull of ‘groovy’ and ‘fast’ at the same time without sacrificing a bit of one for the other, but this one manages to do both with aplomb. Hell, you can nod along to this one even if you aren’t a fan of the band. –Gurp


Ah, Meshuggah. Some people love them, some people hate them, some people are really aggressively indifferent. I am in the first group, which also happens to be the correct group. What we can all agree on, however, is that the band is not known for writing riffs. Skillful manipulations of rhythm at both the metric and hypermetric level? Absolutely. Siqq riffs that beg for a circle pit? Not so much. While they do have their moments of riffage (I very nearly chose the angular opening riff that opens “Dancers to a Discordant System” and subtly and gradually morphs throughout the entire song), we should be looking at this a little differently than most cases ov riff. “Break Those Bones Whose Sinews Gave Them Motion” contains what may be the heaviest chug riff known to humans, which also demonstrates the effectiveness of a brutally simple idea. An eerie, hypnotic guitar line opens the song, sounding almost like a siren meant to warn us all of an atomic dick crushing. It’s very clearly in 4/4, but it isn’t fooling anyone remotely familiar with the band. A few seconds later (:28), the audience is utterly demolished by a hulking monstrosity of a chug riff in 11/8. It patiently stomps along, the main groove crushing everything while alternating 6/8 and 7/8 fills add a razor sharp flair to the destruction. There are just enough different notes, especially in the fills, to give it a riff-like feeling. However, the main flavor comes from the layering. The opening siren wail of the guitar in 4/4 is still going underneath, and, in true Meshuggah fashion, Thomas Haake splits his drumming between the two ideas. His hands never waver from a steady, simple 4/4 ride, but his feet and other accents around the 4/4 pattern follow the 11/8-6/8-11/8-7/8 groove in the rest of the band. This essentially gives us two riffs at once, depending on how you’re listening. One interpretation gives us a riff 4/4 that swirls and revolves constantly around a steady pulse, while the other gives us a trudging, yet off-kilter riff that has a constantly shifting snare accent that almost acts like another note inside the groove. Meshuggah does this juxtaposition of meter often, as we all know, but the opening riff to this song strips away all distractions and absolutely hammers us with the raw simplicity of that basic idea. For added fun, listen to the whole song while you keep the ride pattern in the hands (one two THREE four, where the snare is on three). That alignment never stops, despite an ever-shifting time signature. That level of metric awareness is insane. –Stockhausen


It’s time for you to determine who RIFFS and who RAFFS. Choose wisely.

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