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Written by Willie Newland on October 9, 2008

Meshuggah are a band that can only be described as mind-jarring. They play 8-string guitars (tuned down to E, a whole octave below a normal guitar), making frequent use of polyrhythmic song structures and atonal free jazz-esque melodies.

Having been named the most important band in metal by Alternative Press, and one of the 10 most important heavy bands by Rolling Stone, the impact that they have made on modern metal is undeniable. For Christ’s sake, Danny Carey has been quoted as saying they’re the only band he listens to. With all this in mind it was with a mixture of awe and trepidation that I sat down with rhythm guitarist Marten Hagstrom.

MF: First off, Catch Thirty-three, what sort of a mindset were you when you wrote that album?

M: “Just one of liberation to have unlimited freedom to build an atmosphere that wasn’t confined by the more traditional song structure.”

MF: What made you want to use programmed drums?

M: “We’ll when we finished the “demo” we actually felt that the programmed drums worked perfectly with the general vibe of the piece. This along with the fact that to record forty something minutes of surreal insanity would take too much time to be worth the effort since the result is all that matters to us and we felt we were so close to the mark anyway.”

MF: How has playing with the eight string, low tuned guitars affected how you write music?

M: “Basically the difference in tone makes the mind spit out new things. Its like your subconscious, or whatever it is, is attracted to the expression and starts to work on how to utilize what’s good about it.”

MF: Sweden is well known for incredible metal, and very technical playing, why do you think that it is?

M: “I have no idea. Tradition I guess. I keep hearing people coming up with all kinds of explanations for it but naturally it’s a mix of a lot of things. Musical tradition, the schooling system, the fact that you could (not with our current government though, which would gladly snuff anything non-commercial that might inspire folks to have a mind of their own) get help to actually give your “career” a real shot through funding etc. But most friends I grew up with had at least one parent involved in music somehow albeit going to choir practice or whatever, but you’re around music from young age most of the time.”

MF: You guys get all sorts of different sub genres attached to you, groove-metal, math-metal. Do you think you fit into any of them or are they all bullshit?

M: “To me it’s bullshit. I understand the need for categorizing stuff like that but in all honesty if you call us metal or neocybermathgroovequantummetal it doesn’t make any difference. It is what it is. Every band on the planet differs enough for someone to come up with a suitable genre name for it. It’s like… ‘No! That band don’t sound like death metal, they’re slightly more like a Nu-atmosphere-crossover-oi/ska/elctronic but with a twist of Barry Manilow and G.G Allin type of band’. It kind of robs the music of its own identity. But I can see why it happens.”

MF: obZen took the longest for you guys to record, why?

M: “Not really. It didn’t even take the longest to write. And the album was finished long before release. But the recording/writing process took a lot longer than was first expected. The reasons for that are many but we really took great care with the production when we heard that Nuclear Blast moved the album’s release 3-4 months later than we first thought.”

MF: What would you be doing if you weren’t in music?

M: “Don’t know. Do something that has to do with ice hockey or trying to become writer, breed snakes etc I have a lot of interests that I’d probably pursue if I could. But I still have too many musical ideas to see the end of this yet.”

MF: Why?

M: “I love ice hockey (it’s like a religion here) and I’ve always read a lot of books so it’d be interesting to see what would happen if I took to the “pen”. It’d probably be the worst crap ever but that doesn’t matter when you do a thing like that. It’s more like learning about yourself.”

“As far as the snake breeding goes I’ve bred a lot of snakes through the years but I haven’t’ actually kept any for a couple of years now and I’m missing it.”

MF: What music are you listening to at the moment?

M: “The latest Cornelius, but right now I’m mostly sifting through some ideas I’ve had laying around for a while. Might as well. There is a new album coming somewhere down the line. Better come prepared.”

Be sure to catch Meshuggah when they play the UNSW Roundhouse on Oct 13. Their latest release, obZen is out now through Nuclear Blast/Riot.

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