Tomas Haake Breaks Down Meshuggah’s ‘Immutable’ Songwriting Process
Meshuggah's Tomas Haake was the latest guest on Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio program. The drummer discussed how the band deviated a bit from their typical recording approach with the new album, Immutable and the multi-factor significance of the title.
It's the first new record from the Swedish icons in six years, following 2016's The Violent Sleep of Reason and, during the conversation, Haake details Meshuggah's writing process, which lends credence to the often long gaps between studio releases. They're not the type of band that heads into a rehearsal room and jams on ideas and, instead, a lot of the process is done through computer software and drum programming.
Read the full chat below.
Immutable can describe humanity, the band... any number of things. In what ways is resistance to change a central theme throughout the album?
I wouldn't say it's necessarily a central theme, but it definitely kind of ties in with some of the lyrical content of the album, as well as the band itself. We set out a long time ago to carve our own niche and do our own thing. I think we've been able to stay true to that, and, in that sense, you can see the band as immutable.
As social commentary on what what's going on around us and how man seems to be immutable in the sense that you're still turning to violence as some kind of meaningful way of communication, which is quite saddening to see. That's kind of how it ties in with the cover of the album as well — man is burning, but you will still reach the knife?
It's been six years since the last album. Pandemic aside, making albums has always been a prolonged process for Meshuggah. Why is an extended creative process comfortable for this band?
We're not really a band that writes anything on tour. As long as we have a tour cycle going, even if we have months in between shows, we tend to not get into writing mode when we're still in the midst of that. We really need to focus once the tour cycle is over — you have a month or two of rest, you wash your brain out and then start to get going. We started writing this toward the end of 2019 and then we spent all of 2020 writing it.
It was kind of done by January of 2021. We do spend a lot of time on it, but I think it's kind of inherent in the music as well. For our fans, I think it makes sense that we're not a band that's ever going to release albums every two years or something like that. We really need to take our time. With this king of music, it is inherent that you need to spend time for the tracks to make sense and come to life. There are a few different things, plus we're older now and we're slower. [laughs] Our brains are not as fast, so you have that aspect too.
This time around, we really spent our time, not just as far as the writing, but also the whole recording process and everything. We really didn't want to get into the stressful kind of vibe that we've had for a lot of album recordings. We definitely took our time when it came to all that stuff too and mixing and all that. We had a deadline that was supposed to be July 1 of 2021 and I think we spent another four months on top of that for mixing back and forth.
Meshuggah, "The Abysmal Eye" Music Video
The craft of making music can evolve with time and maturity. What aspects of Immutable, be it songwriting performance or production, reflect new thinking from Meshuggah?
That's probably more in the production of this album than anything else. The way we write songs and how we approach songwriting and the periods that we do write has been pretty much unchanged over the last 15 years.
We still work in the computer environment when we start. We don't go into rehearsal and start jamming things. We always start from scratch and you start by having a riff idea and you program drums to that and you take it from there. That's been the same for years and years.
The main difference I would say is probably more than in the case of the production and and the fact that Fredrik [Thordendal], our guitar player, kind of stepped out of the band for a few years from touring. He's coming back to the band now and he's going to join us on tour again, but he wasn't really involved in the recording and the production this time.
That's bound to make some kind of difference whether you see that as a positive or negative. The fewer voices you have as far as where you want the sounds to go, what kind of role you want the bass to have, and what kind of sound are you going for with the guitars, is bound to be different. Jens [Kidman, vocals] wasn't with us at the studio recording the album — he recorded the vocals at his own home studio, which let him take more time for the vocals as well, which I think came out good on this album.
It was me and Dick [Lövgren, bass] and Mårten [Hagström, guitar] that at least tried our best to kind of dictate what we wanted as far as the individual instruments and stuff. With all these things combined, I think it's fair to say that it's bound to be a little different. I think it's evident that this album has a more round and maybe a little less harsh sounding with a little fatter production if you want to use more simple terms.
Meshuggah, "Broken Cog" Music Video
Fredrik had been on hiatus. What did his absence reveal about the significance of his role in the band?
We got very lucky and we found Per Nilsson, another Swede who actually lives not too far from where we rehearse — he's a tremendous musician and guitar player. We were super stoked to be able to have him take on Fredrik's role for a few years there on the road, but Fredrik has his very signature kind of style of leads and stuff like that that are very hard for anyone to emulate.
Obviously, that's kind of a big thing. He laid down the solos for this album and, I think to our fans, especially the ones that have been with us for a long time, it's very immediately noticeable that it's Fredrik playing them. That is a very crucial aspect. He was one of the founding members and there's something to be said about the original members and if you can keep it to that, it's always cooler for the fans as well.
Not long ago, Wolfgang Van Halen expressed his love of Meshuggah and particularly your drumming. What does that say about your music that at musicians of a different ilk appreciate and enjoy it?
It's humbling in the sense that you do realize the longevity of the band and the fact that you have heard from people over the years that you would not necessarily expect to even listen to this kind of music or give it a chance. That's a very cool thing.
If nothing else, at least it's a testament to you doing something that's getting the attention of people. Whether that be the drumming or any other aspect of the band is really kind of besides the question if you can have that kind of impact. That's what most bands are striving to do. That's for sure what we were striving to do when we were younger — to at least be acknowledged for doing something that's unique, in a sense. We do things a little differently, so it's not your run of the mill metal sound. I'm guessing that kind of cuts across and people hear it and appreciate it. That's very cool and very humbling.
Thanks to Tomas Haake for the interview. Follow Meshuggah on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Spotify. Get your copy of 'Immutable' here and find out where you can hear Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio show here.