“We aren’t trying to f*** with you too much…”: Meshuggah Drummer Tomas Haake Talks Immutable, Creating Complex Music, + More

Stuart Sevastos, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
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It goes without saying that Meshuggah are a fascinating force of extreme music. For over three decades, the band have introduced the world to some of the most forward thinking, cerebral, and ear drum crushing music there has ever been in metal. The band are set to release their 9th studio album this Friday, titled Immutable. If you’re familiar with the band’s discography, this new Meshuggah album will (and possibly may not) surprise you; that’s because while Immutable captures so many of the trademark qualities that make up Meshuggah, it is also brimming with captivating technicality. It is another superb chapter in the band’s discography.

We had the opportunity to talk with band drummer Tomas Haake about the new Meshuggah album Immutable. He told us about some of the themes and concepts the album explores in a lyrical sense, as well as spoke to his lyric writing process. He also commented on the band’s iconic legacy of creating such technically intriguing music, and how through the band’s creative process, they strive to capture a powerful duality.

The Pit: What drives you as a lyricist? When do you know you’ve found something you want to explore as a writer? How does writing lyrics compare, to say, writing for drums and such? Is that two different parts of your brain creatively?

Tomas Haake: Yeah, I guess. For sure it’s different parts of the brain, as far as that goes. Lyrics used to be more like something I would delve into like once a year, or once every two years … I would just write whenever I felt inspired to write. But I think with the last two albums, maybe more and more, I do tend to write for the music once I know exactly kind of the vibe of the music. Topics wise, most of it is social commentary on what you see going on around you; sometimes it’s just pure fiction and you’re just trying to enhance a vibe that you feel in the music and try to strengthen [the writing]. It all depends, but a lot of times it’s social commentary.

The Pit: When you were coming in to making Immutable, how did you know you found something worth making music about (as a lyricist)? And what can listeners expect on Immutable in terms of lyrical themes/concepts?

TH: Again, they are two separate things. The music is always worth writing; I wouldn’t say you are inspired to write something lyrically specifically. The music will come regardless.

[In speaking to lyrical concepts on Immutable]… [There’s the exploration of] how social media has become a tool for idiocy in a lot of ways, as well as for disinformation, and even a political tool. The lyrics for “Light The Shortening Fuse,” which is for Immutable, is kind of talking about that more specifically. You have a song like “Phantoms” which is more about regrets as you go through life. As far as things you’ve said or done you kind of regret, and they stay with you and haunt you. Like ghosts or phantoms. So you have an array of different things. You have a song like “God He Sees In Mirrors,” which is very inspired by [ex-United States President Donald] Trump. That’s more directed towards the people that run under a false flag; not just Trump, but very powerful people – we have a fair share of them in Europe and the far east as well. Their actions are more those of despots and tyrants; [their actions] are all about self, gain, wealth, not about the people.

That kind of gives you an idea of the balance of stuff that’s on Immutable.

The Pit: Meshuggah is so famously known for your technical songwriting and performances. When it comes to the band’s creative process, has that always been organic? Like let’s just try whatever comes to mind. Or, has it been more analytical? Like we want to try X, Y, and Z – like an equation.

TH: I would say it’s got elements of both actually. It’s organic in the sense that we can only write what we feel… I think different from how a lot of bands do it, in the sense that we make everything kind of in “computer world.” We sit with Cube Base, I program drums. Sometimes, some parts, for example, “Clockworks” off of The Violent Sleep Of Reason or “Phantoms” off of this album, those kind of come from the rhythmic aspect, the drums are the basis for the song, then you write riffs for that… A lot of times it comes from the riffs.

There’s definitely an organic side to it. But we don’t jam, we don’t really try stuff in rehearsal. We’re completely doing it in computer world, and have been for almost forever. When I joined the band in 1989… everyone started getting computers and there was software you could use… and for sure there would not have been anything similar as a band if those tools had not been around. For us, it’s crucial, not only a preferred way, because we are so used to it now. At least for us, we could have never jammed up or worked songs likes this out if we had to be in rehearsal space and do it like that.

So I would say there’s a little bit of both; a lot of it depending on machines and computers and stuff. But it has to be organic, as far as the actual ideas themselves. Those can only come from within.

The Pit: What has always been the interest and drive for you as a band in creating “complex” music? How come, with each record, the band has stepped up the technicality and songwriting? Your material isn’t your typical, straight forward 4/4 music – it’s a lot more intricate.

TH: I think in a sense we set out kind of very early – even when I joined the band – they were for sure already on a path [to create technically heavy music]… That’s always the path we’ve been on. The thing is, the music we grew up with and the music we were into in our late teens, also heavily influenced the mix we wanted. And we still wanted metal [in our music], but we wanted to do something that was different. We just kind of stayed on that path. Basically we’ve all been doing this for our adult lives – I’ve been in the band for 32 years – sometimes it’s really hard to pinpoint what made [the music] go this way or that way.

Maybe to a certain degree, like early on, certain things were maybe contrived, but overtime, this is what comes out. We’re not trying to create difficult music. We’re just trying to write something that sounds interesting to us.

…[When it comes to creating music], it’s not something that we sit and in any way calculate or decide that we are going to do “this crazy shit cause that’ll make them go nuts.” It has never been like that. Maybe with age, even less, the older you get you mature, but you also grow into a sense of what it is you’re trying to accomplish with each album.

…[In comparing Meshuggah’s technical playing to other bands], there are bands that do [referring to time signatures] 7s, 9s, 5s, and stuff like that extremely well. Take a band like Tool for example – very hard to follow, very intriguing to me to listen too. But [their technicality] is very different from how we do it. For us, I think for what we’re trying to do [in terms of technicality], it gives a flow to the music that some bands that are technically difficult sometimes lack. For me, if I go to a show and hear a band like Car Bomb, it’s overwhelming. It’s like “Woah!” On a technical level it’s very difficult. It just hits you; it’s like being in a fight. It’s not for us; we try to get this going [mimics head banging flow]. Once you have that, we want to try to keep that. We aren’t trying to fuck with you too much as far as that goes. It’s more of a matter of trying to maintain a flow for us.

The Pit: After being in the band for 30+ years, now having released nine studio albums, how is the creativity of the band kept fresh? There was more of break between The Violent Sleep Of Reason and Immutable – was that on purpose to work on material? To take a breather? Or just because of the pandemic?

TH: I think this is maybe the longest period between two albums. Of course, for each album, times change and you change as a person from album to album. There’s always going to be something to be said about that; [that time] is going to have a direct impact on who you are as a person, and who you are as a person is going to come out in the music you’re trying to write, etc. I think it’s not necessarily something we have any control over in any way.

…[The material that would turn into Immutable] is what we were kind of digging and hearing in ourselves this time around. There are aspects of it that come from other things. For example, for Violent Sleep Of Reason and this one, Fredrik [Thordendal, lead guitarist] wasn’t part of the writing process… He did lay down the solos which were crucial to the rest of us in the band, because he has such a signature style as the lead guitarist. But this time around, it was more Mårten [Hagström, rhythm guitarist]’s songwriting, me, and Dick [Lövgren, bassist]’s songwriting. The way I see it, Mårten writes a little more “red,” a little more visceral. Whereas Fredrik, me, and Dick, [our music] is a little more “blue,” as I see it. A little more brainy maybe, kind of a little more convoluted if you will. That obviously has a direct impact on how you perceive the album as a whole.

The Pit: With the band about to release its ninth studio album – and compared to Koloss and The Violent Sleep Of Reason – what makes you the most proud about Immutable? What’s a moment out of the recording or writing process where you were like, “Damn, I’m really impressed we did that and I’m excited for others to hear that”?

TH: I’m sure there’s a whole bunch of moments. For me, one thing that kind of surprised me was “Armies of the Preposterous;” that song goes in a waltz, where you have really slow hand work but have fast foot work. Even though I was very intrigued by the sound of it and I really liked the sound when we were programming it, [I thought about how difficult it might be to actually play]. Waltz first of all in metal – it’s not very common that bands do that. Then with the fast feet and the slow hands, I thought it would be very weird; when we started rehearsing it though, it was one of the easier songs on the album to play. It was one of those moments [where I was like], “Okay, I guess I don’t know myself that well.” Because I thought it might be like impossible. Like we’ll never be able to really play it; we’ll have to edit everything and do it like that. But actually it’s way more playable than I thought it would be.

Another thing, the opening track “Broken Cog” – it’s third times the charm with that one. We wrote it a while ago back in 2010/2011; we attempted to do something with it for Koloss and then we ended up not really trying. Then we tried doing it for Violent Sleep, but it was so weird for me. It’s really tricky to play as a drummer, because obviously at this point at time, we’re recording everything and rehearsing to a click track. It’s one thing when you have something going – it’s one thing to play to a click track – but to kind of sit and wait [starts mimicking clicking pattern that flows and then abruptly pauses]. Sometimes listening back to it for Violent Sleep, it just sounded insane. Like, I had no clue what I was doing. It was like, you’re constantly searching for the timing. So we ended up not doing it, but then we came back to it again. We still all loved it [and we said] we have to give it a try again. So we rehearsed it more, and this time for some reason, it was feeling way better. It ended up pretty cool and we’re going to play it live as well. Third times the charm with that. It has been there knocking on our door for like 12 years, so finally we let the poor bastard in.

We at The Pit would like to thank Tomas Haake for his time in talking to us! You can purchase and listen to the new Meshuggah album, Immutable, this Friday.


Words by: Michael Pementel