Like every musical movement, the development of heavy metal music can be traced along a timeline of seminal albums and songs. Cuts like Judas Priest’s “Painkiller,” Slayer’s “Raining Blood” and Pantera’s “Cowboys From Hell” represented hugely important paradigm shifts for where extreme music would go in the future… and one such song is nearing its 10th birthday. The influence of “Bleed” by Swedish prog-metal legends Meshuggah only continues to grow since it first released.
2008 was an interesting time for heavy music. As the new wave of American metal ran its course, metalcore and post-hardcore had begun embracing what would become the infamous Warped Tour circuit, a movement often credited for making “true” metallers cringe at the word “breakdown.” While the bottom-heavy simplicity of that approach polarized the community, most would agree that Meshuggah did breakdowns right.
Since releasing 1995’s Destroy Erase Improve, Meshuggah continued running with the more groove-oriented and abstract aspects of their playing, resulting in 2002’s Nothing and 2005’s Catch Thirtythree. Once word got around about Meshuggah’s sixth album, 2007’s obZen, drummer Tomas Haake told Revolver Magazine that his return to the band would bring a shift away from crushing hypnotism and back towards some of their thrashy roots. However, no one was prepared for seven-and-a-half minutes that would change the concept of technical metal.
“Bleed” single-handedly brought “rhythmic shredding” into public consciousness. Haake spent more time on this song than the combined time he spent recording the rest of obZen, reassessing his approach as he converted a rhythmic exercise into an unstoppable heavy assault. He recalls having to change his double-kick pedal technique in order to maintain the insane agility needed to execute this monster of a song, showing incredible dedication to pushing himself to the limit. Even so, the dexterous nature of the song remains amazingly catchy, with Jens Kidman’s unrelenting mid-range screams spinning a fatal narrative over Haake’s airtight backbeat. A song that sounds impossible is one thing, but a true experimenter creates something with complexity that only manifests once someone actually tries to play it.
Arpeggios and scales take a back seat in favor of hammering the “hurta” rudiment to kingdom come. In fact, the song’s main riff only consists of a minor string bend—hardly a melody, but more than enough for guitarists Fredrik Thordendal and Mårten Hagström to work with. Though certainly less flashy than your Yngwie Malmsteens and Dragonforces, the true nature of “Bleed” surfaces once one takes the time to understand just how much intricate intent went into every aspect of the song.
From eerie ambiance and a jazzy guitar solo to dizzying double-pick/double-bass synchronization, “Bleed” remains head and shoulders above the “djent” movement it helped kickstart. Many bands use midi drums and drum triggers in an attempt to imitate what Meshuggah did through sheer determination and intuitive musicality. This is what truly makes this song not only a pivotal moment in Meshuggah’s career, but a watershed moment for every starry-eyed eight-string guitarist to venerate as the golden standard for rhythm-centered metal—forever solidifying its place in the annals of heavy metal history.