Formation and Contradictions Collapse (1987–1994)
Frontman Jens Kidman in 2012
In 1985, guitarist Fredrik Thordendal formed a band in Umeå, a college town in northern Sweden with a population of 105,000. The band, originally named Metallien, recorded a number of demo tapes, after which it disbanded. Thordendal, however, continued playing under a different name with new band members.
Meshuggah was formed in 1987 by vocalist and guitarist Jens Kidman, and took the name Meshuggah from the Yiddish word for "crazy", which is derived from Hebrew word מְשֻׁגָּע. Kidman found the word in an American street slang dictionary. The band recorded several demos before Kidman left, which prompted the remaining members to disband. Kidman then formed a new band, Calipash, with guitarist Thordendal, bassist Peter Nordin and drummer Niklas Lundgren. Kidman, who also played guitar, and Thordendal decided to restore the name Meshuggah for the new band.
On February 3, 1989, Meshuggah released the self-titled, three-song EP Meshuggah, which is commonly known as Psykisk Testbild (a title that could be translated as "Psychological Test-Picture"). This 12" (30 cm) vinyl EP had only 1,000 copies released, sold by local record store Garageland. The EP's back cover features the band members with cheese doodles on their faces.
After replacing drummer Niklas Lundgren with Tomas Haake in 1990, Meshuggah signed a contract with German heavy metal record label Nuclear Blast and recorded its debut full-length album, Contradictions Collapse. The LP, originally entitled (All this because of) Greed, was released on January 1, 1991. The album received positive reviews, but was not a commercial success. Soon after, Kidman decided to concentrate on vocals, and rhythm guitarist Mårten Hagström, who had already played in a band with Haake when they were in sixth grade, was recruited. The new lineup recorded the EP None at Tonteknik Recordings in Umeå in 1994 for release later that year. A Japanese version was also released, including lyrics printed in Japanese.
During this period, Thordendal, who was working as a carpenter, severed the tip of his left middle finger, while Haake injured his hand in a router accident. As a result, the band was unable to perform for several months. Thordendal's fingertip was later reattached, and he went on to make a full recovery. The Selfcaged EP was recorded in April and May 1994, but its release was delayed to later in 1995 due to the accidents.
Destroy Erase Improve (1995–1997)
In January 1995, Meshuggah undertook a short European tour organized by its record label Nuclear Blast. Afterwards, the band returned to the studio to record the album Destroy Erase Improve at Soundfront Studios in Uppsala, with Daniel Bergstrand as a producer. Shortly thereafter, the band went on a European tour supporting Machine Head for two months. During the tour, Nordin became ill and experienced difficulties with his inner ear balance. Due to the resulting chronic dizziness and vertigo, Nordin was forced to leave the tour and travel to Sweden. Machine Head's bassist Adam Duce offered to cover his absence; however, Meshuggah decided to continue as a four-piece. Sometimes Thordendal played bass, while other times the band performed with two guitars. In this lineup, Hagström would use a pitch shifter to play his guitar at an octave lower than usual.
Destroy Erase Improve was released in May 1995, with positive response from critics for the "heady tempos and abstract approach". Kidman described the album cover: "The title fits the pictures we cut out and stole from reference books in the library."
In mid-1995, Meshuggah had a short tour with Swedish band Clawfinger in Scandinavia and Germany. Nordin had to leave the band because of his sickness and was replaced by bassist Gustaf Hielm during the tour. In late 1995, Meshuggah went on a month-long tour with Hypocrisy.
During 1996 and 1997, Thordendal worked on his solo album Sol Niger Within, which was released in March 1997 in Scandinavia and in April in Japan. He also hosted Mats/Morgan Band's debut. In 1997, Meshuggah recorded an unreleased demo, toured occasionally, and played a few concerts in its hometown. In May, Meshuggah moved to Stockholm to be closer to its management and the record industry in general.
The EP The True Human Design was recorded and released in late 1997. It contained one new song entitled "Sane", and one live and two alternate versions of Destroy Erase Improve's opening track "Future Breed Machine". Thordendal's solo album Sol Niger Within was simultaneously released in the United States, and Meshuggah started to plan its next album at the end of the year.
Chaosphere and Nothing (1998–2002)
Hielm officially joined the band in January 1998 after more than two years as a session member. Nuclear Blast re-released Contradictions Collapse with the addition of songs from the None EP. In May 1998, the title of the next album, Chaosphere, was reported and recording began. Immediately after recording the album, Meshuggah went on a short US tour, and the album was released later in November 1998. Chaosphere's sound is an almost complete departure from the thrash metal style of the band's previous releases. Shortly after the release, Meshuggah toured Scandinavia with Entombed.
In early 1999, Meshuggah joined Slayer on their U.S. tour. After the new album and the live performances, Meshuggah was beginning to be recognized by mainstream music, guitar, drum and metal magazines. In mid-1999, Meshuggah performed in several Swedish concerts. The band started to write some new material but reported in mid-2000 that "songwriting isn't that dramatic, but we're getting there slowly". While fans were waiting for the next album, a collection of demos (from the Psykisk Testbild EP), remixes and unreleased songs from the Chaosphere sessions were released as the Rare Trax album. Hielm left the band in July 2001 for unclear reasons. Meshuggah joined Tool on a lengthy tour, playing for more than 100,000 people total.
In March 2002, Meshuggah recorded three-track demos with programmed drums in their home studio, which were based on Haake's sample Drumkit from Hell. The upcoming album was recorded in five to six weeks in May and was produced by the band at Dug-Out Studios in Uppsala and at its home studio in Stockholm. The last-minute decision to join 2002's Ozzfest tour forced the band to mix the album in two days and master it in one. Meshuggah immediately went on another US tour after finishing the recording.
The album Nothing was released in August 2002, selling 6,525 copies during its first week in the US and reaching No. 165 on the Billboard 200. With this album, Meshuggah became the first band in the history of Nuclear Blast Records to crack the Billboard 200 and also became the first band signed to Nuclear Blast to be reviewed in Rolling Stone magazine. Meshuggah's previous two releases, 1998's Chaosphere and 1995's Destroy Erase Improve, have sold 38,773 and 30,712 copies to that date, respectively. The CD booklet of Nothing has no liner notes, lyrics, or credits, only a hint of one word: ingenting, which is Swedish for nothing. All of this information is available on the CD-ROM. At the end of 2002, the band went on another US tour with Tool and a headlining tour of its own.
I and Catch Thirtythree (2003–2006)
In 2003, Hagström hinted at the direction of the band's next album by saying, "There's only one thing I really feel that is important. We've never measured our success in terms of sales, because we're quite an extreme band. It's more that people understand where we're coming from. I get more out of a fan coming up and saying that we've totally changed their way of looking on metal music, than having like 200 kids buy it. I mean, it would be nice for the money, but that's not why we're in it. So what I'd like to see is that we keep progressing. Keeping the core of what Meshuggah has always been, but exploring the bar, so to speak. Destroy Erase Improve was like exploring the dynamics of the band, Chaosphere was exploring the aggressiveness, the all-out side, and Nothing is more of a sinister, dark, pretty slow album, actually. So honestly, now I don't know where we're going. It might be a mix of all of them."
In February 2004, bassist Dick Lövgren joined Meshuggah. The band then recorded and released the I EP, which contains a single, 21-minute track, released on Fractured Transmitter Records. Meshuggah spent about six months in total on recording the EP. Catch Thirtythree, the only Meshuggah album on which programmed drums have been used, was released the following year in May 2005. Seven thousand copies of Catch Thirtythree were sold the first week, and it debuted at No. 170 on the Billboard 200 chart in June 2005. The video for the track "Shed" was released in June, and the previous album Nothing sold approximately 80,000 copies in the United States to that date, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Catch Thirtythree earned the band a Swedish Grammy nomination. In October 2005, German band Rammstein released a single of their song "Benzin" with a remixed version by Meshuggah.
In December 2005, 10 years after signing its first record deal with the publishing company Warner/Chappell Music Scandinavia, Meshuggah extended its cooperation with the company. In November 2005, Haake said in an interview that the band was not content with the productions of Chaosphere and Nothing, because, being on tour, they had little time to devote to them.
A remixed and remastered version of Nothing with rerecorded guitars was released in a custom-shaped slipcase featuring a three-dimensional hologram card on October 31, 2006, via Nuclear Blast Records. The release also includes a bonus DVD featuring the band's appearance at the Download 2005 festival and the official music videos of "Rational Gaze", "Shed" and "New Millennium Cyanide Christ".
obZen and Koloss (2007–2013)
Meshuggah returned to the studio to record obZen, which was released in March 2008. The band spent almost a year on the album, its longest recording session yet. A significant portion of the year was spent learning to perform the songs they wrote; the recording itself took six months. obZen reached No. 59 on the Billboard 200 chart, selling 11,400 U.S. copies in its first week of release and 50,000 copies after six months. With obZen, Meshuggah received more media attention and attracted new fans. The release was followed by a world tour, which started in the U.S. and proceeded to Europe, Asia and Australia.
In May 2008, Meshuggah published a music video for the song "Bleed", which was produced by Ian McFarland and was written, directed and edited by Mike Pecci and Ian McFarland. Killswitch Productions said: "It's extremely cool to work with a band who is willing to allow the music and imagery to speak for itself and who does not insist on themselves being the prominent focus of the video."
In January 2009, obZen was nominated for the Swedish Grammis award in the "Best Hard Rock" category. In February 2009, Haake announced that the band was planning a concert DVD and a studio album. In April, Meshuggah was forced to cancel its Scandinavian shows in early 2009, due to Haake's herniated disc in his lower back, which was causing problems with his right foot when playing. Haake later underwent a surgery and recovered for European summer festivals.
The concert DVD entitled Alive was released on February 5, 2010 in Europe and February 9 in North America. Thordendal started to work on a second solo album in June 2010 with the Belgian drummer Dirk Verbeuren.
The seventh studio album, Koloss, was released on March 23, 2012 in Germany, on March 26 in the rest of Europe, and March 27 in North America. Koloss reached No. 17 on the Billboard Top 200, and sold 18,342 copies in its first week. In Sweden, it reached No. 12.
Pitch Black and The Violent Sleep of Reason (2013–present)
temporarily replaced Thordendal in live concerts in 2017 and 2018
On February 5, 2013, Meshuggah released a free two-track EP entitled Pitch Black with Scion A/V. The EP features a previously unreleased track, "Pitch Black", that was recorded by Fredrik Thordendal in 2003 at Fear and Loathing, in Stockholm Sweden. The second track is a live recording of "Dancers to a Discordant System" from obZen. The track was recorded at Distortion Fest in Eindhoven, Netherlands, on December 9, 2012.
On May 12, 2016, Meshuggah released a teaser video on their YouTube page and confirmed that their next studio album was to be released in late 2016. On July 28, 2016, the title was revealed to be The Violent Sleep of Reason, and was given an October 7 release date. The Violent Sleep of Reason was shortlisted by IMPALA (The Independent Music Companies Association) for the Album of the Year Award 2016, which rewards on a yearly basis the best album released on an independent European label.
On June 2, 2017, Meshuggah announced that Thordendal would take a leave from touring with the band; he will be temporarily replaced by Per Nilsson from Scar Symmetry. In 2018, Meshuggah received a Grammy nomination for their song "Clockworks" under the "Best Metal Performance" category.