219

Re-casting Metal: Rhythm and Meter in the Music
of Meshuggah
jonathan pieslak
The music of the Swedish metal band, Meshuggah, reveals a distinct rhythmic and metric struc-
ture based on large-scale odd time signatures, mixed meter, and metric superimposition. Their
2004 EP “I,” however, pushes the boundaries of surface-level meter through the absence of small-
scale recurring units of pitch and rhythm. This article uses models for rhythmic analysis developed
by Harald Krebs, Fred Lerdahl and Ray Jackendoff, William Rothstein, and Maury Yeston in pur-
suing an architectonic examination of hierarchical layers in this music. Additionally, I introduce
the important relationship that exists between fans and structural analysis based on a socio-cultural
profile of the subgenre.
Keywords: Popular Music Analysis, Architectonic Rhythm, Hypermeter, Socio-Cultural Analysis,
Metal Music
i. meshuggah (1987–2002)
The following article examines rhythm and meter in
music written by the Swedish metal band, Meshuggah.
1
Formed in 1987 in Umeå, Sweden, Meshuggah (Yiddish for
“crazy” or “insane”) had its musical beginnings in the style
associated with bands like Metallica (early, 1983–91), An -
thrax, Slayer, and Sepultura.
2
Their first two albums, a self-
titled EP (1989) and Contradictions Collapse (1991), demon-
strate the influence of the Metallica/Anthrax style; in fact,
the roots of the band extend back to 1985 when guitarist
Fredrik Thordendal started the band Metallien. The group
has experienced a number of member changes since 1987,
but is presently comprised of singer Jens Kidman, lead gui-
tarist Thordendal, rhythm guitarist Mårten Hagström, and
drummer Tomas Haake. Meshuggah’s music developed a
distinctive style beginning in the latter half of the 1990s with
the release of three full-length albums, Destroy Erase Improve
(1995), Chaosphere (1998), and Nothing (2002), and a num-
ber of shorter-length EPs, None (1994), Self-Caged (1995),
and The True Human Design (1997).
3
Of primary impor-
tance to the development of this style is the rhythmic and
1 Readers unfamiliar with Meshuggah’s music can access the correspond-
ing audio to the examples analyzed in this essay at: www.jon.pieslak
.com/meshuggah. My thanks to Loana Valencia at Nuclear Blast
Records; and to Guy Capuzzo and Shaugn O’Donnell for their support
of my work.
2 The band, allegedly, chose the name because it “sounds cool” and
there is no religious, social, or political meaning behind it
(www.meshuggah.net).
3 Beginning with None, guitarists Thorndendal and Hagström used
seven-string guitars, detuned to B

and with Nothing, they used eight-
string guitars (the lowest string being F, detuned to E or E

) to extend
the possible range of the guitar parts. The power chord (root and fifth,
usually associated with distorted amplification) remained the basic unit
of pitch until Nothing, when the tuning of the eight-string guitar limited
06.Pieslak_pp219-246 9/17/07 3:37 PM Page 219
metric organization of their songs.
4
In the first section of
this essay, I examine rhythm and meter in Meshuggah’s
music from 1987–2002, which is based on three specific
techniques: large-scale odd time signatures, mixed meter,
and metric superimposition. Scholars like Mark Butler,
Walter Everett, and David Headlam employ models for the
rhythmic analysis of pop-rock music based on ideas of meter,
hypermeter, and metric dissonance developed by Harald
Krebs and William Rothstein. These methods provide a use-
ful framework for my discussion of Meshuggah’s music dur-
ing this period.
The opening passage, extending from 0:00 to 0:29 of
“Rational Gaze,” (from Nothing), given in Example 1,
demonstrates how the band tends to combine these three
specific devices.
5
The guitars and bass can be grouped into
four repetitions of measures in 25/16, followed by a measure
in 28/16. The entire passage is then repeated. While this is
going on, the cymbals create a metric superimposition: as the
pedal bass (kick) drum doubles the guitar and bass rhythms,
the cymbals maintain a consistent quarter-note pulse, com-
plemented by snare drum hits on what would be beat three
in 4/4 time. Example 2 illustrates how the cymbals and snare
can be interpreted in 4/4 time and, in fact, reveal a larger,
prototypical phrase rhythm implying four hypermeasures.
6
This type of metric superimposition, or overlay, charac-
terizes many Meshuggah songs and is articulated typically
through the instrumental texture, where the guitars, bass, and
pedal bass drum are based on a large-scale odd time signature
and mixed meter while the cymbals (or some other instru-
ment of the drum set, usually a hi-hat) maintain a steady
quarter-note pulse that expresses a symmetrical hypermetric
structure. Like the opening excerpt of “Rational Gaze,” the
section in “Stengah” extending from 0:16 to 0:48, given in
Example 3, repeat in the guitar, bass, and pedal bass drum
part, constituting measures of an unusual time signature, in
this case five repetitions of 11/8 followed by a measure of
9/8, which provides a mixed meter organization that allows a
larger, hierarchical arrangement of four hypermeasures.
While the band uses this rhythmic device prominently in
Nothing, it also appears in albums before 2002. As early as
1994, the group was experimenting with this type of metric
superimposition. The opening song in “None,” “Humilia -
tive,” presents guitars and bass parts in 5/16, while the ride
cymbal, crash cymbal, and snare drum superimpose a
common-time quarter-note pattern. The music is given in
Ex ample 4(a). Similar passages exist throughout Destroy
Erase Improve and Chaosphere, like “New Millenium Cyanide
Christ,” provided in Example 4(b), and further demonstrate
the use of this device throughout Meshuggah’s music since
the mid 1990s.
The rhythmic organization of Meshuggah’s music during
this period can generally be explained through an analytic
method that addresses odd time signatures, mixed meter, and
superimposition. These features are based on two simultane-
220 music theory spectrum 29 (2007)
their use of distorted power chords on particular songs to single pitches.
In this lower register of the eight-string guitar, the fifth of the power
chord tends to obscure rather than reinforce the fundamental or root in
more active passages, so they will frequently use single tones instead of
power chords.
4 For the most part, the pitch structure of their music has remained con-
sistent. Based on a single tonal center and framed by the Locrian mode,
Meshuggah’s music demonstrates a preference for chromaticism or mo-
tion by half step with respect to the interval of a minor third above the
tonal center. Almost every song from Chaosphere and Nothing reveals a
chromatic filling-in of the first three scale degrees. If the guitars, for ex-
ample, are tuned such that F is the note of the lowest open string, the
song will almost invariably move through the pitch space of F, G

, G

,
A

(A

, possibly) and F’s tritone, C

. My present focus, however, is on
rhythm and meter. The terminology used in the theoretical literature
devoted to rhythm and meter varies widely from author to author, such
that a term like “meter” is defined in different ways. I will make my un-
derstanding of such terms explicit, and following Krebs, I interpret
meter as a “series of regularly-recurring pulses” (Krebs 1999, 23).
5 All transcriptions by the author.
6 My use of the terms hypermeter and phrase rhythm is consistent with
Rothstein’s definitions (Rothstein 1989, 8–15).
06.Pieslak_pp219-246 9/17/07 3:37 PM Page 220
ous, but independent, rhythmic layers and thus could be in-
terpreted as polyrhythmic or “metrically dissonant” (after
Krebs) with two “interpretative layers whose cardinalities are
different and are not multiples/factors of each other” (Krebs
1999, 31). However, such principles tend to have symmetri-
cal or repeated patterns within both rhythmic layers that
come together or align on a mutual downbeat within the
context of a single meter, or a beat within a rhythmic group-
ing. The most immediate examples of this are two against
three or three against four (in Krebs’s terms, G3/2 and
G4/3), where, in the case of 3:2, there are two rhythmic lay-
ers: one is an evenly-spaced grouping of three and the other
is an evenly-spaced grouping of two.
re-casting metal: rhythm and meter in the music of meshuggah 221
= ca. 134
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example 1. “Rational Gaze,” Nothing (2002), (0:00–0:29).
The difference between metric dissonance and the overlay
used by Meshuggah lies in the structure of repetitions within
each rhythmic layer. Whereas the rhythmic layers of metric
dissonance involve recurring, uninterrupted patterns,
Meshuggah uses asymmetric repetitions in the guitars and
bass part resulting from mixed or changing meter. Krebs
points out that even metric dissonance “invariably involves
some alignment of attacks, the alignment occurring after a
number of pulses generally determined by the product of the
cardinalities of the interpretative layers” (Krebs 1999, 31). If
the opening passage of “Rational Gaze,” which we studied in
Examples 1 and 2, were to be truly metrically dissonant with
respect to the quarter-note cymbal pattern, the measure of
06.Pieslak_pp219-246 9/17/07 3:37 PM Page 221
222 music theory spectrum 29 (2007)
25/16 would have to be repeated sixteen times in order for
the downbeats to ultimately fall in the same place, not four
repetitions of 25/16 followed by a bar of 28/16.
7
There are
many times when Meshuggah’s music suggests metric disso-
nance, but it seldom occurs in full, or in the same way as
many pieces within the Western Classical tradition due to
the variable meter within the interpretative layer of the gui-
tars and bass. In Example 4(a), for instance, the repetitions
of the guitars and bass part in 5/16 create a true metrically-
dissonant structure with the common-time cymbals as their
downbeats coincide on the downbeat of measure six of the
excerpt, but this metrically-dissonant structure does not gov-
ern the large-scale phrase rhythm that ultimately continues
to the eighth hypermeasure. In this way, the decisions of
mixed meter are made with the intention of maintaining a
symmetrical, four-bar hypermetric structure, not using met-
7 Sixteen would be the “common factor z” in Kerbs’ equation of align-
ment where Gx/y have a common factor z in the equation (xy)/z (Krebs
1999, 31).
= ca. 134
Guitars
and
Bass
»
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Beat:
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example 2. “Rational Gaze,” Nothing (2002), (0:00–0:29), phrase rhythm.
06.Pieslak_pp219-246 9/17/07 3:37 PM Page 222
ric dissonance, or polyrhythm, to create phrase rhythm-level
groupings.
Meshuggah’s use of changing meters and fascination with
odd time signatures has numerous precedents. King Crimson,
Rush, Frank Zappa, and many others, use variable meter and
unusual time signatures in a great variety of their songs.
8
Theo Cateforis has observed that many of these groups em-
ploy odd time signatures and frequent changes of meter, but
do not organize these devices into repeated patterns of larger
units. He writes concerning Don Cabellero that, “Don
Caballero’s guitarists use offbeat chordal accents to highlight
the riff ’s ambiguous nature . . . but do not use large formal or
processual designs in the middle sections of ‘Stupid Puma.’
They simply juxtapose two different chordal accents in the
guitar to create their variety” (2002, 249). Likewise, Everett
observes that many pop-rock songs exhibiting irregular and
mixed meter reveal an asymmetrical phrase rhythm at the
hypermetric level (2000, 291–3). Meshuggah, however,
seems to organize the rhythmic techniques of odd meter and
mixed meter into a larger structure of four-bar hypermea-
sures, where each hyperbeat equals four quarter notes, each
hypermeasure consists of four hyperbeats, and each hyper-
measure repeats four times; this prototypical hypermetric
structure is common in many popular music genres. The
arrangement of odd time signatures and mixed meter
breaks from many of the tendencies of other bands in that
Meshuggah’s music, up to and including Nothing (1987–
2002), appears to be governed by a larger, hierarchical level
of symmetrical phrase rhythm.
ii. I (2004)
In September 2004, Meshuggah released I, consisting of a
single, twenty-one minute track that moves through approx-
imately 14 sections, differentiated according to distinct
changes in musical texture or the pitch and rhythmic struc-
ture of the guitars and bass part.
9
This EP, particularly in
terms of rhythm and meter, represents a departure from
most of their previous work. The analyses thus far have em-
ployed relatively conventional notions of rhythm and meter
to explain the temporal organization of the music, however
in I, we must adopt different models of rhythmic analysis.
re-casting metal: rhythm and meter in the music of meshuggah 223
8 See King Crimson “Red,” Rush “Jacob’s Ladder,” and Frank Zappa
“Weasels Ripped My Flesh,” to name only a few.
= ca. 124

Guitars
and
Bass
»
Crash Cymbal
Hypermeasure:
Hyperbeat:
Beat:
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1 and 3 (on the repeat)
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example 3. “Stengah,” Nothing (2002), (0:16–0:48), phrase rhythm.
9 The tradition of the continuous, “epic” song or album is, relatively-
speaking, a long one within the metal and hard rock genres, see Deep
Purple’s “Child in Time” (1970), King Crimson’s “Starless” (1974),
Pink Floyd’s “Echoes” (1971), Rush’s “La Villa Strangiato” (1978), and
many others.
06.Pieslak_pp219-246 9/17/07 3:37 PM Page 223
224 music theory spectrum 29 (2007)
= ca. 144
Guitars
and Bass

Hypermeasure:
Hyperbeat:
Hi-Hat
Beat:
4
4
1 and 3 (on the repeat)
1
1
Drums
Pedal Bass Drum

2
Snare

3

4

2
1

2

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1

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1

2

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23
16


































Guitars
and Bass

Hypermeasure:
Hyperbeat:
Beat:
4
4
2 and 4 (on the repeat)
1
1
Drums

2

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4

2
1

2

3

4

3
1

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1

2

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(

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(On the repeat)

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13
16

(a) “Humiliative,” “None” (1994), (3:50–4:04), phrase rhythm.
(b) “New Millenium Cyanide Christ,” Chaosphere (1999), (0:00–0:25), phrase rhythm.
example 4.
= ca. 120
Guitars
and Bass

Ride Cym.
Cr. Cym.
Hypermeasure:
Hyperbeat:
Beat:
4
4
1
1
1
Ped. B.D.
Snare

2

3

4

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1

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16
5

06.Pieslak_pp219-246 9/17/07 3:37 PM Page 224
The following analysis of I draws upon rhythmic concepts
developed by Fred Lerdahl and Ray Jackendoff, Joel Lester,
Maury Yeston, and others, to examine hierarchical layers or
strata in the music. While these scholars have varied notions,
and sometimes differing opinions, on suitable methods for
rhythmic analysis, the idea of an architectonic approach to
rhythm is a unifying thread among them. This perspective
has been widely used, to varying degrees, in the contempo-
rary theoretical literature and underlies a variety of ap-
proaches, extending back almost a generation of music theo-
rists. From Grosvenor Cooper and Leonard Meyer’s study,
The Rhythmic Structure of Music (1960), to Christopher
Hasty’s Meter as Rhythm (1997), the idea of analyzing
rhythm as interactive, layered structures has been useful to
theorists even when they employ an architectonic approach
to reach very different conclusions. Specifically, I engage
Lerdahl and Jackendoff ’s concept of “grouping structure,”
Lester’s idea of “textural accent,” and Roeder’s “pulse stream”
relationships to explain the different ways hypermeter and
large-scale rhythm is stratified, while Yeston’s concept of “at-
tack point interval” analysis is useful in observing foreground
rhythmic details. Underlying each approach is an epistemo-
logical foundation in what Justin London describes as “the
hierarchical aspects of rhythm and form,” and these different
ideas intersect one another as methods of architectonic
analysis (2002, 695). Each approach to rhythm utilized in
my analysis is based on the principle that rhythm operates at
various interactive levels. I does not articulate surface-level
meter, metric dissonance, or other characteristics associated
with conventional rhythmic analysis, and combining these
approaches allows us to observe many of the distinctive fea-
tures of hierarchical rhythmic organization in the music.
10
One of the first aspects of rhythmic structure that distin-
guishes I from many previous Meshuggah songs is that the
guitars and bass part can no longer be grouped into small-
scale, repeated patterns. The music does not demonstrate
patterns of repetition that would allow the interpretation of
large-scale odd time signatures like those used in “Rational
Gaze” (25/16) or “New Millenium Cyanide Christ” (23/16).
Instead, patterns of pitch and rhythm repeat over much
longer spans of time. These longer repetitions are largely
governed by the same symmetrical phrase rhythm that char-
acterizes songs from Nothing. The passage from 3:35–3:55
offers a clear example of this technique and is a good starting
point for analysis.
Example 5 provides a transcription and phrase rhythm
analysis of this passage. The guitars and bass repeat a pattern
lasting thirty-two quarter notes. The repetition aligns with a
quarter-note pulse, shown above the staff, which articulates a
four-bar hypermeter. The large-scale hypermeter no longer
governs multiple repetitions of small rhythm and pitch units
that could be interpreted as meter, but only one repetition of
a pattern that is significant enough to strain an attempt to
describe it as meter, or to place it in a traditional time signa-
ture. A more informative approach may be to conceptualize
this music in terms of Lerdahl and Jackendoff ’s “grouping
structure,” or Yeston’s “pattern recurrence.” (Lerdahl and
Jackendoff 1983, 17; Yeston 1976, 50– 54). Both concepts
are useful to our analysis because they notice the contiguous
elements of the group, its recursive nature, and the hierarchi-
cal structure, but do not interpret the repeated pattern as
surface-level meter. Thus, we could express this passage in a
simpler, hierarchic way shown in Example 6, where the
grouping structure has been divided into two identical parts,
labeled (c).
The excerpt also differs from the rhythmic organization
of previous Meshuggah songs in another important way. The
drums no longer clearly play repeated quarter-notes in the
hi-hat or cymbals with the snare providing accents that out-
line a superimposed common-time meter. In Example 1,
re-casting metal: rhythm and meter in the music of meshuggah 225
10 Other scholars, like Butler, have found it useful to combine aspects of
architectonic approaches in their rhythmic analysis of popular music.
He employs methods developed by Hasty, Jay Rahn, and Krebs in his
analysis of electronic dance music (Butler 2001).
06.Pieslak_pp219-246 9/17/07 3:37 PM Page 225
“Rational Gaze,” the crash cymbal provides a steady quarter-
note pulse and the snare accentuates what would be beat
three in 4/4, but the passage from 3:35–3:45 no longer
demonstrates this type of clear, two-part multi-layered
rhythm; in fact, the quarter-note hi-hat part coordinates
with the guitars and bass, and the snare complements the
majority of registral leaps to A

4
. The superimposed 4/4
meter that helped articulate the four-bar hypermeter is not
aurally distinguishable in the form of a separate rhythmic
layer, but is still important as a means of structuring large-
scale form. How, then, might it possible to perceive this
phrase rhythm?
In many instances throughout the twenty-one minute
song, the hypermetric form of different sections is expressed
through what Lester calls “textural accents” (Lester 1986,
30–31).
11
Lester describes textural accentuation as a change
in musical texture marked by the addition or subtraction of
226 music theory spectrum 29 (2007)
11 Wallace Berry calls this determination of groupings based on “extramu-
sical factors” (1976, 321).
Guitars
and
Bass
»
Hypermeasure: 1 and 3 (on the repeat)
Hyperbeat: 1 2 3 4
Beat: 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4

Pedal Bass Drum
Crash Cymbal
Hi-Hat
Snare
,
.
,
,
, , , ,
,
, , , , ,
,

,
,
,
,
, ,
,
,
, ,
, ,

, , , , ,
,
,
,
,
,
,
,
.
,
,
,
,
,
.
,
,
, ,
,
, , , ,
/
, ,
, , , , , , , , ,
,
,
.
, ,
, , , , , , , , ,
,
, ,
,
.
,
, , , , , ,

»
Hypermeasure: 2 and 4 (on the repeat)
Hyperbeat: 1 2 3 4
Beat: 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4


,
.
, ,
,
,
,
,
.
.
.
.
, ,
,
,
,
,
, ,

, , , , ,
.
,
,
,
,
,
, , , ,
,
, , , ,
,
, , , , ,
,
,
,
/
,
,
, ,
,
.
,
, ,
,
, , , , , , ,
,
, ,
, , , , , , , , , , , ,
,
,
example 5. I, (3:35–3:55), transcription and phrase rhythm.
(3:35–3:55)
Four hypermeasures
Two hypermeasures Two hypermeasures
(c) (c)
(3:35–3:45) (3:45–3:55)
example 6.
06.Pieslak_pp219-246 9/17/07 3:37 PM Page 226
re-casting metal: rhythm and meter in the music of meshuggah 227
distinct features, like the entrance of a new voice (30–31).
This very appropriately describes the manner in which large-
scale phrase rhythm is articulated in I. As shown in
Example 7, the entrance/exit of the voice or a solo guitar
melody in the upper register almost always marks regions of
four-bar or eight-bar hypermeter. The textural outline of the
entire passage from 3:35–4:50 reveals how, in the absence of
a consistent quarter-note hi-hat or cymbal, the larger-scale
phrase rhythm is expressed through textural accent. While
the guitar melody signals the symmetrical phrase rhythm at
3:55 through textural accent, another important feature to
notice is that the grouping structure from 3:35–3:45, re-
peated from 3:45–3:55 and labeled section A in Example 7,
changes for the passage of 3:55–4:32, or section B, in a num-
ber of significant ways. First, this music spans eight hyper-
measures until the voice operates as a textural accent that
initiates a repetition of the grouping structure, (c). More im-
portantly, Section B does not exist in a grouping structure
that is exactly recursive. The passage presents two groups,
which are slightly asymmetrical.
12
To understand this better,
the analysis must move towards a more detailed approach to
rhythm, examining the music on an immediate, surface level.
Within the context of large-scale repeated patterns,
Yeston’s concept of “attack point” analysis provides a useful
method for investigating the relationships of foreground
rhythmic structure in I. According to Yeston, attack point is
“the criterion that can be used to describe minimally any
rhythmic configuration and . . . measures the rhythm of their
recurrence” (1976, 39–41).
13
In other words, the rhythms of
a section or piece can be reduced to a common subdivision
and measured as multiples of that denominator, resulting in
a collection of “attack-point intervals” (1976, 39).
14
Example 8
presents an attack-point interval analysis for section A, the
passage from 3:35–3:55. If the eighth note is considered to
be the minimal duration, each Arabic numeral corresponds
to the duration of the number of eighth notes before the
next attack, such that 1 = eighth note, 2 = quarter note, 3 =
dotted-eighth note, and so on. In the example, the attack-
point intervals are included beneath the music for the first
13 Berry adopts a similar approach in his “accent-to-accent grouping”
analysis of Corelli’s Concerto Grosso, Op. 6, No. 3, third movement
(1976, 346–48).
14 Like Yeston, I will consider, when applicable, pitch to be an indispens-
able part of “attack-point interval” structure.
12 These asymmetrical or almost-recursive groups violate certain proposi-
tions within Lerdahl and Jackendoff ’s Grouping Well-Formedness
Rules (GWFRs), but this does not pose a serious problem if we follow
Jonathan Kramer, who eliminates the requirement of isochronously-
spaced groups (Kramer 1988).
Section A Section B Section A
(3:35–3:55) (3:55–4:32) (4:42–4:50)
Four hypermeasures Eight hypermeasures Four hypermeasures

(c) (c) (c) (c)
Solo guitar Solo guitar
melody enters melody exits,
voice enters
example 7. I, (3:35–4:50), phrase rhythm as articulated by textural accent.
06.Pieslak_pp219-246 9/17/07 3:37 PM Page 227
sixteen beats to clarify this process. Below this, a complete
attack-point interval analysis of section A is provided. When
attack-point intervals are coupled with pitch, one can imme-
diately notice the grouping structure of 3:35–3:45, labeled
(c), repeated from 3:45–3:55. Continuing, then, this form of
analysis to section B, from 3:55–4:32, it becomes apparent
how this music is structured in two almost-recursive groups.
Example 9 shows a pitch and attack-point interval analysis
of section B. The section can be divided into two large
groups of pitch and attack-point intervals, labeled (d) and
(dЈ) on the right side of the example. The second group (dЈ)
is practically identical to the first until the very end, where
228 music theory spectrum 29 (2007)
Guitars
and
Bass
»
Pedal Bass Drum
Crash Cymbal
Hi-Hat
Snare
,
.
,
,
, , , ,
,
, , , , ,
,

,
,
,
,
, ,
,
,
, ,
, ,

, , , , ,
,
,
,
,
,
,
,
.
,
,
,
,
,
.
,
,
, ,
,
, , , ,
/
, ,
, , , , , , , , ,
,
,
.
, ,
, , , , , , , , ,
,
, ,
,
.
,
, , , , , ,

Attack interval: 2 2 4 2 1 2 2 2 3 2 2 2 1 2 3

Attack-point intervals: 1 = , 2 = , 3 = ., and so forth.
Italics represent sixteenth-note tremolos for the duration indicated.



Attack-point interval: 2 2 4 2 1 2 2 2 3 2 2 2 1 2 3
Pitch: G F F A F A F F F F A A F A F

Attack-point interval: 2 2 2 1 2 2 2 3 2 2 2 6 2 2 (c), (3:35–3:45)
Pitch: F A A F A AA F F A A F A F

Section A
(3:35–3:55) –Repetition–
Four hypermeasures
Attack-point interval: 2 2 4 2 1 2 2 2 3 2 2 2 1 2 3
Pitch: G F F A F A F F F F A A F A F (c), (3:45–3:55)

Attack-point interval: 2 2 2 1 2 2 2 3 2 2 2 6 2 2
Pitch: F A A F A AA F F A A F A F

example 8. I, (3:35–3:55), pitch and attack-point interval analysis.
06.Pieslak_pp219-246 9/17/07 3:37 PM Page 228
re-casting metal: rhythm and meter in the music of meshuggah 229
Attack-point intervals: 1 = , 2 = , 3 = ., and so forth. A, one octave higher.
Italics represent sixteenth-note tremolos for the duration indicated.


Attack-point interval: 2 2 2 1 2 2 2 3 2 2 2 6
Pitch: F A A F A AA F F A A F

Attack-point interval: 2 1 2 2 2 3 2 1 2 2 2 2 3 2 2 2 2 1 2 2 2 3
Pitch: F A A F A F A F A A A A F A F A A F A A A F

Attack-point interval: 2 1 2 3 2 2 2 2 2 2 (d)
Pitch: A F A F A F A F A F

Attack-point interval: 2 2 4 2 1 2 2 2 3 2 2 2 1 2 3
Pitch: G F F A F A F F F F A A F A F

Section B
(3:55–4:32) –Repetition, slight alterations are indicated in bold parentheses–
Eight hypermeasures
Attack-point interval: 2 2 2 1 2 2 2 3 2 2 2 6
Pitch: F A A F A AA F F A A F

Attack-point interval: 2 1 2 2 2 3 2 1 2 2 2 2 3 2 2 2 2 1 2 2 2 3
Pitch: F A A F A F A F A A A A F A F A A F A A A F

Attack-point interval: 2 1 2 3 2 2 2 2 2 2 (d')
Pitch: A F A F A F A F A F

Attack-point interval: 2 2 4 2 1 2 2 2 3 2 2 2 1 2 (2 2 )3 (2 2)
Pitch: G F F A F A F F F F A A F A (A A )F (F A)
example 9. I, (3:55–4:32), pitch and attack-point interval analysis.
06.Pieslak_pp219-246 9/17/07 3:37 PM Page 229
two small sets of quarter notes are inserted and alter the
progress of the exact repetition; these are indicated in bold
parentheses at the lower right of the example (the bold
parentheses within the second group indicate the inserted
attack-point intervals which, if omitted, would result in an
exact repetition of the first group). The additional pitch and
attack-point intervals, however, are not without purpose.
The section (dЈ) must contain these additions in order to
align with the eight-bar hypermeter of the entire passage,
which is texturally accented by the entrance of the voice at
4:32. If the symmetrical, large-scale phrase rhythm is to be
maintained, these added attack-point intervals are vital to
the musical surface.
The pitch and attack-point interval analyses of Examples 8
and 9 also suggest another important stratum of rhythmic
interaction. The attack-point intervals within these examples
have been arranged such that smaller, internal “pulse stream”
relationships between sections A and B can be seen (Roeder
1994, 2003). Section A, given in Example 10, consists of
four hypermeasures, divisible into the statement of a pitch-
and attack-point stream and its repetition, respectively la-
beled (r) and (s). Each stream of pitch- and attack-point
intervals lasts exactly 16 beats (one hypermeasure), and
grouping them in this way seems to makes sense as we pursue
an architectonic analysis—section A is four hypermeasures
long and is separated into a repetition of a grouping structure
that lasts for two hypermeasures, labeled (c); this grouping
structure can be symmetrically divided into two pitch and
attack-point interval streams, (r) and (s), which last one hy-
permeasure each. Example 11 continues the pitch and attack-
point analysis to section B where these two smaller streams,
(r) and (s), play important roles. Stream (s), for example, be-
gins section (d) in a slightly truncated form, breaking from
an exact repetition of the complete stream at the last two at-
tack points. We could call this variant (sЈ). Stream (r) ap-
pears in its entirety as the final stream of (d), and the re-
maining streams could receive labels, (x) and (y), that
emphasize the almost-exact repetition of (d) as (dЈ). While
pitch and attack-point interval streams facilitate observation
of symmetrical rhythmic strata in section A, this approach to
rhythmic organization also clarifies the ways in which these
streams make connections between sections on smaller hier-
archical levels than phrase rhythm or hypermeter.
The use of truncation, as in the case of streams (s) and
(sЈ), or elongation, as in the relationship of sections (d) and
(dЈ), should come as no surprise. The songs from Nothing
and Chaosphere also demonstrate this type of rhythmic tech-
nique but on a smaller scale. In general, the songs outlined
in Examples 1–4 repeat measures of an odd meter that is
slightly elongated or truncated in order to properly align
with the hypermeter. In Example 3, “Stengah,” the sixth rep-
etition of the measure in 11/8 is truncated by one quarter
note to create a measure of 9/8, but more importantly, it al-
lows the entire passage to exist in two interpretative layers
that align according to a four-bar hypermetric structure.
This passage from I relies on similar techniques, but on a
much larger scale.
One of the important differences, however, between 3:35–
4:50 and previous Meshuggah songs exists in the structure
of section B. Section B does not demonstrate symmetrical
pitch and attack-point interval streams that align with the
hypermeter (recall that [r] and [s] are each sixteen beats
long, or one hypermeasure, and together they create the two-
hypermeasure section [c] that is repeated, making the entire
section A four hypermeasures). There is no rhythmic organi-
zation of the interval streams in section B that would allow
it to be heard in smaller symmetrical units. Previous songs
and section A consist of smaller hypermetric units that are
repeated in order to create large-scale form. In this way, the
larger, four-measure hypermeter arises out of the repetition
of a two-hypermeasure group. Section B, though, is not only
twice as long (eight hypermeasures), but there is no repeated
two-hypermeasure rhythmic stratum created by pitch and
attack-interval streams, and this contradicts the manner in
which the interval streams and hypermeter have been orga-
nized in almost all of Meshuggah’s music.
230 music theory spectrum 29 (2007)
06.Pieslak_pp219-246 9/17/07 3:37 PM Page 230
re-casting metal: rhythm and meter in the music of meshuggah 231
This inconsistency appears to be remedied by the solo
guitar melody that originally functioned as the textural ac-
cent, signaling the division of large-scale form (sections A
and B). The rhythmic structure of this melody creates what
we might consider to be an intermediate rhythmic stratum
between the larger phrase rhythm and the surface-level
guitars/bass part. The solo melody, C–B–C–C

, shown in
Example 12, unfolds over the complete span of thirty-two
beats in equal durations of eight beats for each pitch, labeled
(z), and is repeated four times. This creates a rhythmic level
that moves according to repetitions of units of two-measure
hypermeter—the exact level of rhythmic motion missing
from this section when compared to other Meshuggah songs.
Example 13 provides an analysis of the rhythmic strata
within the complete passage 3:35–4:50. The example moves
from left to right through large hierarchical layers of rhythm
to smaller ones. (Bold Arabic numerals indicate hypermea-
sure length.) The passage is 16 hypermeasures long, which
can be divided, as we saw in Example 7, into an A–B–A sec-
tional form. Each section, A and B, contains a level of
rhythm that moves according to two-hypermeasure units. In
section, A, these are labeled (c), and in section B, these are

One hypermeasure

Attack-point interval: [2 2 4 2 1 2 2 2 3 2 2 2 1 2 3 ] = (r)
Pitch: [G F F A F A F F F F A A F A F ]

(c)
One hypermeasure (3:35–3:45)
Two hypermeasures
Attack-point interval: [2 2 2 1 2 2 2 3 2 2 2 6 2 2 ] = (s)
Pitch: [F A A F A AA F F A A F A F ]
Section A
(3:35–3:55)
Four hypermeasures –Repetition of (c)–
(3:45–3:55)




(r)
(s) (c)
Section A
(r)
(s) (c)

example 10. I, (3:35–3:55), pitch and attack-interval stream labels.
06.Pieslak_pp219-246 9/17/07 3:37 PM Page 231
232 music theory spectrum 29 (2007)

Attack-point interval: 2 2 2 1 2 2 2 3 2 2 2 6 = (s')
Pitch: F A A F A AA F F A A F

Attack-point interval: 2 1 2 2 2 3 2 1 2 2 2 2 3 2 2 2 2 1 2 2 2 3 = (x)
Pitch: F A A F A F A F A A A A F A F A A F A A A F

Attack-point interval: 2 1 2 3 2 2 2 2 2 2 = (y) (d)
Pitch: A F A F A F A F A F

Attack-point interval: 2 2 4 2 1 2 2 2 3 2 2 2 1 2 3 = (r)
Pitch: G F F A F A F F F F A A F A F

Section B
(3:55–4:32) –Repetition, slight alteration of (r) labeled (r')–
Eight hypermeasures
(s')
(x)
(y) (d')
(r')

example 11. Pitch and attack-point interval streams of section B.

Solo guitar
melody




4x

example 12. Solo guitar melody (z), (3:55–4:32), section B.
06.Pieslak_pp219-246 9/17/07 3:37 PM Page 232
re-casting metal: rhythm and meter in the music of meshuggah 233
example 13. (3:35–4:50), rhythmic strata.
Bold arabic numerals indicate hypermeasure length.

Attack-point interval: 2 2 4 2 1 2 2 2 3 2 2 2 1 2 3
(r), 1 Pitch: G F F A F A F F F F A A F A F
(3:35–3:55) (c), 2
Section A (s), 1
4 Attack-point interval: 2 2 2 1 2 2 2 3 2 2 2 6 2 2
(c), 2 Pitch: F A A F A AA F F A AF A F

Solo guitar melody enters, (z)
(s') Attack-point interval: 2 2 2 1 2 2 2 3 2 2 2 6
(z), 2 Pitch: F A A F A AA F F A A F
(d)
(x)-Attack-point interval: 2 1 2 2 2 3 2 1 2 2 2 2 3 2 2 2 2 1 2 2 2 3
(z), 2 Pitch: F A A F A F A F A A A A F A F A A F A A A F

(3:35–4:50) (3:55–4:32) (y)––––– Attack-point interval: 2 1 2 3 2 2 2 2 2 2
16 Section B Pitch: A F A F A F A F A F
8 (z), 2 (r)

(d') (s')
(x)
(z), 2 (y) Attack-point interval: 2 2 4 2 1 2 2 2 3 2 2 2 1 2 (2 2 )3 (2 2)
(r') Pitch: G F F A F A F F F F A A F A (AA )F (F A)
Solo guitar exits, voice enters
(r), 1
(4:32–4:50) (c), 2
Section A (s), 1
4
(c), 2

06.Pieslak_pp219-246 9/17/07 3:37 PM Page 233
labeled (z)—the rhythm of the guitar melody. Example 13
also shows smaller, connected levels of rhythmic motion be-
tween sections A and B based on pitch and attack-point
intervals streams (r), (s), and their variants (rЈ) and (sЈ).
One of the problems we encounter when interpreting
rhythm on multiple levels is the degree to which the hierar-
chy of strata can be extended. Lester, for one, warns against
interpreting extensive levels of phrase rhythm, as do Lerdahl
and Jackendoff, which implies that they find a definite limit
in the degree to which rhythmic hierarchy can be interpreted
in music. On the other hand, Berry and Kramer believe that
hypermetric analysis can be effectively applied to entire
movements. Carl Schachter points out that there are definite
limits to the listener’s perception of equivalent time spans
(1987, 16). It is not my intention to debate the rhythmic
level at which the hypermetric structure of this excerpt from
I ceases to be audible; I do, however, find it useful to extend
the hierarchy of rhythmic analysis to higher levels because
these levels appear to provide a backdrop against which
large-scale form can be read. I also believe that a number of
intermediate levels, which connect the surface-level rhythm
to higher strata like those outlined in Example 13, might
make the aural interpretation of the larger strata more feasi-
ble than if the passage only consisted of, say, the lowest and
highest levels.
The analytic tools developed in the examination of
3:35–4:50 help to clarify the temporal organization of the
work, and the entire song might be analyzed using the archi-
tectonic approach developed above, coupled with concepts
that involve pitch and attack-point interval streams to ad-
dress local rhythmic phenomena. The remaining music is not
organized exactly according to the characteristics of the ex-
cerpt in Example 13, but this analytic perspective allows us
to distinguish the specifics of rhythmic organization within
each section, as well as notice similarities among sections.
1:55–3:35 offers a good example. This excerpt immediately
precedes the one analyzed above and demonstrates a similar
large-scale form; Example 14 provides a large-scale phrase
rhythm outline of the passage. The first section, A, is eight
hypermeasures, followed by section B (four hypermeasures),
and section A is then repeated in a slightly-altered form but
still eight hypermeasures in length. This sectional design is
similar to 3:35–4:50 in the respect that both present an
A–B–A structure, but the hypermetric length of 1:55–3:35 is
the exact reverse of the order in 3:35–4:50: the A and B sec-
tions from 3:35–4:50 are four and eight hypermeasures,
respectively; and the A and B sections from 1:55–3:35 are
eight and four hypermeasures, respectively.
An important difference between these two passages in-
volves pitch. In the music of 1:55–3:35, the pitch content of
the guitars and bass is almost entirely static and involves only
an alternation between C and C

. The change in pitch, how-
ever, is important for outlining the structure of the large-
scale, A–B–A form. As shown in Example 14, the initial
change from C to C

substitutes for the textural accent as a
signal for boundaries of hypermeter. The motion to C

at
2:35 marks the end of an eight-bar hypermetric unit or sec-
tion A, and the motion back to C

(in conjunction with the
textural accent of the added solo guitar melody) delineates
the B section of four hypermeasures. The large-scale, sec-
tional structure of 1:55–3:35 is defined by changes in pitch
as well as textural accent.
Like 3:35–4:50, the small-scale rhythmic organization of
this passage resists repeated patterns that imply any reason-
able interpretation of meter, but it does reveal larger group-
ings that become analytically significant when understood
through attack-point interval analysis. Example 15 provides
a transcription of section A and its corresponding attack-
point interval analysis. Below the first sixteen beats of the
example, I have provided a corresponding attack-point inter-
val interpretation, and the lower portion of the example
outlines the complete attack-point interval analysis of this
section. In the attack-point interval analysis, one can imme-
diately notice how the attack-point intervals are organized
according to related streams. The attack-point interval
analysis of the entire passage from 1:55–3:35 no longer in-
234 music theory spectrum 29 (2007)
06.Pieslak_pp219-246 9/17/07 3:37 PM Page 234
volves pitch relations, which following Yeston, were impor-
tant in the previous analysis. But the attack-point intervals
prove to be useful in observing stream relationships among
sections. As shown in an attack-point interval analysis of the
entire excerpt, Example 16, both A sections reveal a distinct
similarity of streams with a few minor alterations among
these streams. In fact, one can consider the A section to con-
sist, for the most part, of a single stream, labeled (x), that is
slightly altered (the bold numbers within the (xЈ) streams of
Example 16 indicate points of variations from the original
(x)). In addition, the attack-point interval analysis reinforces
the sectional division of the complete passage because the
stream within section B demonstrates very few similarities to
(x). Example 16 outlines the rhythmic strata of 1:55–3:35,
and I hope it has become apparent how the analytical per-
spective developed for both excerpts 1:55–3:35 and 3:35–
4:50, which involves a combination of different hierarchical
rhythmic concepts, provides significant insight into the tem-
poral organization of I. Yeston’s concept of attack-point
analysis has been a useful substitute for conventional ideas of
meter, and Lerdahl and Jackendoff ’s “grouping structure,”
Lester’s “textural accent,” and Roeder’s “pulse stream” rela-
tionships have provided methods to observe large-scale
rhythmic strata and hypermetric structure.
Before concluding my analyses, I would like to explore
two final points about 1:55–3:35. First, this passage, unlike
3:35–4:50, expresses a continuous, quarter-note pulse in the
form of the hi-hat and snare; the hi-hat is struck every quar-
ter note and the snare is hit on the offbeat eighth note of
every beat in the transcription in Example 15. This creates a
rhythmic layer that is dissonant to the guitars and bass layer,
and resembles the technique used in earlier Meshuggah
songs, as shown in Examples 1–4. One important difference,
though, is that the alternating hi-hat and snare hits remain
constant throughout the entire excerpt and do not seem to
contribute to the possible interpretation of surface-level
meter as could be done in previous songs. Rather, they oper-
ate as a second stream of unchanging attack-point intervals
that is dissonant to the rhythmic stratum of the guitars and
bass. Secondly, in 3:35–4:50 the repeated rhythmic structure
of the solo guitar melody plays an important role in articu-
lating a stratum of hypermeter, and the second A section,
from 2:54–3:35, likewise includes a repeated guitar melody.
In this case, however, the repeated guitar melody does not
align with the hypermetric structure. The guitar melody,
given in Example 17, is 22 quarter notes long, which cannot
be equally stated over the period of eight hypermeasures, or
128 beats. It should be obvious how important the eight-bar
hypermeter is to the large-scale formal division of this sec-
tion and that the smaller rhythmic strata have always been
governed by hypermeter, so why does the rhythm of the gui-
tar melody not align?
To explain this inconsistency, we must turn to a part of
the music that may, at first hearing, seem inconsequential to
re-casting metal: rhythm and meter in the music of meshuggah 235
Section A Section B Section A
(1:55–2:35) (2:35–2:54) (2:54–3:35)
Eight hypermeasures Four hypermeasures Eight hypermeasures


Pitch: C Change to C Change to C
example 14. I, (1:55–3:35), phrase rhythm as articulated by pitch change.
06.Pieslak_pp219-246 9/17/07 3:37 PM Page 235
236 music theory spectrum 29 (2007)
Guitars
and
Bass

Pedal Bass Drum
Hi-Hat
Snare

Attack Interval: 1 1 3 2 1 1 2 2 2 1

Attack-point interval analysis: 1 = (

), 2 =

(

), 3 =

(

)

//

//

example 15. I, (1:55–2:35), section A, transcription and attack-point interval analysis.
06.Pieslak_pp219-246 9/17/07 3:37 PM Page 236
re-casting metal: rhythm and meter in the music of meshuggah 237
example 15. [continued]
//

//

//

06.Pieslak_pp219-246 9/17/07 3:37 PM Page 237
the rhythmic structure. At the conclusion of the second
eight-hypermeasure A section, 2:54–3:35, a guitar effect,
called a “dive-bomb,” functions as a transition into 3:35–
4:50.
15
If we analyze the duration of the dive bomb transi-
tion, it becomes apparent that this transition is not purely
ornamental. The dive bomb moves from A to G

over the
exact duration of four beats, which coincidentally (or per-
haps not) allows for the rhythmic stratum created by the solo
guitar melody to come to completion in the form of six full
repetitions. Given the fact that the smaller rhythmic strata
have always been regulated according to the larger hyperme-
ter, it seems unusual that the repeated guitar melody cannot
be equally subdivided within four or eight hypermeasures.
238 music theory spectrum 29 (2007)
15 The “dive bomb” is a technique created by depressing the whammy bar
of the guitar, which lowers the bridge and creates a glissando to pitches
lower in the register without physically changing fret position.
example 15. [continued]
//

//

Complete attack-point interval analysis, (1:55–2:35).

1 1 3
2 1 1 2 2 2 1 1 1 3 2 1 1 1 2 2 1 2 2 1 1 1 3 2 1 1 1 1 1 1 2 1 1 1 1 3
2 1 2 2 2 1 1 1 3 2 1 1 1 2 2 1 2 2 1 1 1 3 2 1 1 1 1 1 1 2 1 1 1 1 3
2 1 2 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 3 2 1
06.Pieslak_pp219-246 9/17/07 3:37 PM Page 238
re-casting metal: rhythm and meter in the music of meshuggah 239
1 = (

), 2 =

(

), 3 =

(

)


1 1 3
Section A 2 1 1 2 2 2 1 1 1 3 2 1 1 1 2 2 1 2 2 1 1 1 3 2 1 1 1 1 1 1 2 1 1 1 1 3 = (x)
(1:55–2:35) 2 1 – 2 2 2 1 1 1 3 2 1 1 1 2 2 1 2 2 1 1 1 3 2 1 1 1 1 1 1 2 1 1 1 1 3 = (x')
8 hyermeasures 2 1 2 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 3 2 1

Section B
(2:35–2:54) 1 1 3 2 2 1 3 1 1 1 2 1 3 1 1 3 2 2 2 1 1 2 1 1 3 2 1 3 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
4 hypermeasures

1 1 2 1 1 1 1 3
Section A 2 1 2 2 2 1 1 1 3
(2:54–3:35) 2 1 1 1 1 1 2 2 2 2 1 1 1 3 2 1 1 1 2 2 1 2 2 1 1 1 3 2 1 1 1 1 1 1 2 1 1 1 1 3 = (x')
8 hypermeasures 2 1 – 2 2 2 1 1 1 3 2 1 1 1 2 2 1 2 2 1 1 1 3 2 1 1 1 1 1 1 2 1 = (x')

example 16. I, (1:55–3:35), attack-point interval analysis.

5x

example 17. I, (2:54–3:35), solo guitar melody.
06.Pieslak_pp219-246 9/17/07 3:37 PM Page 239
The rhythmic layer of the solo guitar melody is expressed
in the form of six complete statements without threatening
the distinction of the eight-bar hypermeter even though
these two layers do not align. The large-scale form is clearly
distinguished as the bass and drums drop out for the dive
bomb transition, and the guitar articulation dramatically
changes from tremolo picking and palm muting on a single
pitch to a dive bomb. But at kthis, the rhythmic layer of the
solo guitar melody is incomplete and only through the exact
duration of the dive bomb transition (four beats) is it allowed
to reach a full statement as a rhythmic stratum. The section
contains 128 beats. But the guitar melody plays 22-beat
units. Since 128 cannot be divided by 22 without remainder,
the two parts will not conclude at the same. The dive bomb,
however, adds four beats to this total, to produce a 132-beat
unit, which accommodates 6 complete repetitions of the gui-
tar’s melody. In this way, the textural change of the dive
bomb permits the large-scale form, determined by the eight
hypermeasures, to be clearly delineated. At the same time,
the duration of the dive bomb, which may seem inconse-
quential considering the ornamental and transitional nature
of this guitar effect, is vital to the rhythmic layer of the solo
guitar in that it allows for the complete expression of the
sixth repetition.
There is much more that could be said about the music,
but a detailed analysis of the entire 21 minute piece requires
more space than the context of a single article allows.
Nonetheless, a few closing analytic remarks are worth men-
tioning. Given the analyses of I, it may be worthwhile to re-
consider the interpretation of rhythmic organization in
songs from Nothing, Chaosphere, and other albums. In these
songs, I originally argued that meter could be read due to the
relatively small size of repeated groupings, however, this ap-
proach seems to overlook certain relationships that might be
observed through a perspective that involves rhythmic strata
and grouping structure/pattern recurrence as understood by
Lerdahl and Jackendoff, and Yeston. In “New Millenium
Cyanide Christ,” Example 4(b), for instance, the repeated
guitars and bass part were originally interpreted in 23/16,
but the necessity of having to find a “series of regularly-
recurring pulses,” or meter, seems to ignore that the measure
of 23/16 is composed of two smaller groupings, (z), and a
fragmentation of (z), labeled (z’), shown in Example 18.
Although one could contend that two measures of 10/16 are
followed by a measure of 3/16, this perspective of meter
seems unreasonable given that the tempo is approximately
144 beats per minute. The analytic tools developed for I may
provide an alternate approach to previous Meshuggah songs
that offers more detailed insights into the rhythmic structure
of the music than interpreting two, superimposed layers, and
may call into question the idea of interpreting surface-level
meter.
In terms of the large-scale, formal structure of I, the en-
tire work can be separated into fourteen distinct sections
based on changes in pitch and rhythmic organization, like
the ones described between 1:55–3:35 and 3:35–4:50. Each
of these sections is relatively short; the shortest lasts forty
seconds while the longest lasts one minute and fifty-five sec-
onds. If we analyze these sections according to textural ac-
cent, it becomes clear how distinct changes in texture divide
the complete song into three larger, relatively-equivalent
parts. The music is dominated by drums, bass, distorted gui-
tars, and vocals, but in two sections, the drums, bass, and vo-
cals drop out and the guitar timbre changes to a clean or
undistorted tone, accompanied by a dramatic decrease of
rhythmic activity. This radical change of musical texture par-
titions the entire piece into three sections of relatively equal
size 0:00–7:47, 8:40–14:42, and 16:01–21:00.
There is, however, another possible interpretation of
large-scale form in I. One of the distinguishing features of
I is that the vast majority of music resists metric interpreta-
tion on a surface level. In fact, there are only two occasions
where surface-level meter is presented. The beginning of the
track opens with a four-bar hypermeasure in 7/4 0:00–0:09.
The music that follows fails to articulate a localized metric
organization until 10:34, when 4/4 is projected clearly. In
240 music theory spectrum 29 (2007)
06.Pieslak_pp219-246 9/17/07 3:37 PM Page 240
this way, the idea of a discernible surface-level meter divides
the piece almost exactly in half—a two-part form of two al-
most symmetrical sections, 0:00–10:34 and 10:34–21:00.
Combined with the concept of textural accent creating
ternary form, Example 19 shows how these two ways of in-
terpreting large-scale form create a formal “dissonance,” in
which a two-part and three-part form can be read. This
arrangement extends the idea of dissonant hierarchical
rhythmic strata to a formal level and provides a way of inter-
preting the complete piece as a product of small-scale rhyth-
mic techniques that operate on larger, structural levels. The
processes of rhythmic organization that govern subsections
of smaller time spans appear to function in relatively similar
ways on formal levels, and this presents a possible under-
standing of the work as a unified whole, wherein small-scale
features of the music are manifest on the highest levels of
form.
The final point I would like to make concerns the open-
ing nine seconds of the song. As mentioned above, this frag-
ment is one of only two moments in the piece when surface-
level meter is articulated, but it is also a quotation from a
song by the metal band, Anthrax. Anthrax is a popular metal
band that flourished in the late 1980s and 1990s, and along
with Metallica and Sepultura seems to have influenced
Meshuggah’s early musical style as demonstrated in the
Meshuggah EP (1989) and Contradictions Collapse (1991).
Shown in Example 20, both excerpts reveal the same single-
note rhythm in 7/4 meter. In I, however, this metric organi-
zation does not continue, and immediately after the
statement of the hypermeasure, the music follows patterns
better analyzed as attack-point interval streams. Given the
details and relative complexities of the rhythmic structures
within the piece, the title of the Anthrax song quoted
by Meshuggah is, appropriately, “Time” from the album,
Persistence of Time (1991). This opening quotation may be
interpreted in a number of ways. Since many of the distinc-
tive features of I involve rhythm, it seems fitting to quote a
piece entitled “Time.” From another perspective, the quota-
tion recognizes the influence that Anthrax may have had on
their early style, but this imprint lasts, aptly, for only one hy-
permeasure. We have seen how important hypermeter and
rhythmic strata have been in regulating form in Meshuggah’s
music, and it is suitable that any musical quotation should
similarly conform to principles of hierarchical rhythmic or-
ganization. “Time,” in the form of discernible surface meter,
is referenced as a formal attribute that has influenced
Meshuggah’s music in the past, but it becomes a memory in
I as the music quickly departs from this metric organization.
It is the notion of “time” that distinguishes Meshuggah’s
music, in I and previous albums, from the music of other
metal bands. The rhythmic organization of their music, ana-
lyzed above, seems particular to Meshuggah, however, they
are not the only metal group to emphasize structural com-
plexity. In the remainder of the essay, I situate Meshuggah’s
music within the metal genre and briefly discuss the relation-
ship between their fans and structural complexity. To begin, I
explore some of the defining features of metal to provide a
context for this discussion.
16
re-casting metal: rhythm and meter in the music of meshuggah 241
16 Numerous historical studies of metal trace the roots of what is now
considered metal music back to Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin
(Crampton and Dees 2003, McIver 2002, Popoff 1997, and Walser
1993).
Guitars
and
Bass

23
16
(z)





(z)





(z')



example 18. “New Millenium Cyanide Christ.”
06.Pieslak_pp219-246 9/17/07 3:37 PM Page 241
242 music theory spectrum 29 (2007)
“I”


(0:00–10:34) (10:34 –21:00)

Two-part form

surface-level meter (4/4)
(0:00–7:47) (8:40–14:42) (16:01–21:00)

Three-part form

Section of Section of
clean guitar tone clean guitar tone
example 19. Large-scale form.

Meshuggah, “I,” (0:00–0:09).

Guitars
and
Bass

4x


Anthrax, “Time,” (0:31–0:40) (Persistence of Time, 1991).

Guitars


4x

example 20. Meshuggah, I, (0:00–0:09), and Anthrax, “Time,” (0:31–0:40) (Persistence of Time, 1991).
06.Pieslak_pp219-246 9/17/07 3:37 PM Page 242
Like any attempt to identify the characteristics of a broad
category of music, we risk generalization and oversimplifica-
tion in the construction of a definition for the diverse musi-
cal genre of metal. Robert Walser believes that “nowhere are
genre boundaries more fluid that in popular music. Just as it
is impossible to point to a perfect exemplary Haydn sym-
phony, one that fulfills the ‘norms’ in every respect, pieces
within a popular genre rarely correspond slavishly to generic
criteria” (1993, 27). Moreover, Bruno Freisen and Jonathon
Epstein observe that there are currently well over forty dif-
ferent subgenres of metal: pop, thrash, speed, death, progres-
sive, porno, grind, power, dance, ambient, black, punk, sym-
phonic, aluminum, nü, and so forth (Friesen and Epstein
1994; also Walser 1993, 5).
17
Scholars have negotiated the
problems of genre and subgenre in metal by primarily focus-
ing on musical practices and thematic content. Walser, for
instance, describes metal in terms of musical features: vol-
ume, vocal timbre, mode and harmony, rhythm, melody, and
guitar solos (1993, 44–51). These features provide a platform
for identifying metal, and for the most part describe songs
based on a single tonal center, in the Dorian/Aeolian or
Phrygian/Locrian modes, the loud, distorted power chord as
the fundamental unit of pitch, and repeated, power chord-
driven riffs in 4/4 time. The vocal articulation in metal
ranges from a quasi-operatic, vibrato-laden style to un-
pitched yelling or screaming. The use of a distorted guitar
timbre and/or power chords is frequently the sole determi-
nant used by scholars to qualify the music as metal or as ex-
hibiting a metal influence.
The musical features Walser describes are also helpful to
understand how subgenres are distinguished. Friesen and
Epstein, for example, differentiate pop metal from thrash
metal according to many of Walser’s categories: pop metal
emphasizes a semi-vibrato vocal articulation, blues-derived
harmony or Aeolian/Dorian modes, and syncopated guitar/
bass parts; trash metal utilizes guttural growls and screams,
Phrygian/Locrian modes, little or no harmonic motion, and
less syncopated guitar/bass parts. In addition to musical
practices, scholars like Deena Weinstein find that thematic
content is a useful way to engage metal subgenres. Weinstein
divides lyrical topics into two opposing categories,
“Dionysian” and “Chaotic” (1991, 23). Dionysian themes in-
volve “sex, drugs, and rock and roll,” and focus on forms of
physical gratification and ecstasy. Chaotic themes rebel
against social norms and reveal a fascination with conflict,
violence, and death. Bands that are considered pop metal,
such as Bon Jovi, Van Halen, and Def Leppard, tend to
adopt Dionysian themes in their lyrics, while thrash metal
bands, like Metallica, Anthrax, and Slayer, focus on Chaotic
themes. Many metal subgenres stand ideologically opposed
or in direct conflict with one another, and the antagonisms
among subgenres tend to be strong and often rhetorically vi-
olent. Fans of thrash metal, for instance, consistently refer to
those who enjoy pop metal as “poseurs,” who “have not de-
veloped an appreciation for the true aesthetic of metal, and
must therefore be accorded less prestige with the subculture”
(Freisen and Epstein 1994, 13).
Although the process of identifying metal and differenti-
ating subgenres according to musical features and thematic
content may be somewhat loose, scholars have used it as a
way to discuss metal and different developments within the
genre. Given the current system of subgenre classification
and nomenclature, the closest subgenre that could be used to
describe Meshuggah’s music is “progressive metal.”
18
Along
re-casting metal: rhythm and meter in the music of meshuggah 243
18 Many fans of Meshuggah and possibly the band members themselves
might object to the label “progressive metal.” The use of the term “pro-
gressive” might be rejected on the basis that it associates this music
with so-called “progressive” rock bands, like Don Caballero, King
Crimson, Pink Floyd, or Rush. Fans and bands tend to describe the
music in terms that represent a fusion of different styles even if they
choose to adopt the “progressive” label. The Dillinger Escape Plan
identifies itself as “a creation merging new-school hardcore, progressive
metal, and free jazz” (www.dillingerescapeplan.com). Of course, such
17 These terms, like trash, speed, death, and so forth, are scholar-accepted
as well as fan-based designations.
06.Pieslak_pp219-246 9/17/07 3:37 PM Page 243
with bands like The Dillinger Escape Plan, Fantômas, and
Ion Dissonance, progressive/math metal is best characterized
by its musical practices. While maintaining the loud, dis-
torted guitar timbre associated with metal music in general,
progressive/math metal emphasizes a sophisticated musical
structure, particularly with regard to rhythm and meter, and
requires skilled technical performances by the entire ensem-
ble. The tendency to focus on rhythmic and metric complex-
ity is often the determining factor for qualification in the
progressive/math subgenre. Many progressive/math metal
songs consist of large-scale odd meter and mixed meter,
which deviates from the norm of common-time meter typi-
cal of songs in other metal subgenres. My analyses of
Meshuggah’s music (1987–2002) suggest one way in which
odd and mixed meter is structured in progressive/math
metal, and in the case of I, the analysis reveals a distinct ab-
sence of surface-level meter. Moreover, individuality and
originality are highly prized in this subgenre, and bands
frequently develop idiosyncratic musical practices to assert
individuality. For example, the techniques of metric super -
imposition discussed in the analyses are particular to
Meshuggah’s music, and the analytic tools used to explain
these techniques are largely specific to Meshuggah.
The rhythmic organization of music composed by
progressive/math metal bands is vital to the process of fan
identification and plays a significant role in shaping the sur-
rounding subculture. In 2003, I began ethnographic research
on Meshuggah and the progressive/math metal subculture.
Through fan interviews, concert attendance, and internet re-
search, I discovered that the structure of pitches and
rhythms (formal aspects of the music) carry significant
meaning for the fans of progressive/math metal, and in many
cases determines not only how fans relate to the music, but
how they distinguish themselves from other metal subgen-
res. During interviews, fans consistently emphasize the tech-
nical aspects of the music as a source, if not the source, of at-
traction.
19
They describe their relationship with the music as
revolving heavily around “the notes,” and our conversations
frequently involved formal considerations of the music.
While many fans may not be able to articulate their analyti-
cal understanding of the music with theoretical terminology,
they are acutely aware of the relative complexity behind the
music and admire it for its sophisticated structure.
references
I. Books and Articles
Berry, Wallace. 1976. Structural Functions in Music. New
Jersey: Prentice-Hall.
Butler, Mark. 2001. “Turning the Beat Around: Reinter -
pretation, Metrical Dissonance, and Assymetry in Elec -
tronic Dance Music.” Music Theory Online 7.6.
Cateforis, Theo. 2002. “How Alternative Turned Pro -
gressive: The Strange Case of Math Rock.” In Progressive
Rock Reconsidered, edited by Kevin Holm-Hudson,
243–60. New York: Routledge.
Crampton, Luke and Dayfdd Rees. 2003. Rock & Roll Year
by Year. New York: DK Adult.
Everett, Walter. 2000. “Confessions from Blueberry Hell, or,
Pitch Can Be a Sticky Substance.” In Expression in Pop-
Rock Music: A Collection of Critical and Analytical Essays,
edited by Walter Everett, 269–345. New York: Garland.
Friesen, Bruce and Jonathon Epstein. 1994. “Rock ‘n’ Roll
Ain’t Noise Pollution: Artistic Conventions and Tensions
in the Major Subgenres of Heavy Metal Music.” Popular
Music and Society 18.3: 1–17.
244 music theory spectrum 29 (2007)
labels can reach the point of absurdity wherein each band creates and
becomes its own sub-subgenre. In the present case, a preference might
be given to the label “math metal,” which is a designation used by fans
and the media. I will combine the two labels as “progressive/math
metal.” However, any distinctions between “math” and “progressive” are
peripheral to my purposes.
19 These include informal interviews at twenty-seven concerts, twenty
formal fan interviews, and online research.
06.Pieslak_pp219-246 9/17/07 3:37 PM Page 244
Headlam, David. 1997. “Blues Transformations in the Music
of Cream.” In Understanding Rock: Essays in Musical
Analysis, edited by John Covach and Graeme Boone, pp.
59–92. New York: Oxford University Press.
Kramer, Jonathan. 1988. The Time of Music. New York:
Schirmer.
Krebs, Harald. 1999. Metrical Dissonance in the Music of
Robert Schumann. New York: Oxford University Press.
Lerdahl, Fred and Ray Jackendoff. 1983. A Generative Theory
of Tonal Music. Cambridge, MA: MIT University Press.
Lester, Joel. 1986. The Rhythms of Tonal Music. Carbondale:
Southern Illinois University Press.
London, Justin. 2002. “Rhythm in Twentieth-Century
Theory.” In The Cambridge History of Western Music
Theory, edited by Thomas Christensen, 695–725. Cam -
bridge: Cam bridge University Press.
McIver, Joel. 2002. Nu-Metal: The Next Generation of Rock
and Punk. London: Omnibus Press.
Popoff, Martin. 1997. A Collector’s Guide to Heavy Metal:
Volume 2: The Eighties. Toronto: Collector’s Guide
Publishing Inc.
Roeder, John. 1994. “InteractingPulse Streams inSchoen berg’s
Atonal Polyphony.” Music Theory Spectrum 16.2: 231–49.
———. 2003. “Beat-Class Modulation in Steve Reich’s
Music.” Music Theory Spectrum 25.2: 275–304.
Rothstein, William. 1989. Phrase Rhythm in Tonal Music.
New York: Schirmer.
Schachter, Carl. 1987. “Rhythm and Linear Analysis:
Aspects of Meter.” In The Music Forum 6, edited by Felix
Salzer and Carl Schachter, 1–59. New York: Columbia
University Press.
Walser, Robert. 1993. Running with the Devil: Power, Gender,
and Madness in Heavy Metal Music. Hanover: University
Press of New England.
Weinstein, Deena. 1991. Heavy Metal: A Cultural Sociology.
California: Lexington.
Yeston, Maury. 1976. The Stratification of Musical Rhythm.
New Haven: Yale University Press.
II. Recordings
Meshuggah. 1987. Meshuggah. Limited Release EP.
Garageleand: Umeå
———. 1991. Contradictions Collapse. Compact Disc.
Nuclear Blast Europe NB 049 CD 84-29982.
———. 1994. None. EP. Nuclear Blast America NB 1683
6119-2.
———. 1995. Self-Caged. EP. Nuclear Blast Europe NB
132-2.
———. 1995. Destroy Erase Improve. Compact Disc. Nuclear
Blast America NBA 1683 6874-2.
———. 1997. The True Human Design. EP. Nuclear Blast
America NBA 1683 6268 2.
———. 1998. Chaosphere. Compact Disc. Nuclear Blast NB
27361 63362.
———. 2001. Rare Trax. Compact Disc. Nuclear Blast NB
605-2.
———. 2002. Nothing. Compact Disc. Nuclear Blast CD
27361 65422.
———. 2004. I. EP. Fractured Transmitter Records CD
HA001.
———. 2005. Catch 33. Compact Disc. Nuclear Blast
America NB 1311-2.
Music Theory Spectrum, Vol. 29, Issue 2, pp. 219–246, ISSN 0195-6167,
electronic ISSN 1533-8339. © 2007 by The Society for Music
Theory. All rights reserved. Please direct all requests for permission
to photocopy or reproduce article content through the University
of California Press’s Rights and Permissions website, at http://www
.ucpressjournals.com/reprintinfo.asp. DOI: 10.1525/mts.2007.29.2.219
re-casting metal: rhythm and meter in the music of meshuggah 245
06.Pieslak_pp219-246 9/17/07 3:37 PM Page 245

220

music theory spectrum 29 (2007) the cymbals maintain a consistent quarter-note pulse, complemented by snare drum hits on what would be beat three in 4/4 time. Example 2 illustrates how the cymbals and snare can be interpreted in 4/4 time and, in fact, reveal a larger, prototypical phrase rhythm implying four hypermeasures.6 This type of metric superimposition, or overlay, characterizes many Meshuggah songs and is articulated typically through the instrumental texture, where the guitars, bass, and pedal bass drum are based on a large-scale odd time signature and mixed meter while the cymbals (or some other instrument of the drum set, usually a hi-hat) maintain a steady quarter-note pulse that expresses a symmetrical hypermetric structure. Like the opening excerpt of “Rational Gaze,” the section in “Stengah” extending from 0:16 to 0:48, given in Example 3, repeat in the guitar, bass, and pedal bass drum part, constituting measures of an unusual time signature, in this case five repetitions of 11/8 followed by a measure of 9/8, which provides a mixed meter organization that allows a larger, hierarchical arrangement of four hypermeasures. While the band uses this rhythmic device prominently in Nothing, it also appears in albums before 2002. As early as 1994, the group was experimenting with this type of metric superimposition. The opening song in “None,” “Humiliative,” presents guitars and bass parts in 5/16, while the ride cymbal, crash cymbal, and snare drum superimpose a common-time quarter-note pattern. The music is given in Example 4(a). Similar passages exist throughout Destroy Erase Improve and Chaosphere, like “New Millenium Cyanide Christ,” provided in Example 4(b), and further demonstrate the use of this device throughout Meshuggah’s music since the mid 1990s. The rhythmic organization of Meshuggah’s music during this period can generally be explained through an analytic method that addresses odd time signatures, mixed meter, and superimposition. These features are based on two simultane6 My use of the terms hypermeter and phrase rhythm is consistent with Rothstein’s definitions (Rothstein 1989, 8–15).

metric organization of their songs.4 In the first section of this essay, I examine rhythm and meter in Meshuggah’s music from 1987–2002, which is based on three specific techniques: large-scale odd time signatures, mixed meter, and metric superimposition. Scholars like Mark Butler, Walter Everett, and David Headlam employ models for the rhythmic analysis of pop-rock music based on ideas of meter, hypermeter, and metric dissonance developed by Harald Krebs and William Rothstein. These methods provide a useful framework for my discussion of Meshuggah’s music during this period. The opening passage, extending from 0:00 to 0:29 of “Rational Gaze,” (from Nothing), given in Example 1, demonstrates how the band tends to combine these three specific devices.5 The guitars and bass can be grouped into four repetitions of measures in 25/16, followed by a measure in 28/16. The entire passage is then repeated. While this is going on, the cymbals create a metric superimposition: as the pedal bass (kick) drum doubles the guitar and bass rhythms,
their use of distorted power chords on particular songs to single pitches. In this lower register of the eight-string guitar, the fifth of the power chord tends to obscure rather than reinforce the fundamental or root in more active passages, so they will frequently use single tones instead of power chords. For the most part, the pitch structure of their music has remained consistent. Based on a single tonal center and framed by the Locrian mode, Meshuggah’s music demonstrates a preference for chromaticism or motion by half step with respect to the interval of a minor third above the tonal center. Almost every song from Chaosphere and Nothing reveals a chromatic filling-in of the first three scale degrees. If the guitars, for example, are tuned such that F is the note of the lowest open string, the song will almost invariably move through the pitch space of F, G , G , A (A , possibly) and F’s tritone, C . My present focus, however, is on rhythm and meter. The terminology used in the theoretical literature devoted to rhythm and meter varies widely from author to author, such that a term like “meter” is defined in different ways. I will make my understanding of such terms explicit, and following Krebs, I interpret meter as a “series of regularly-recurring pulses” (Krebs 1999, 23). All transcriptions by the author.

4

5

The most immediate examples of this are two against three or three against four (in Krebs’s terms. or a beat within a rhythmic grouping. ous. 31). where. G3/2 and G4/3). Whereas the rhythmic layers of metric dissonance involve recurring. “Rational Gaze. the measure of . uninterrupted patterns. 134 Crash Cymbal Snare Cymbal 2* Pedal Bass Drum 4 4 221 Guitars and Bass 25 16 28 16 * Crash or Chinese Cymbal Crash Cymbal Snare Cymbal 2* Pedal Bass Drum 4 4 Guitars and Bass 25 16 28 16 example 1. in the case of 3:2. (0:00–0:29). were to be truly metrically dissonant with respect to the quarter-note cymbal pattern. Meshuggah uses asymmetric repetitions in the guitars and bass part resulting from mixed or changing meter. the alignment occurring after a number of pulses generally determined by the product of the cardinalities of the interpretative layers” (Krebs 1999. rhythmic layers and thus could be interpreted as polyrhythmic or “metrically dissonant” (after Krebs) with two “interpretative layers whose cardinalities are different and are not multiples/factors of each other” (Krebs 1999.” Nothing (2002). there are two rhythmic layers: one is an evenly-spaced grouping of three and the other is an evenly-spaced grouping of two. such principles tend to have symmetrical or repeated patterns within both rhythmic layers that come together or align on a mutual downbeat within the context of a single meter. but independent. If the opening passage of “Rational Gaze.” which we studied in Examples 1 and 2. The difference between metric dissonance and the overlay used by Meshuggah lies in the structure of repetitions within each rhythmic layer. 31). However.re-casting metal: rhythm and meter in the music of meshuggah = ca. Krebs points out that even metric dissonance “invariably involves some alignment of attacks.

“Rational Gaze. the repetitions of the guitars and bass part in 5/16 create a true metricallydissonant structure with the common-time cymbals as their downbeats coincide on the downbeat of measure six of the excerpt. 31). but this metrically-dissonant structure does not govern the large-scale phrase rhythm that ultimately continues to the eighth hypermeasure. In Example 4(a). the variable meter within the interpretative layer of the guitars and bass. 25/16 would have to be repeated sixteen times in order for the downbeats to ultimately fall in the same place. (0:00–0:29). phrase rhythm. the decisions of mixed meter are made with the intention of maintaining a symmetrical.” Nothing (2002). 134 Crash Cymbal Snare 4 Cymbal 2* 4 Pedal Bass Drum 2 1 3 1 music theory spectrum 29 (2007) 4 1 2 1 1 2 1 3 1 4 1 2 2 3 4 2 3 4 2 3 4 2 3 4 2 3 4 2 3 4 2 3 4 3 4 Guitars and Bass 25 16 28 16 * Crash or Chinese Cymbal Hypermeasure: 3 Hyperbeat: 1 Beat: 1 Crash Cymbal Snare Cymbal 2* Pedal Bass Drum 4 4 2 3 4 2 1 2 3 4 3 1 2 3 4 4 1 2 3 4 4 1 1 2 3 4 2 1 2 3 4 3 1 2 3 4 4 1 2 3 4 Guitars and Bass 25 16 28 16 example 2. not using met- . but it seldom occurs in full.222 Hypermeasure: 1 Hyperbeat: 1 Beat: 1 = ca. for instance. or in the same way as many pieces within the Western Classical tradition due to 7 Sixteen would be the “common factor z” in Kerbs’ equation of alignment where Gx/y have a common factor z in the equation (xy)/z (Krebs 1999. not four repetitions of 25/16 followed by a bar of 28/16.7 There are many times when Meshuggah’s music suggests metric dissonance. In this way. four-bar hypermetric structure.

” Rush “Jacob’s Ladder.re-casting metal: rhythm and meter in the music of meshuggah Hypermeasure: 1 and 3 (on the repeat) Hyperbeat: 1 2 4 1 2 3 Beat: 1 = ca. Everett observes that many pop-rock songs exhibiting irregular and mixed meter reveal an asymmetrical phrase rhythm at the hypermetric level (2000. ii. twenty-one minute track that moves through approximately 14 sections. ric dissonance. each hypermeasure consists of four hyperbeats. Meshuggah. “Don Caballero’s guitarists use offbeat chordal accents to highlight the riff ’s ambiguous nature . 291–3). see Deep Purple’s “Child in Time” (1970). Frank Zappa. differentiated according to distinct changes in musical texture or the pitch and rhythmic structure of the guitars and bass part. “epic” song or album is. where each hyperbeat equals four quarter notes. we must adopt different models of rhythmic analysis.8 Theo Cateforis has observed that many of these groups employ odd time signatures and frequent changes of meter. He writes concerning Don Cabellero that. seems to organize the rhythmic techniques of odd meter and mixed meter into a larger structure of four-bar hypermeasures. represents a departure from most of their previous work. up to and including Nothing (1987– 2002).9 This EP. “Stengah. however in I. to create phrase rhythm-level groupings. particularly in terms of rhythm and meter. 124 Crash Cymbal 4 Snare 4 Pedal Bass Drum 3 1 4 1 2 and 4 (on the repeat) 2 1 1 2 3 4 1 3 1 4 1 223 2 3 4 2 3 4 2 3 4 2 3 4 2 3 4 2 3 4 Guitars and Bass 11 8 9 8 example 3. Rush’s “La Villa Strangiato” (1978). use variable meter and unusual time signatures in a great variety of their songs. Meshuggah’s use of changing meters and fascination with odd time signatures has numerous precedents.’ They simply juxtapose two different chordal accents in the guitar to create their variety” (2002. but do not organize these devices into repeated patterns of larger units. and many others.” to name only a few. I (2004) In September 2004. The arrangement of odd time signatures and mixed meter breaks from many of the tendencies of other bands in that Meshuggah’s music. and many others. (0:16–0:48). King Crimson. but do not use large formal or processual designs in the middle sections of ‘Stupid Puma. King Crimson’s “Starless” (1974). relativelyspeaking. 249). consisting of a single. appears to be governed by a larger. Rush. .” and Frank Zappa “Weasels Ripped My Flesh. 9 The tradition of the continuous. . Pink Floyd’s “Echoes” (1971). however. this prototypical hypermetric structure is common in many popular music genres. measure repeats four times. and each hyper8 See King Crimson “Red. hierarchical level of symmetrical phrase rhythm. or polyrhythm. Likewise. Meshuggah released I. The analyses thus far have employed relatively conventional notions of rhythm and meter to explain the temporal organization of the music.” Nothing (2002). phrase rhythm. . a long one within the metal and hard rock genres.

D. Ride Cym. (0:00–0:25). Hypermeasure: 1 and 3 (on the repeat) Hyperbeat: 1 2 3 Beat: 1 = ca.224 Hypermeasure: 1 Hyperbeat: 1 Beat: 1 = ca. phrase rhythm.” Chaosphere (1999). 2 1 3 1 music theory spectrum 29 (2007) 4 1 2 1 1 2 1 3 1 4 1 2 3 4 2 3 4 2 3 4 2 3 4 2 3 4 2 3 4 2 3 4 2 3 4 Guitars and Bass 5 16 (a) “Humiliative. (3:50–4:04). example 4. B. 4 Snare 4 Ped. 120 Cr. phrase rhythm. Cym. 144 Hi-Hat 4 Snare Drums 4 Pedal Bass Drum Guitars and Bass 23 16 4 2 1 2 3 4 3 1 2 3 4 4 1 2 3 4 Hypermeasure: 2 and 4 (on the repeat) Hyperbeat: 1 2 Beat: 1 4 4 3 4 2 1 2 3 4 3 1 2 3 4 4 1 2 3 (On the repeat) 4 Drums ( ) Guitars and Bass 13 16 (b) “New Millenium Cyanide Christ. .” “None” (1994).

and Krebs in his analysis of electronic dance music (Butler 2001).10 225 10 Other scholars. hierarchic way shown in Example 6. but do not interpret the repeated pattern as surface-level meter. Joel Lester. Thus.re-casting metal: rhythm and meter in the music of meshuggah The following analysis of I draws upon rhythmic concepts developed by Fred Lerdahl and Ray Jackendoff.” or Yeston’s “pattern recurrence. to examine hierarchical layers or strata in the music. I engage Lerdahl and Jackendoff ’s concept of “grouping structure.” Lester’s idea of “textural accent. and the hierarchical structure. extending back almost a generation of music theorists. The passage from 3:35–3:55 offers a clear example of this technique and is a good starting point for analysis.” and Roeder’s “pulse stream” relationships to explain the different ways hypermeter and large-scale rhythm is stratified. metric dissonance. and others. or other characteristics associated with conventional rhythmic analysis. The drums no longer clearly play repeated quarter-notes in the hi-hat or cymbals with the snare providing accents that outline a superimposed common-time meter. shown above the staff. In Example 1. Both concepts are useful to our analysis because they notice the contiguous elements of the group. Underlying each approach is an epistemological foundation in what Justin London describes as “the hierarchical aspects of rhythm and form. the idea of analyzing rhythm as interactive. Specifically. to varying degrees. . Example 5 provides a transcription and phrase rhythm analysis of this passage. The music does not demonstrate patterns of repetition that would allow the interpretation of large-scale odd time signatures like those used in “Rational Gaze” (25/16) or “New Millenium Cyanide Christ” (23/16). From Grosvenor Cooper and Leonard Meyer’s study. where the grouping structure has been divided into two identical parts. The repetition aligns with a quarter-note pulse. have found it useful to combine aspects of architectonic approaches in their rhythmic analysis of popular music. Maury Yeston. While these scholars have varied notions. The large-scale hypermeter no longer governs multiple repetitions of small rhythm and pitch units that could be interpreted as meter. labeled (c). Each approach to rhythm utilized in my analysis is based on the principle that rhythm operates at various interactive levels. in the contemporary theoretical literature and underlies a variety of approaches. The Rhythmic Structure of Music (1960). while Yeston’s concept of “attack point interval” analysis is useful in observing foreground rhythmic details. on suitable methods for rhythmic analysis. and combining these approaches allows us to observe many of the distinctive features of hierarchical rhythmic organization in the music. layered structures has been useful to theorists even when they employ an architectonic approach to reach very different conclusions. but only one repetition of a pattern that is significant enough to strain an attempt to describe it as meter. and sometimes differing opinions. He employs methods developed by Hasty. patterns of pitch and rhythm repeat over much longer spans of time.” and these different ideas intersect one another as methods of architectonic analysis (2002. like Butler. to Christopher Hasty’s Meter as Rhythm (1997). Yeston 1976. I does not articulate surface-level meter. repeated patterns. This perspective has been widely used. or to place it in a traditional time signature. its recursive nature. The excerpt also differs from the rhythmic organization of previous Meshuggah songs in another important way. Jay Rahn.” (Lerdahl and Jackendoff 1983. the idea of an architectonic approach to rhythm is a unifying thread among them. 50– 54). These longer repetitions are largely governed by the same symmetrical phrase rhythm that characterizes songs from Nothing. One of the first aspects of rhythmic structure that distinguishes I from many previous Meshuggah songs is that the guitars and bass part can no longer be grouped into smallscale. 17. Instead. A more informative approach may be to conceptualize this music in terms of Lerdahl and Jackendoff ’s “grouping structure. 695). The guitars and bass repeat a pattern lasting thirty-two quarter notes. which articulates a four-bar hypermeter. we could express this passage in a simpler.

The superimposed 4/4 meter that helped articulate the four-bar hypermeter is not aurally distinguishable in the form of a separate rhythmic layer. 30–31). and the snare complements the majority of registral leaps to A 4.” the crash cymbal provides a steady quarternote pulse and the snare accentuates what would be beat three in 4/4. the hypermetric form of different sections is expressed through what Lester calls “textural accents” (Lester 1986. two-part multi-layered rhythm. How. . in fact. (3:35–3:55). “Rational Gaze. but is still important as a means of structuring largescale form.226 Hypermeasure: 1 and 3 (on the repeat) Hyperbeat: 1 Beat: 1 2 3 Crash Cymbal Hi-Hat Snare Pedal Bass Drum music theory spectrum 29 (2007) 2 1 3 1 4 1 4 2 3 4 2 3 4 2 3 4 Guitars and Bass Hypermeasure: 2 and 4 (on the repeat) Hyperbeat: 1 Beat: 1 2 3 4 2 1 2 3 4 3 1 2 3 4 4 1 2 3 4 example 5. (3:35–3:55) Four hypermeasures Two hypermeasures (c) (3:35–3:45) Two hypermeasures (c) (3:45–3:55) example 6. the quarter-note hi-hat part coordinates with the guitars and bass.11 Lester describes textural accentuation as a change in musical texture marked by the addition or subtraction of 11 Wallace Berry calls this determination of groupings based on “extramusical factors” (1976. I. but the passage from 3:35–3:45 no longer demonstrates this type of clear. might it possible to perceive this phrase rhythm? In many instances throughout the twenty-one minute song. transcription and phrase rhythm. 321). then.

. As shown in Example 7. 3 = dotted-eighth note. In the example. each Arabic numeral corresponds to the duration of the number of eighth notes before the next attack. More importantly. surface level. which are slightly asymmetrical. I will consider. or section B. pitch to be an indispensable part of “attack-point interval” structure. 39–41). 2 = quarter note. 12 These asymmetrical or almost-recursive groups violate certain propositions within Lerdahl and Jackendoff ’s Grouping Well-Formedness Rules (GWFRs). 3. This very appropriately describes the manner in which largescale phrase rhythm is articulated in I. the larger-scale phrase rhythm is expressed through textural accent. another important feature to notice is that the grouping structure from 3:35–3:45. resulting in a collection of “attack-point intervals” (1976. While the guitar melody signals the symmetrical phrase rhythm at 3:55 through textural accent. but this does not pose a serious problem if we follow Jonathan Kramer. Within the context of large-scale repeated patterns. this music spans eight hypermeasures until the voice operates as a textural accent that initiates a repetition of the grouping structure. such that 1 = eighth note. who eliminates the requirement of isochronouslyspaced groups (Kramer 1988). voice enters (c) example 7. Like Yeston. distinct features.re-casting metal: rhythm and meter in the music of meshuggah 227 Section A (3:35–3:55) Four hypermeasures (c) (c) Solo guitar melody enters Section B (3:55–4:32) Eight hypermeasures Section A (4:42–4:50) Four hypermeasures (c) Solo guitar melody exits. in the absence of a consistent quarter-note hi-hat or cymbal. in a number of significant ways. If the eighth note is considered to be the minimal duration. 13 the analysis must move towards a more detailed approach to rhythm. like the entrance of a new voice (30–31). The textural outline of the entire passage from 3:35–4:50 reveals how. I. the attackpoint intervals are included beneath the music for the first Berry adopts a similar approach in his “accent-to-accent grouping” analysis of Corelli’s Concerto Grosso.14 Example 8 presents an attack-point interval analysis for section A. (3:35–4:50). when applicable. According to Yeston. First. third movement (1976. attack point is “the criterion that can be used to describe minimally any rhythmic configuration and . (c). 346–48). No. the rhythms of a section or piece can be reduced to a common subdivision and measured as multiples of that denominator. 6.12 To understand this better. The passage presents two groups. repeated from 3:45–3:55 and labeled section A in Example 7. measures the rhythm of their recurrence” (1976. 14 . Op. phrase rhythm as articulated by textural accent. .13 In other words. the passage from 3:35–3:55. examining the music on an immediate. the entrance/exit of the voice or a solo guitar melody in the upper register almost always marks regions of four-bar or eight-bar hypermeter. Yeston’s concept of “attack point” analysis provides a useful method for investigating the relationships of foreground rhythmic structure in I. 39). and so on. Section B does not exist in a grouping structure that is exactly recursive. changes for the passage of 3:55–4:32.

When attack-point intervals are coupled with pitch. a complete attack-point interval analysis of section A is provided. one can immediately notice the grouping structure of 3:35–3:45. it becomes apparent how this music is structured in two almost-recursive groups. Example 9 shows a pitch and attack-point interval analysis of section B. repeated from 3:45–3:55. then. (3:35–3:55). where . sixteen beats to clarify this process. and so forth. Below this. Italics represent sixteenth-note tremolos for the duration indicated. The second group (d ) is practically identical to the first until the very end. pitch and attack-point interval analysis. labeled (c). I. Continuing. labeled (d) and (d ) on the right side of the example. from 3:55–4:32. 3 = . (3:45–3:55) Attack-point interval: 2 2 2 1 2 2 2 3 Pitch: F A A F A A A F 2 2 2 6 F A A F example 8. this form of analysis to section B.228 Crash Cymbal Hi-Hat Snare Pedal Bass Drum music theory spectrum 29 (2007) Guitars and Bass Attack interval: 2 2 4 2 1 2 2 2 3 2 2 2 1 2 3 Attack-point intervals: 1 = . (3:35–3:45) Attack-point interval: 2 2 2 1 2 2 2 3 Pitch: F A A F A A A F Section A (3:35–3:55) Four hypermeasures –Repetition– Attack-point interval: 2 2 4 Pitch: G F F 2 2 2 6 F A A F 2 1 2 2 2 3 A F A F F F 2 2 2 1 2 3 F A A F A F 2 2 A F (c). Attack-point interval: 2 2 4 Pitch: G F F 2 1 2 2 2 3 A F A F F F 2 2 2 1 2 3 F A A F A F 2 2 A F (c).. 2 = . The section can be divided into two large groups of pitch and attack-point intervals.

. Italics represent sixteenth-note tremolos for the duration indicated.re-casting metal: rhythm and meter in the music of meshuggah 229 Attack-point intervals: 1 = . A . I.. slight alterations are indicated in bold parentheses– Attack-point interval: 2 2 2 1 2 2 2 3 Pitch: F A A F A A A F 2 2 2 6 F A A F 2 2 2 2 1 2 2 2 3 A F A A F A A A F (d') 2 2 2 1 2 (2 2 )3 F A A F A (A A )F (2 2) (F A) Attack-point interval: 2 1 2 2 2 3 2 1 2 2 2 2 3 Pitch: F A A F A F A F A A A A F Attack-point interval: 2 1 2 3 Pitch: A F A F Attack-point interval: 2 2 4 Pitch: G F F 2 2 2 2 2 2 A F A F A F 2 1 2 2 2 3 A F A F F F example 9. 2 = . pitch and attack-point interval analysis. one octave higher. Attack-point interval: 2 2 2 1 2 2 2 3 Pitch: F A A F A A A F 2 2 2 6 F A A F 2 2 2 2 1 2 2 2 3 A F A A F A A A F (d) 2 2 2 1 2 3 F A A FA F Attack-point interval: 2 1 2 2 2 3 2 1 2 2 2 2 3 Pitch: F A A F A F A F A A A A F Attack-point interval: 2 1 2 3 Pitch: A F A F Attack-point interval: 2 2 4 Pitch: G F F Section B (3:55–4:32) Eight hypermeasures 2 2 2 2 2 2 A F A F A F 2 1 2 2 2 3 A F A F F F –Repetition. 3 = . (3:55–4:32). and so forth.

given in Example 10. between 3:35– 4:50 and previous Meshuggah songs exists in the structure of section B. four-measure hypermeter arises out of the repetition of a two-hypermeasure group. breaking from an exact repetition of the complete stream at the last two attack points. this grouping structure can be symmetrically divided into two pitch and attack-point interval streams. or one hypermeasure. as in the relationship of sections (d) and (d ). however. the larger. are not without purpose. if omitted. Previous songs and section A consist of smaller hypermetric units that are repeated in order to create large-scale form. The attack-point intervals within these examples have been arranged such that smaller. Stream (r) appears in its entirety as the final stream of (d). respectively labeled (r) and (s). and the remaining streams could receive labels. making the entire section A four hypermeasures). There is no rhythmic organization of the interval streams in section B that would allow it to be heard in smaller symmetrical units. internal “pulse stream” relationships between sections A and B can be seen (Roeder 1994. it allows the entire passage to exist in two interpretative layers that align according to a four-bar hypermetric structure. and this contradicts the manner in which the interval streams and hypermeter have been organized in almost all of Meshuggah’s music. however.230 music theory spectrum 29 (2007) pitch and attack-point interval streams facilitate observation of symmetrical rhythmic strata in section A. but more importantly. In this way. The additional pitch and attack-point intervals. divisible into the statement of a pitchand attack-point stream and its repetition. play important roles. While . and together they create the twohypermeasure section [c] that is repeated. If the symmetrical. consists of four hypermeasures. or elongation. In general. and grouping them in this way seems to makes sense as we pursue an architectonic analysis—section A is four hypermeasures long and is separated into a repetition of a grouping structure that lasts for two hypermeasures. these are indicated in bold parentheses at the lower right of the example (the bold parentheses within the second group indicate the inserted attack-point intervals which. though.” the sixth repetition of the measure in 11/8 is truncated by one quarter note to create a measure of 9/8. (r) and (s). Section B does not demonstrate symmetrical pitch and attack-point interval streams that align with the hypermeter (recall that [r] and [s] are each sixteen beats long. but there is no repeated two-hypermeasure rhythmic stratum created by pitch and attack-interval streams. which is texturally accented by the entrance of the voice at 4:32. “Stengah. for example.and attack-point intervals lasts exactly 16 beats (one hypermeasure). The use of truncation. is not only twice as long (eight hypermeasures). that emphasize the almost-exact repetition of (d) as (d ). the songs outlined in Examples 1–4 repeat measures of an odd meter that is slightly elongated or truncated in order to properly align with the hypermeter. 2003). Stream (s). which last one hypermeasure each. Section A. labeled (c). In Example 3. This passage from I relies on similar techniques. begins section (d) in a slightly truncated form. We could call this variant (s ). large-scale phrase rhythm is to be maintained. but on a much larger scale. The pitch and attack-point interval analyses of Examples 8 and 9 also suggest another important stratum of rhythmic interaction. The songs from Nothing and Chaosphere also demonstrate this type of rhythmic technique but on a smaller scale. Example 11 continues the pitch and attackpoint analysis to section B where these two smaller streams. One of the important differences. two small sets of quarter notes are inserted and alter the progress of the exact repetition. as in the case of streams (s) and (s ). (x) and (y). these added attack-point intervals are vital to the musical surface. this approach to rhythmic organization also clarifies the ways in which these streams make connections between sections on smaller hierarchical levels than phrase rhythm or hypermeter. should come as no surprise. would result in an exact repetition of the first group). Section B. The section (d ) must contain these additions in order to align with the eight-bar hypermeter of the entire passage. Each stream of pitch. (r) and (s).

unfolds over the complete span of thirty-two beats in equal durations of eight beats for each pitch. This inconsistency appears to be remedied by the solo guitar melody that originally functioned as the textural accent. C–B–C–C . This creates a rhythmic level that moves according to repetitions of units of two-measure hypermeter—the exact level of rhythmic motion missing from this section when compared to other Meshuggah songs. into an A–B–A sectional form. A. I. as we saw in Example 7. Each section. (3:35–3:55). which can be divided. (Bold Arabic numerals indicate hypermeasure length. The solo melody. The example moves from left to right through large hierarchical layers of rhythm to smaller ones. The rhythmic structure of this melody creates what we might consider to be an intermediate rhythmic stratum between the larger phrase rhythm and the surface-level guitars/bass part.re-casting metal: rhythm and meter in the music of meshuggah One hypermeasure Attack-point interval: [2 2 4 Pitch: [G F F 2 1 2 2 2 3 A F A F F F 2 2 2 1 2 3 ] = (r) F A A F A F ] 231 One hypermeasure Attack-point interval: [2 2 2 1 2 2 2 3 Pitch: [F A A F A A A F 2 2 2 6 F A A F 2 2 ] = (s) A F ] (c) (3:35–3:45) Two hypermeasures Section A (3:35–3:55) Four hypermeasures –Repetition of (c)– (3:45–3:55) Section A (r) (s) (r) (s) (c) (c) example 10. Example 13 provides an analysis of the rhythmic strata within the complete passage 3:35–4:50. A and B. and is repeated four times. signaling the division of large-scale form (sections A and B). and in section B. pitch and attack-interval stream labels. In section. shown in Example 12. contains a level of rhythm that moves according to two-hypermeasure units. labeled (z). these are labeled (c).) The passage is 16 hypermeasures long. these are .

. slight alteration of (r) labeled (r')– (s') (x) (y) (r') (d') example 11. Solo guitar melody (z). Pitch and attack-point interval streams of section B. (3:55–4:32). 4x Solo guitar melody example 12. section B.232 music theory spectrum 29 (2007) Attack-point interval: 2 2 2 1 2 2 2 3 2 2 2 6 = (s') Pitch: F A A F A A A F F A A F Attack-point interval: 2 1 2 2 2 3 Pitch: F A A F A F 2 1 2 2 2 2 3 A FA A A A F 2 2 2 2 1 2 2 2 3 = (x) A F A A F A A A F (d) Attack-point interval: 2 1 2 3 2 2 2 2 2 2 = (y) Pitch: A F A F A F A F A F Attack-point interval: 2 2 4 Pitch: G F F Section B (3:55–4:32) Eight hypermeasures 2 1 2 2 2 3 2 2 2 1 2 3 = (r) A F A F F F F A A FA F –Repetition.

rhythmic strata. 2 (3:35–4:50) 16 (3:55–4:32) Section B 8 (d') (x)-Attack-point interval: 2 1 2 2 2 3 Pitch: F A A F A F 2 1 2 2 2 2 3 A F A A A A F 2 2 2 2 2 2 F A F A F A F 2 2 2 2 1 2 2 2 A F A A FA A A 3 F (y)––––– Attack-point interval: 2 1 2 3 Pitch: A F A (z). 1 (c). (3:35–4:50). 2 (y) Attack-point interval: 2 2 4 (r') Pitch: G F F Solo guitar exits. 2 2 1 2 2 2 3 2 2 2 1 2 (2 2 )3 (2 2) A F A F F F F A A F A (A A )F (F A) example 13.re-casting metal: rhythm and meter in the music of meshuggah Bold arabic numerals indicate hypermeasure length. (z) (s') Attack-point interval: 2 2 2 1 2 2 2 3 2 2 2 6 Pitch: F A A F A A A F F A A F (z). 1 Attack-point interval: 2 2 2 1 2 2 2 3 2 2 2 6 Pitch: F A A F A A A F F A A F 2 2 A F Attack-point interval: 2 2 4 Pitch: G F F 2 1 2 2 2 3 A F A F F F 2 2 2 1 2 3 F A A F A F 233 (3:35–3:55) Section A 4 (c). 2 (d) (z). 2 (s). . 2 (r) (4:32–4:50) Section A 4 (s') (x) (z). (r). 1 (c). 1 (s). 2 Solo guitar melody enters. 2 (c). voice enters (r).

might make the aural interpretation of the larger strata more feasible than if the passage only consisted of. but this analytic perspective allows us to distinguish the specifics of rhythmic organization within each section. I do. In the attack-point interval analysis. Lester. and the motion back to C (in conjunction with the textural accent of the added solo guitar melody) delineates the B section of four hypermeasures. 1:55–3:35 offers a good example. As shown in Example 14. I also believe that a number of intermediate levels. It is not my intention to debate the rhythmic level at which the hypermetric structure of this excerpt from I ceases to be audible. The change in pitch. Below the first sixteen beats of the example. and section A is then repeated in a slightly-altered form but still eight hypermeasures in length. as do Lerdahl and Jackendoff. connected levels of rhythmic motion between sections A and B based on pitch and attack-point intervals streams (r). The large-scale. for one. The attack-point interval analysis of the entire passage from 1:55–3:35 no longer in- labeled (z)—the rhythm of the guitar melody. respectively. 16). which connect the surface-level rhythm to higher strata like those outlined in Example 13. sectional structure of 1:55–3:35 is defined by changes in pitch as well as textural accent. and the lower portion of the example outlines the complete attack-point interval analysis of this section. The first section. coupled with concepts that involve pitch and attack-point interval streams to address local rhythmic phenomena. which implies that they find a definite limit in the degree to which rhythmic hierarchy can be interpreted in music. is eight hypermeasures. the small-scale rhythmic organization of this passage resists repeated patterns that imply any reasonable interpretation of meter. is important for outlining the structure of the largescale. and the A and B sections from 1:55–3:35 are eight and four hypermeasures. respectively. (s). Carl Schachter points out that there are definite limits to the listener’s perception of equivalent time spans (1987. one can immediately notice how the attack-point intervals are organized according to related streams.234 music theory spectrum 29 (2007) rhythm outline of the passage. In the music of 1:55–3:35. Example 14 provides a large-scale phrase . the initial change from C to C substitutes for the textural accent as a signal for boundaries of hypermeter. find it useful to extend the hierarchy of rhythmic analysis to higher levels because these levels appear to provide a backdrop against which large-scale form can be read. Example 13 also shows smaller. warns against interpreting extensive levels of phrase rhythm. Berry and Kramer believe that hypermetric analysis can be effectively applied to entire movements. but it does reveal larger groupings that become analytically significant when understood through attack-point interval analysis. An important difference between these two passages involves pitch. however. I have provided a corresponding attack-point interval interpretation. A–B–A form. This excerpt immediately precedes the one analyzed above and demonstrates a similar large-scale form. Like 3:35–4:50. the pitch content of the guitars and bass is almost entirely static and involves only an alternation between C and C . followed by section B (four hypermeasures). The remaining music is not organized exactly according to the characteristics of the excerpt in Example 13. On the other hand. say. The motion to C at 2:35 marks the end of an eight-bar hypermetric unit or section A. as well as notice similarities among sections. however. A. This sectional design is similar to 3:35–4:50 in the respect that both present an A–B–A structure. Example 15 provides a transcription of section A and its corresponding attackpoint interval analysis. One of the problems we encounter when interpreting rhythm on multiple levels is the degree to which the hierarchy of strata can be extended. and the entire song might be analyzed using the architectonic approach developed above. The analytic tools developed in the examination of 3:35–4:50 help to clarify the temporal organization of the work. the lowest and highest levels. but the hypermetric length of 1:55–3:35 is the exact reverse of the order in 3:35–4:50: the A and B sections from 3:35–4:50 are four and eight hypermeasures. and their variants (r ) and (s ).

One important difference. (1:55–3:35). provides significant insight into the temporal organization of I. that is slightly altered (the bold numbers within the (x ) streams of Example 16 indicate points of variations from the original (x)). and resembles the technique used in earlier Meshuggah songs. seem inconsequential to . we must turn to a part of the music that may. the hi-hat is struck every quarter note and the snare is hit on the offbeat eighth note of every beat in the transcription in Example 15. for the most part. I. the repeated guitar melody does not align with the hypermetric structure. given in Example 17. phrase rhythm as articulated by pitch change.” and Roeder’s “pulse stream” relationships have provided methods to observe large-scale rhythmic strata and hypermetric structure. expresses a continuous. Rather.re-casting metal: rhythm and meter in the music of meshuggah 235 Section A (1:55–2:35) Eight hypermeasures Pitch: C Section B (2:35–2:54) Four hypermeasures Change to C Change to C Section A (2:54–3:35) Eight hypermeasures example 14. In this case. though. however. The guitar melody. But the attack-point intervals prove to be useful in observing stream relationships among sections. Before concluding my analyses. It should be obvious how important the eight-bar hypermeter is to the large-scale formal division of this section and that the smaller rhythmic strata have always been governed by hypermeter. Example 16 outlines the rhythmic strata of 1:55–3:35. which following Yeston. which involves a combination of different hierarchical rhythmic concepts. unlike 3:35–4:50. This creates a rhythmic layer that is dissonant to the guitars and bass layer. Example 16. First. is 22 quarter notes long. I would like to explore two final points about 1:55–3:35. as shown in Examples 1–4. from 2:54–3:35. likewise includes a repeated guitar melody. in 3:35–4:50 the repeated rhythmic structure of the solo guitar melody plays an important role in articulating a stratum of hypermeter. the attack-point interval analysis reinforces the sectional division of the complete passage because the stream within section B demonstrates very few similarities to (x). or 128 beats. and I hope it has become apparent how the analytical perspective developed for both excerpts 1:55–3:35 and 3:35– 4:50. which cannot be equally stated over the period of eight hypermeasures. is that the alternating hi-hat and snare hits remain constant throughout the entire excerpt and do not seem to contribute to the possible interpretation of surface-level meter as could be done in previous songs. one can consider the A section to consist. and Lerdahl and Jackendoff ’s “grouping structure. this passage. of a single stream. volves pitch relations. labeled (x).” Lester’s “textural accent. at first hearing. were important in the previous analysis. Yeston’s concept of attack-point analysis has been a useful substitute for conventional ideas of meter. and the second A section. they operate as a second stream of unchanging attack-point intervals that is dissonant to the rhythmic stratum of the guitars and bass. so why does the rhythm of the guitar melody not align? To explain this inconsistency. quarter-note pulse in the form of the hi-hat and snare. As shown in an attack-point interval analysis of the entire excerpt. Secondly. In addition. both A sections reveal a distinct similarity of streams with a few minor alterations among these streams. In fact.

transcription and attack-point interval analysis. section A. I. 1 3= 2 ( 2 ) 2 1 Attack-point interval analysis: 1 = ( // // example 15. (1:55–2:35). . 2 2= ( 1 ).236 music theory spectrum 29 (2007) Hi-Hat Snare Pedal Bass Drum Guitars and Bass Attack Interval: 1 1 3 ).

re-casting metal: rhythm and meter in the music of meshuggah 237 // // // example 15. [continued] .

(1:55–2:35). [continued] the rhythmic structure.238 music theory spectrum 29 (2007) // // Complete attack-point interval analysis. which lowers the bridge and creates a glissando to pitches lower in the register without physically changing fret position.15 If we analyze the duration of the dive bomb transition. which coincidentally (or perhaps not) allows for the rhythmic stratum created by the solo guitar melody to come to completion in the form of six full repetitions. 15 The “dive bomb” is a technique created by depressing the whammy bar of the guitar. . 2:54–3:35. At the conclusion of the second eight-hypermeasure A section. Given the fact that the smaller rhythmic strata have always been regulated according to the larger hypermeter. 113 2 112 2 2 1113 21112 2 1 2 2 2 1113 21112 2 12 11111113 2 1 2 2 12 12 2 2 1113 1113 2 2 1111112 1111112 11113 11113 example 15. called a “dive-bomb. The dive bomb moves from A to G over the exact duration of four beats. it becomes apparent that this transition is not purely ornamental. a guitar effect. it seems unusual that the repeated guitar melody cannot be equally subdivided within four or eight hypermeasures.” functions as a transition into 3:35– 4:50.

3 = ( ) Section A (1:55–2:35) 8 hyermeasures Section B (2:35–2:54) 4 hypermeasures Section A (2:54–3:35) 8 hypermeasures 113 2 112 2 2 1113 21112 2 12 2 1113 2 1–2 2 2 1113 21112 2 12 2 1113 2 12 11111113 2 1 113 2 2 13 1112 13 113 2 1111112 11113 2 1111112 11113 = (x) = (x') 2 2 2 112 113 2 13 1111111 112 11113 2 12 2 2 1113 2 111112 2 2 2 1113 21112 2 12 2 1113 2 1111112 11113 2 1 – 2 2 2 1 1 1 3 2 1 1 1 2 2 1 2 2 1 1 1 3 2 1 1 1 1 1 1 2 1 = (x') = (x') example 16. . 5x example 17. I. (2:54–3:35). I. 2 = ( ). attack-point interval analysis. (1:55–3:35).re-casting metal: rhythm and meter in the music of meshuggah 239 1= ( ). solo guitar melody.

the entire work can be separated into fourteen distinct sections based on changes in pitch and rhythmic organization. and may call into question the idea of interpreting surface-level meter. In terms of the large-scale. and Yeston. The beginning of the track opens with a four-bar hypermeasure in 7/4 0:00–0:09.” or meter. If we analyze these sections according to textural accent. it becomes clear how distinct changes in texture divide the complete song into three larger. is vital to the rhythmic layer of the solo guitar in that it allows for the complete expression of the sixth repetition. The section contains 128 beats. to produce a 132-beat unit. to be clearly delineated. accompanied by a dramatic decrease of rhythmic activity. there are only two occasions where surface-level meter is presented. Chaosphere. There is. bass. and vocals. But the guitar melody plays 22-beat units. At the same time. adds four beats to this total.” Example 4(b). Since 128 cannot be divided by 22 without remainder. but a detailed analysis of the entire 21 minute piece requires more space than the context of a single article allows. formal structure of I. and vocals drop out and the guitar timbre changes to a clean or undistorted tone. There is much more that could be said about the music. the two parts will not conclude at the same. the duration of the dive bomb. distorted guitars. this perspective of meter seems unreasonable given that the tempo is approximately 144 beats per minute. In this way. 8:40–14:42. which may seem inconsequential considering the ornamental and transitional nature of this guitar effect. This radical change of musical texture partitions the entire piece into three sections of relatively equal size 0:00–7:47. The dive bomb. determined by the eight hypermeasures. which accommodates 6 complete repetitions of the guitar’s melody. the repeated . In The rhythmic layer of the solo guitar melody is expressed in the form of six complete statements without threatening the distinction of the eight-bar hypermeter even though these two layers do not align. Nonetheless. In these songs. another possible interpretation of large-scale form in I. however. this approach seems to overlook certain relationships that might be observed through a perspective that involves rhythmic strata and grouping structure/pattern recurrence as understood by Lerdahl and Jackendoff. and 16:01–21:00. But at kthis. The music that follows fails to articulate a localized metric organization until 10:34. I originally argued that meter could be read due to the relatively small size of repeated groupings.240 music theory spectrum 29 (2007) guitars and bass part were originally interpreted in 23/16. Although one could contend that two measures of 10/16 are followed by a measure of 3/16. In fact. Each of these sections is relatively short. it may be worthwhile to reconsider the interpretation of rhythmic organization in songs from Nothing. the textural change of the dive bomb permits the large-scale form. however. The large-scale form is clearly distinguished as the bass and drums drop out for the dive bomb transition. the rhythmic layer of the solo guitar melody is incomplete and only through the exact duration of the dive bomb transition (four beats) is it allowed to reach a full statement as a rhythmic stratum. One of the distinguishing features of I is that the vast majority of music resists metric interpretation on a surface level. shown in Example 18. (z). like the ones described between 1:55–3:35 and 3:35–4:50. the drums. and the guitar articulation dramatically changes from tremolo picking and palm muting on a single pitch to a dive bomb. The analytic tools developed for I may provide an alternate approach to previous Meshuggah songs that offers more detailed insights into the rhythmic structure of the music than interpreting two. however. superimposed layers. labeled (z’). for instance. The music is dominated by drums. but in two sections. a few closing analytic remarks are worth mentioning. In “New Millenium Cyanide Christ. relatively-equivalent parts. but the necessity of having to find a “series of regularlyrecurring pulses. bass. when 4/4 is projected clearly. and a fragmentation of (z). seems to ignore that the measure of 23/16 is composed of two smaller groupings. Given the analyses of I. the shortest lasts forty seconds while the longest lasts one minute and fifty-five seconds. and other albums.

We have seen how important hypermeter and rhythmic strata have been in regulating form in Meshuggah’s music. As mentioned above.” this way. from the music of other metal bands. but this imprint lasts. Anthrax is a popular metal band that flourished in the late 1980s and 1990s. and along with Metallica and Sepultura seems to have influenced Meshuggah’s early musical style as demonstrated in the Meshuggah EP (1989) and Contradictions Collapse (1991). it seems fitting to quote a piece entitled “Time. for only one hypermeasure. Combined with the concept of textural accent creating ternary form. . is referenced as a formal attribute that has influenced Meshuggah’s music in the past. “Time. Popoff 1997. analyzed above. this fragment is one of only two moments in the piece when surfacelevel meter is articulated. This arrangement extends the idea of dissonant hierarchical rhythmic strata to a formal level and provides a way of interpreting the complete piece as a product of small-scale rhythmic techniques that operate on larger. Example 19 shows how these two ways of interpreting large-scale form create a formal “dissonance. 0:00–10:34 and 10:34–21:00. they are not the only metal group to emphasize structural complexity. but it becomes a memory in I as the music quickly departs from this metric organization. however. The rhythmic organization of their music.re-casting metal: rhythm and meter in the music of meshuggah (z) Guitars and Bass 23 16 (z) (z') 241 example 18. and it is suitable that any musical quotation should similarly conform to principles of hierarchical rhythmic organization. McIver 2002. appropriately. In I.” From another perspective. I situate Meshuggah’s music within the metal genre and briefly discuss the relationship between their fans and structural complexity. To begin. This opening quotation may be interpreted in a number of ways. Shown in Example 20. structural levels. In the remainder of the essay. the title of the Anthrax song quoted by Meshuggah is. Since many of the distinctive features of I involve rhythm. however.” in which a two-part and three-part form can be read. It is the notion of “time” that distinguishes Meshuggah’s music. Persistence of Time (1991). and immediately after the statement of the hypermeasure. “New Millenium Cyanide Christ. and Walser 1993). this metric organization does not continue. the quotation recognizes the influence that Anthrax may have had on their early style. “Time” from the album. I explore some of the defining features of metal to provide a context for this discussion. but it is also a quotation from a song by the metal band. Given the details and relative complexities of the rhythmic structures within the piece. aptly. both excerpts reveal the same singlenote rhythm in 7/4 meter.16 16 Numerous historical studies of metal trace the roots of what is now considered metal music back to Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin (Crampton and Dees 2003. seems particular to Meshuggah. and this presents a possible understanding of the work as a unified whole. The final point I would like to make concerns the opening nine seconds of the song. in I and previous albums.” in the form of discernible surface meter. Anthrax. wherein small-scale features of the music are manifest on the highest levels of form. the music follows patterns better analyzed as attack-point interval streams. The processes of rhythmic organization that govern subsections of smaller time spans appear to function in relatively similar ways on formal levels. the idea of a discernible surface-level meter divides the piece almost exactly in half—a two-part form of two almost symmetrical sections.

Large-scale form.” (0:31–0:40) (Persistence of Time. . 1991). “I. “Time. 4x Guitars example 20. (0:00–0:09). and Anthrax. Meshuggah. Guitars and Bass 4x Anthrax. 1991). Meshuggah. “Time.” (0:00–0:09).” (0:31–0:40) (Persistence of Time. I.242 music theory spectrum 29 (2007) “I” (0:00–10:34) (10:34 –21:00) Two-part form surface-level meter (4/4) (0:00–7:47) (8:40–14:42) (16:01–21:00) Three-part form Section of clean guitar tone Section of clean guitar tone example 19.

for instance. differentiate pop metal from thrash metal according to many of Walser’s categories: pop metal emphasizes a semi-vibrato vocal articulation. describes metal in terms of musical features: volume. while thrash metal bands.” The use of the term “progressive” might be rejected on the basis that it associates this music with so-called “progressive” rock bands. progressive. 23). 44–51). porno.” and focus on forms of physical gratification and ecstasy. and syncopated guitar/ 17 These terms. Pink Floyd. and rock and roll. Bands that are considered pop metal. power. power chorddriven riffs in 4/4 time. symphonic. trash metal utilizes guttural growls and screams.dillingerescapeplan. mode and harmony. drugs. Phrygian/Locrian modes. Just as it is impossible to point to a perfect exemplary Haydn symphony.17 Scholars have negotiated the problems of genre and subgenre in metal by primarily focusing on musical practices and thematic content. focus on Chaotic themes. the loud.” who “have not developed an appreciation for the true aesthetic of metal. scholars have used it as a way to discuss metal and different developments within the genre. and Def Leppard. and so forth. for instance. King Crimson. 5). Given the current system of subgenre classification and nomenclature.re-casting metal: rhythm and meter in the music of meshuggah Like any attempt to identify the characteristics of a broad category of music. Fans and bands tend to describe the music in terms that represent a fusion of different styles even if they choose to adopt the “progressive” label. for example. melody. distorted power chord as the fundamental unit of pitch. The vocal articulation in metal ranges from a quasi-operatic. such . and Slayer. speed. and for the most part describe songs based on a single tonal center. Fans of thrash metal. Anthrax. such as Bon Jovi. aluminum. consistently refer to those who enjoy pop metal as “poseurs. pieces within a popular genre rarely correspond slavishly to generic criteria” (1993. speed. also Walser 1993. rhythm. 13).com).”18 Along 18 Many fans of Meshuggah and possibly the band members themselves might object to the label “progressive metal. we risk generalization and oversimplification in the construction of a definition for the diverse musical genre of metal. death. and guitar solos (1993. “Dionysian” and “Chaotic” (1991. and free jazz” (www. Dionysian themes involve “sex. Bruno Freisen and Jonathon Epstein observe that there are currently well over forty different subgenres of metal: pop. ambient. Friesen and Epstein. In addition to musical practices. black. like trash. These features provide a platform for identifying metal. death. or Rush. vibrato-laden style to unpitched yelling or screaming. little or no harmonic motion. one that fulfills the ‘norms’ in every respect. Moreover. violence. vocal timbre. grind. Weinstein divides lyrical topics into two opposing categories. 243 bass parts. and so forth (Friesen and Epstein 1994. like Don Caballero. thrash. scholars like Deena Weinstein find that thematic content is a useful way to engage metal subgenres. Of course. The musical features Walser describes are also helpful to understand how subgenres are distinguished. and must therefore be accorded less prestige with the subculture” (Freisen and Epstein 1994. are scholar-accepted as well as fan-based designations. and repeated. dance. progressive metal. punk. and the antagonisms among subgenres tend to be strong and often rhetorically violent. tend to adopt Dionysian themes in their lyrics. Many metal subgenres stand ideologically opposed or in direct conflict with one another. Walser. and less syncopated guitar/bass parts. The Dillinger Escape Plan identifies itself as “a creation merging new-school hardcore. in the Dorian/Aeolian or Phrygian/Locrian modes. Robert Walser believes that “nowhere are genre boundaries more fluid that in popular music. nü. 27). blues-derived harmony or Aeolian/Dorian modes. Van Halen. like Metallica. The use of a distorted guitar timbre and/or power chords is frequently the sole determinant used by scholars to qualify the music as metal or as exhibiting a metal influence. and death. the closest subgenre that could be used to describe Meshuggah’s music is “progressive metal. Although the process of identifying metal and differentiating subgenres according to musical features and thematic content may be somewhat loose. Chaotic themes rebel against social norms and reveal a fascination with conflict.

the analysis reveals a distinct absence of surface-level meter. I will combine the two labels as “progressive/math metal. progressive/math metal is best characterized by its musical practices.” Music Theory Online 7. any distinctions between “math” and “progressive” are peripheral to my purposes.” However. “Confessions from Blueberry Hell. Walter. and the analytic tools used to explain these techniques are largely specific to Meshuggah. and Ion Dissonance. 269–345. with bands like The Dillinger Escape Plan. they are acutely aware of the relative complexity behind the music and admire it for its sophisticated structure. 1976. Mark. New York: Routledge. and internet research. 1994. During interviews. Rock & Roll Year by Year. Cateforis. “Rock ‘n’ Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution: Artistic Conventions and Tensions in the Major Subgenres of Heavy Metal Music. and in many cases determines not only how fans relate to the music. 2003.19 They describe their relationship with the music as revolving heavily around “the notes.6. My analyses of Meshuggah’s music (1987–2002) suggest one way in which odd and mixed meter is structured in progressive/math metal. if not the source. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall. Books and Articles Berry. Fantômas. Bruce and Jonathon Epstein. Moreover. The tendency to focus on rhythmic and metric complexity is often the determining factor for qualification in the progressive/math subgenre. 19 These include informal interviews at twenty-seven concerts. In the present case. Many progressive/math metal songs consist of large-scale odd meter and mixed meter. and Assymetry in Electronic Dance Music. a preference might be given to the label “math metal. New York: Garland.244 music theory spectrum 29 (2007) meaning for the fans of progressive/math metal.” In Progressive Rock Reconsidered. the techniques of metric superimposition discussed in the analyses are particular to Meshuggah’s music. The rhythmic organization of music composed by progressive/math metal bands is vital to the process of fan identification and plays a significant role in shaping the surrounding subculture. progressive/math metal emphasizes a sophisticated musical structure. While maintaining the loud. edited by Kevin Holm-Hudson. but how they distinguish themselves from other metal subgenres. . Butler.” In Expression in PopRock Music: A Collection of Critical and Analytical Essays. and requires skilled technical performances by the entire ensemble. Pitch Can Be a Sticky Substance. While many fans may not be able to articulate their analytical understanding of the music with theoretical terminology.” Popular Music and Society 18. 243–60. I discovered that the structure of pitches and rhythms (formal aspects of the music) carry significant labels can reach the point of absurdity wherein each band creates and becomes its own sub-subgenre. Luke and Dayfdd Rees.3: 1–17.” and our conversations frequently involved formal considerations of the music. which deviates from the norm of common-time meter typical of songs in other metal subgenres. concert attendance. or. In 2003. Everett. Through fan interviews. Structural Functions in Music. Wallace. particularly with regard to rhythm and meter. and bands frequently develop idiosyncratic musical practices to assert individuality. references I. 2001. edited by Walter Everett. Crampton. and online research. For example.” which is a designation used by fans and the media. “How Alternative Turned Progressive: The Strange Case of Math Rock. 2000. Friesen. and in the case of I. Theo. New York: DK Adult. individuality and originality are highly prized in this subgenre. I began ethnographic research on Meshuggah and the progressive/math metal subculture. Metrical Dissonance. of attraction. distorted guitar timbre associated with metal music in general. fans consistently emphasize the technical aspects of the music as a source. 2002. “Turning the Beat Around: Reinterpretation. twenty formal fan interviews.

New York: Oxford University Press. 2002. Catch 33. Nuclear Blast America NB 1683 6119-2. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press. MA: MIT University Press. William. Nu-Metal: The Next Generation of Rock and Punk. Garageleand: Umeå ———. The Time of Music. edited by Thomas Christensen.1994. All rights reserved. 695–725. ISSN 0195-6167.1525/mts. Rare Trax. “Interacting Pulse Streams in Schoenberg’s Atonal Polyphony. Lerdahl. 2002. London. electronic ISSN 1533-8339. Maury. © 2007 by The Society for Music Theory. 1–59. Hanover: University Press of New England. 1998. Jonathan. Lester. EP.2: 231–49. ———. EP. Martin. 1994. Heavy Metal: A Cultural Sociology. 2003. Meshuggah.” In Understanding Rock: Essays in Musical Analysis. ———. Joel.re-casting metal: rhythm and meter in the music of meshuggah Headlam. 1993. Compact Disc. DOI: 10. 1976. Fractured Transmitter Records CD HA001. Compact Disc. Carl. “Rhythm and Linear Analysis: Aspects of Meter. at http://www . Music Theory Spectrum. New York: Schirmer. Nothing. 1988. ———. New York: Oxford University Press. 245 II. pp. The Rhythms of Tonal Music. “Rhythm in Twentieth-Century Theory. A Collector’s Guide to Heavy Metal: Volume 2: The Eighties. Recordings Meshuggah. 2002. 1995. Gender. Kramer. New Haven: Yale University Press. The True Human Design. New York: Schirmer. and Madness in Heavy Metal Music. Running with the Devil: Power. Rothstein. Nuclear Blast America NBA 1683 6268 2. 1986.ucpressjournals. 1999. 2001.29. A Generative Theory of Tonal Music. Please direct all requests for permission to photocopy or reproduce article content through the University of California Press’s Rights and Permissions website. 1991. Nuclear Blast Europe NB 049 CD 84-29982. 1987. Krebs. 59–92. 219–246. John. Vol. 1997. Weinstein. Self-Caged. Nuclear Blast America NBA 1683 6874-2. New York: Columbia University Press. 1989. Schachter. edited by John Covach and Graeme Boone.” Music Theory Spectrum 16. I.2. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ———. Phrase Rhythm in Tonal Music. ———. Issue 2.219 .” In The Music Forum 6. David. Joel. Harald. Roeder. Nuclear Blast NB 27361 63362. California: Lexington. Walser. Cambridge. None. 2005. Limited Release EP. Metrical Dissonance in the Music of Robert Schumann. ———. Destroy Erase Improve. 1997. Nuclear Blast Europe NB 132-2.” In The Cambridge History of Western Music Theory. Contradictions Collapse. edited by Felix Salzer and Carl Schachter. EP. Nuclear Blast America NB 1311-2. Robert. Compact Disc. Justin. 1991. Chaosphere.com/reprintinfo. Compact Disc. 29. ———. Toronto: Collector’s Guide Publishing Inc. “Blues Transformations in the Music of Cream. Compact Disc. 1987. 2004. The Stratification of Musical Rhythm.” Music Theory Spectrum 25. Nuclear Blast NB 605-2. 1995. EP. London: Omnibus Press. Fred and Ray Jackendoff. “Beat-Class Modulation in Steve Reich’s Music. 1983. Popoff.2: 275–304. 1997. pp.2007. McIver.asp. Nuclear Blast CD 27361 65422. Compact Disc. ———. ———. Deena. ———. Yeston.

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