Meshuggah was formed in 1987 in Umeå, Sweden. I do not know anything about the personnel of that time, but guitarist Fredrik Thordendal, bassist Peter Nordin and vocalist Jens Kidman all played on their debut EP of 1989. At that time, Jens Kidman played the guitar as well. Umeå has a healthy scene, and a lot of people are involved in rock music. According to Jens Kidman there are a lot of good bands from Umeå, "probably because there is not a lot to do". The fact that there is a university in Umeå might also strengthen the rock scene. A lot of people play in bands, but few of these are known outside the town. The majority of the musicians wanting to get anywhere with their music leave town. Many of the session musicians in Stockholm are from Umeå, according to Mårten Hagström.
It is quite easy to hear some of Meshuggah's early influences on their first release, "Psykisk Testbild" from 1989. (The title translates to something like "Psychological Test-Picture".) I would mention Metallica as a major influence. The music of this EP is simpler and more straight-forward" than their more recent material, but some of their more progressive elements are present in the form of time-changes and polyrhythmics, and Fredrik Thordendal's lead playing stands out.
Tomas Haake joined on drums before Meshuggah recorded their first LP, "Contradictions Collapse," which was released in 1991. The band had signed a recording deal with the German record label Nuclar Blast, which specializes in metal releases. The songs on this record are much longer and more complicated in both structure and rhythmics. The record company did nothing to promote the album, which consequently sold badly. Between this record and the next one, guitarist/vocalist Jens Kidman decided to concentrate on the singing and left the guitar duties to Mårten Hagström. Hagström had played in a band with drummer Tomas Haake way back when they were in the sixth grade! He feels that the song title "Building a Big Building" from that time accurately characterizes that band...
The new lineup recorded the EP "None" in 1994; in my opinion, their best and most focused release. It was not until now that the record label realized that the band had a certain sales potential, but a couple of accidents forced the band to remain silent for the rest of that year. Fredrik Thordendal managed to cut off the tip of his left middle finger (he is a carpenter). The fingertip was sewn back on, and he is now able, to a certain degree, to play with it again. As if this wasn't enough, not long afterwards Tomas Haake mangled his hand in some sort of grinding machine. Several months passed without much practice. The EP "Selfcaged" was recorded in April and May 1994, but the release was delayed by a year due to the accidents.
January 1995 saw the band returning to the public, when they left off for a short European tour organized by the record-label. Shortly after returning back home they recorded the album "Destroy Erase Improve," and then they were off again on a two month European tour supporting the American band Machine Head. Halfway through this tour, bassist Peter Nordin became ill and developed problems with the balance nerve in his inner ear. He was chronically dizzy, and constantly felt like he was falling. He had to go back home to Sweden, leaving the band on tour without a bassist. The bassist of Machine Head offered to help out, but Meshuggah decided to try out as a four-man band again. At some shows, Fredrik played the bass through his guitar rig, at others they went with just two guitars (with Mårten playing through a pitch shifter, shifted one octave down). When Fredrik handled the bass he even played his leads on it, taking care of tapping, etc. "Destroy Erase Improve" was released in May 1995, this time with more proper marketing by the record label. In the autumn of 1995, they did a short tour with Clawfinger throughout Scandinavia and Germany. The first couple of shows were done without a bassist - Peter Nordin had now left the band. A replacement bassist joined the band for the show in Hamburg; this was Gustaf Hielm (formerly of Charta 77). During that fall, Meshuggah also went on a month-long tour with Hypocrisy.
During 1996 Fredrik was busy working on his solo album. He also appeared on the debut album of Swedish super-duo Mats & Morgan. Meshuggah did record a demo in the summer, the tracks on this demo are unbelieveable (as always) - but the tape seems to have gotten lost somewhere...
Early in 1997 Fredrik was still busy on his solo album, which was released in March through UAE in Scandinavia, and in Japan in April. The occasional gig was done, a few of them in their hometown of Umeå. Swedish Television recorded the Umeå gig in February, and one track from the concert was broadcast the following week. In May, the band relocated to Stockholm to live closer to their management and the record industry in general. A new EP was recorded, with one new track, "Sane," and three versions of the opening track, "Future Breed Machine," from their latest album, "Destroy Erase Improve." The "The True Human Design" EP was released that autumn after numerous delays from the label company. Around the same time, Fredrik's solo album, "Sol Niger Within," was released in the USA. Towards the end of the year the planning of the next album started.
Gustaf Hielm joined the band as a permanent member in January 1998 after more than two years as a session member. The fan club that Peter Stöckli from Switzerland started released a cool 36-page booklet with lots of photos and info on the band. Unfortunately, the fan club was not a viable operation, due to financial problems, and it eventually died. In February, "Nuclear Blast" released the repackaged "Contradictions Collapse" album, with four tracks off of "None" added. Quite a bastard product, but at least now new fans could check out the earlier material. Also, rumours of the next album kept popping up here and there from the label company. The title "Chaosphere" was known as early as May, when the recording started. Immediately after recording the album, the guys went to the USA for a short tour. After a few delays (again) "Chaosphere," the Meshuggah masterpiece in brutality, was finally released in November. Tomas Haake's characterization of the album, "DEI was beatiful and gay, while Chaosphere is not!" was the prevailing feeling. Some felt that they had left their dynamic and progressive elements behind, while others thought they were only progressing naturally and focusing on their original sound. Meshuggah did a thorough tour of Scandinavia with Entombed right after the album was released.
1999 started with a booked and later cancelled tour of the USA, but eventually things straightened out, and Meshuggah went overseas with Slayer. Their new album and the live appearances got them a lot of good press in the USA. Guitar, drum and metal mags; Meshuggah was really making an impression. In the summer of that year, there were some gigs here and there in Sweden. Already at the start of 2000, rumours of a new album appeared. But in the summer the reports straight from the band said that the "songwriting isn't that dramatic, but we're getting there slowly." While waiting for the new album, the fans could enjoy the "Rare Trax" album, a collection of demos and impossible-to-find recordings, like the "Psykisk Testbild" EP. This album took nearly a year to get released and wasn't available until the autumn of 2001, so that only meant more waiting for the fans. And again, the label company fumbled and released the CD without the promised video tracks, so the CDs had to be recalled and replaced.
Gustaf Hielm left the band in July of 2001. It is not clear why, or whether he was really kicked out, but it seems it was due to internal issues with the band. In any case, he is still around with them, so this all seems to be more of a technicality. Meshuggah joined Tool for a great tour of the USA, playing for some 100,000+ persons in total. Not until March of 2002 did there seem to be any substance to the rumours of the next album. Three tracks were recorded as a demo, showing the next level in Meshuggah's evolution. The tracks were recorded in Meshuggah's home studios with programmed drums (based upon the impressive Drumkit from Hell, in essence Tomas's entire drumkit sampled). The recording of the actual album started in May, and was finished in 5-6 weeks. Again the guys went to the USA immediately after finishing the recording in order to play with the Ozzfest tour. Meshuggah impressed the crowds, not to mention the other bands at the festival.
The album "Nothing" was leaked by someone close to the production chain onto the Internet in early July. The leak wasn't very well known, so any damage seems to have been quite limited. A month later, the record was released and it displayed a very mature and convincing Meshuggah, now focusing on groove and sound. The production was clear and brutal, beyond anything ever heard. And the new 8-string guitars took the sounds to even deeper levels of crushing brutality. A band constantly evolving, Meshuggah once again divided their fans into the "ecstatic" and the "slightly disappointed". Following the release, Meshuggah once again went on tour with Tool in the USA at the end of 2002.