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,