Every Meshuggah record emerges like something long buried, thrashing its way free.
Every Meshuggah record emerges like something long buried, thrashing its way free and then unleashing its rage through the guttural howls of Jens Kidman. That’s where it begins. That and a deep, complex groove are the lowest common denominator of the band’s remarkably consistent body of work. It’s what we’ve come to expect on release day, and anything beyond that is a measure of how much damage is done and how effective the album is at laying waste to your earscape.
There is a measure of evolution from record to record, however, and nowhere is that more apparent than on their latest work, The Violent Sleep of Reason. There are almost jazz-like time signatures, as guitar and bass play off Tomas Haake’s swishing cymbal work. The band is known for their complexity and math-metal-like explorations into breaking up expectations. When you’re slamming and roaring all the time, there’s little else you can do to differentiate song from song than delve into song structures with maps that look like Middle Earth.
Kicking off with the seven minute “Clockworks” lets you know that you’re in for another ride. You’re not going to find anything experimental, and the band is not exploring new territory. They are going to keep doing what they do well, only increasing the level of polish and tight delivery. “Monstrocity” is quite notable in that it feels like possibly the first time the band may have something which sounds vaguely like a chorus. Kidman repeats an unusually recognizable, “Welcome to Monstrocity!” a few times, and it starts to feel slightly more metal than we’re used to.
“By the Ton” recalls all the power and aggression from the band’s early and apparently unrepeatable opus called “I.” Diving and bending guitar tones drag across the floor like the chains of an escaped beast while frequent pattern changes over the course of another seven minute snarling rant from Kidman offer an outlet for every pent up bit of frustration you may have built up in the early months of 2016.
Resting uncomfortably in the center of the album is the title track. “The Violent Sleep of Reason.” and by the time you reach it you feel like you’ve already got your money’s worth and you’re only half way through. Here again, Kidman takes a more whispered snarl approach to vocals, which is something we haven’t heard before but just offers another layer to love. It works amazingly well. His vocals are easily the most convincingly evil of anything in modern metal, reducing all others to various degrees of Cookie Monster by comparison. Somewhere just over the hill, “Stifled” quiets to the reprieve of sweet keyboard pads — a welcome, if short-lived break which leads us right back into the pummeling chaos of “Nostrum.” You thought you were going to get away?
Somehow, with slow plodding stomps rather than lightning fast riffs, and without even being all that “hard” in the traditional sense, Meshuggah manages to convince us that, if pure rage could be represented in an audible format, this is exactly what it would sound like. It’s not contrived or “angry sounding” and contains no trace of anything resembling melancholy or drama. This is the sound left behind when love, peace and tranquility have been sucked out of the room. This is the yawn of a black hole as it destroys the light of stars. This is five guys who pick up instruments and play music to appeal to something inside you’d be more comfortable denying. Taken in that context, it’s practically flawless.