For 25 years, Meshuggah have constantly been at the forefront of forward-thinking metal and are generally regarded as one of extreme music’s most influential and celebrated acts. Each release from this Swedish outfit, especially from Destroy Erase Improve onward, has garnered overwhelmingly positive accolades and further solidified their place as one of the genre’s top boundary pushers. Their tasteful evolutions between full-length albums always kept them ahead of the curve, and gave the band’s they inadvertently spawned something to strive toward. But, arguably, the band hit a bit of a creative snag with the meandering sprawl of 2012’s Koloss. Though the band achieved their goal of wanting to present a more “organic” and “visceral” record, the album was marred by a plethora of unimaginative riffs and recycled song structures. Though the album had some pretty stellar moments, it paled in comparison to the rest of the band’s critically-lauded catalog Fast-forward to 2016 and the band have returned with their eighth studio album, The Violent Sleep of Reason. This 60-minute behemoth makes up for a lot of Koloss‘ pitfalls but, unfortunately, shows the band playing it a bit too safe.
The first thing listeners will notice is the way The Violent Sleep of Reason sounds. The album was recorded live and thus possesses a more raw, dirty and ultimately massive sound than its predecessors. Each instrument can be heard in all of their grimy clarity. The guitars and bass wrestle with each other across this record, while Thomas Haake’s distinct, mechanical drumming thunders behind everything. Each song sounds like it was recorded inside of a giant, malfunctioning machine right before it explodes.
The record starts off monstrously with the tumultuous assault of “Clockworks”. The song begins the band’s tried and true chugging blitzkrieg that morphs in shape in seizure-like fashions. This primitive steamroller of riffs gradually opens up into angular grooves and further into a tremolo-picked stampede accompanied by towering, melodic chords. As usual, guitarist Mårten Hagström unleashes jarring grooves while lead guitarist Fredrik Thordendal delivers his dizzying, atonal leads. The seven-minute leviathan is followed by another tasteful bashing, “Born in Dissonance”.
“Born in Dissonance” is comprised of off-kilter, galloping mayhem that slightly reminds one of material from their revered Chaosphere record. The guitars churn out palm-muted, muscular grooves that give way to frenetic bending and sliding, while Dick Lövgren’s bass pulsates beneath like the heartbeat of some unfathomable beast. “MonstroCity” follows shortly after with a barrage of lurching, leviathanic grooves that sprawl, gallop and bear down upon the listener relentlessly throughout its six-minute duration. Other moments worth mentioning is the collision between tempo-defying murk and ambient soundscape on “Stifled”, and the down-tuned, grumpy stomp of the decimating closing track “Into Decay”.
Meshuggah deliver some very bestial and death-dealing songs on this record that make its predecessor look like an embarrassment. But save for a few enthralling moments, The Violent Sleep of Reason fails to keep a consistent momentum going. There are a plethora of instances on this record where the band ride out uninspiring, meditative riffs that either lead to nowhere or lead to another unexciting groove. Thordendal may conjure a spiraling, chromatic lead every now and then, but these are all things that have been heard before. Moments like the repetitive chugging of “Violent Sleep of Reason” or the crooked crawl of “By the Ton” possess no flair or heart, despite how heavy they are. And with an album being nearly an hour in length, these dull moments cause a significant amount of drag.
Although it is miles ahead of Koloss in terms of songwriting and presentation, The Violent Sleep of Reason falls prey to the same problem; a lack of character. Save the evolution from Contradictions Collapse to Destroy Erase Improve, Meshuggah have never been one to drastically alter the sound. Instead each record possesses subtle changes and an alteration in character or tone. Chaosphere was full of scathing piss and vinegar, Nothing was nothing but coldly-calculated groove, obZen was an assault of angular mayhem, and so forth. But with these last two albums, it seems like the band are at a creative standstill. Save a few tracks, there is not a lot that makes The Violent Sleep of Reason stand out from the pack. It’s simply Meshuggah doing what Meshuggah does, albeit rather dryly at times. It has its perks, but it suffers from a lack of originality overall.
Release Date: October 7, 2016
Label: Nuclear Blast
Favorite Tracks: “Clockworks”, “Born in Dissonance” and “Stifled”