meshuggah the violent sleep of reason coverWhat does a band do when they’ve spent decades revolutionizing the very fabric of metal? A handful of the early century’s most innovative musicians get their say this fall – and in quick succession, as if ready to pass the torch on to the next generation of darkness. But one of those bands in particular has pitched a radical transformation in how and with what metal is played. Meshuggah, the dark and jagged jewel of Umeå, the darling of the brutal musicologist, the tectonic titan of absolute heft; they who brought us polymetric contortions, Debusseyan solos, and eight string guitars have made their answer clear. You do whatever you want.

And as always, Meshuggah want nothing more than to sound like Meshuggah, but as any fan knows, that’s a broad target to hit. The Violent Sleep of Reason is different, though. The group aren’t shooting for heady conceptual pieces like I or Catch Thirtythree, nor are they returning to a thrashier sound a la Destroy Erase Improve, a step which Koloss feinted toward at times. Songs like “Stifled” and “Monstrocity” groove like ever before, but there’s a sense of almost playful energy to their freewheeling chugs. For the first time in a decade, Meshuggah doesn’t sound forced.

Sure, ObZen and Koloss were good albums, each with a few mind-blowing cuts, but their calculated songwriting and rushed recording didn’t leave much room for interpretation. These songs are a new breed; trim, aggressive and subtly varied in tempo and timbre. The muddy subwoofer-shattering explosion of “Into Decay” has an almost doom-sludge feel, and Kidman rides over its interleaved riffing like a bilious miasma. It’s stunning how different it feels just for the band to end an album on that aggressive note. Kidman’s voice is higher in the mix than usual, but he’s also more diverse – if that word can apply to a man with a vocal range of about half a step – than expected, and menacing rather than robotic.

Yet the show is stolen immediately not by Kidman, but by Haake. Opening the album, “Clockworks” features a beat that feels almost like a foxtrot with more legs. The Slepnir-like prance fuels a huge track behind one of the album’s best guitar solos, a vitreous splash of tonal incongruence. It’s perhaps the album’s most innovative piece, but telegraphs a slight misstep. Though often enveloping, these songs can be just a tad long, and “By the Ton” and “The Violent sleep of Reason” could each do with about 30 seconds less material. But if anything, The Violent Sleep of Reason‘s biggest failure is the same as that of Koloss; it doesn’t bring new colors to the palette. Yet after nearly three decades, a solidified Meshuggah sound is far from unwelcome.

meshuggah band 2016

Even if The Violent Sleep of Reason was a wholesale musical retread of Meshuggah‘s past exploits, it would still be hugely important because of how it has been produced. Bemoaned though it may be, the band’s influence has proven to be a game-changing force; when Meshuggah says jump, metalheads across the world go and buy a gym membership. The zeitgeist of technical metal moves in concert with the band’s last release. So it was with Nothing‘s groovy polymetric phrases and Catch Thirtythree‘s eight-string guitars, so it shall be with The Violent Sleep of Reason‘s live recording. End-to-end, Reason is more athletic and agile than anything since Chaosphere, the mechanical precision of “Bleed” or “Pravus” abandoned in favor of tight but fallible tempos that suit the band’s writing far better than the former style. Metronomic adherence might help you count bars and marvel at the moving parts, but the clockwork was still driven by springs; now the band seem more like an engine than a timepiece, and they’re free to feather the pedal and move under inertia.

For a group that operates as a five-man rhythm section, it’s easy to see the merits in either approach. On Nothing, the droning tempo made their trance-inducing groove just that much more enveloping, and the absolute speed of ObZen set a new bar for drumming performance. But what more could Meshuggah have to prove? After playing “Bleed” every night for years, Haake has achieved the status of drumming deity, and the band have complained about the difficulty of writing and recording the last few albums spread across Sweden. The band’s discography is a monument to logistical constraint, and sans detuned guitars, click tracks, and programmed drumming, it must have been nice to record and write – for at least a while – as a band. The Violent Sleep of Reason is the work of such a messy and human apparatus, and all the more vital for it.


Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: | Format Reviewed:
Label:
Nuclear Blast Records
Websites:
meshuggah.net | facebook.com/meshuggah
Releases Worldwide:
October 7th, 2016

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  • gfhsrngy

    I’ll just use this to quench my thirst for technical metal until the new Ulcerate comes out.

  • Reese Burns

    All those 4.0.’s but Meshuggah can’t get one? Haha, a fair review though. Can’t wait to get my hands on this one on vinyl.

  • JL

    Eh, I’m waiting for the new Aenaon. Surely an AOTY contender. The new Beithioch will also surely be a special record. Also, I know you guys can’t review everything, but there really is a spectacular album out by An Abstract Illusion that you should check out. It’s fresh, vibrant, thoughtful, beautiful and really worth your time.

    • Anarchist

      That album was so GOOD.

    • jabba

      Agreed, Astral Path is absolute gold. Alex from Metal Hi-Fi brought it up in another AMG comment section though and I believe Kronos referred to it as a “lame, lame album,” so he may not share our enthusiasm…

      • It is indeed PURE gold. Kronos is deaf from listening to too many tech death records compressed into oblivion (that or he is allowed to have different tastes than me).

  • Dynamo11

    I have to say Sleep is the album Koloss was meant to be, my problem with Koloss was it sounds far too sanitised. obZen got away with it for the most part due to the sheer tempo and crushing riffage.

  • Carlos Marrickvillian

    Sounded more like you were heading to a ‘4’ rating.
    An excellent review Kronos.
    With so many good releases this year either out or due. I had thought I would give this and Opeth a miss to make time for some new bands.
    After reading this I’ll have to make the time.

    • Dynamo11

      Honestly I can see where it lost that .5 and it’s definitely in the track lengths. Ivory Tower clocks in at 4:59 and feels just right, Monstro City for example could do with losing a minute

      • Carlos Marrickvillian

        Interesting observation, I’m a bit over sensitive to songs that feel long running… I’ll see I guess.

  • DeathComesRipping

    Haake proves again why he is the best drummer in the business.

    • El Lado Oscuro

      Agree. The record might not be as good as I expected, but the drum work is stunning.

  • jabba

    Is anyone else disappointed these guys have sort of stopped pushing the envelope? I know Meshuggah are unimpeachable metal gods, and I do like this album, but I’m not sure I agree these tunes are as vital as Kronos seems to think. Would any of them really be that out of place on Obzen or Koloss? For a band which once defined themselves on their experimentation, I can’t help but feel that they’ve settled into an somewhat safe (by their standards at least) sound over the last three albums.

    I’ll always love these guys and I enjoy this album fine, but it feels like
    a lateral move rather than another leap forward like so many of their earlier albums–in other words, AMG’s Law of Diminishing Recordings is in full effect…

    • I agree. Its a fine album, but will we revisit it much the coming years? I think not.

    • Jarod RR

      I respectfully disagree bro

    • Smart US

      how not pushing the envelope? it would take 50 years to get the drums tracks right… and another 50 to get guitar tracks close enough

      • Chad

        and to think, it was recorded live.

    • Here’s Johnny

      emmm no! they are in a league of their own. nobody sounds like them and Meshuggah sounding like Meshuggah is not a bad thing either. i don’t see how any of this album is safe…unless you think having your mind fucked sideways is safe?!

    • roland

      This album shits on Obzen and Koloss from such a height we’re talking light years

  • Ein Sophistry

    Still digesting the album, but I feel the need to say this is one of the best metal reviews I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. Kudos, Kronos!

    • Kronos

      Why thank you.

      • The Unicorn

        Really great review. I’m jaded about Mesh. I gave this one listen and walked away. Your review will warrant two more listens to see if it clicks.

    • Fuinha

      Couldn’t agree more

    • Reggie_Postlethwaite

      I read about 30 reviews of this record, but easily this is the best, because every comment is pertinent. I disagree only on the vote. This is the perfect Meshuggah record, a masterpiece of coherence and vitality. They never ever made U-Turns, it’s in their mindset moving through tiny adjustments to perfect their output, album by album, and here they made a monster gem out of this attitude. I would give it 5.

  • Mr T

    Clockworks is one beast of a track. I think I will like this album.

  • Refined-Iron Cranium

    Listening to this album, I find there’s something almost… ‘fun’ about it. Like the guys are having a great time playing the music. Maybe it has something to do with the live production values or that the band has settled into a comfortable groove (pun intended). But it doesn’t have that cold, mechanical sound of Catch 33 or Nothing – and it works well. I feel like it doesn’t need to break new ground – to just deliver good songs in Meshuggah’s trademark style is what they have succeeded with. I’m happy with it.

    • Kronos

      It really does sound fun, and very comfortable in a way.

    • That’s a Great Album . Mind Blowing. So Addictive and Technically a Masterpiece. For me it’s a 4.5 But I’m not Kronos :))

    • Smart US

      well said mate, very well said

    • Merijn Kooijman

      Haake’s ‘life partner’ described the fun element as: ‘I’m not sure whether I should kill someone or give him a lap dance’. I think that’s accurate.

  • Fuinha

    Did you have any specific song in mind when comparing the solos to Debussy (Can’t think of any other debussomething you might have been talking about)? I found it quite an interesting comparison

  • Philip Pledger

    I am curious about the DR though, since it isn’t listed here.

    • DR6.

    • Here’s Johnny

      why? it is useless info.

  • SegaGenitals

    The album is a 4.5 for me. It has new warmth and subtley compared to past efforts, and the production is lovely. Monstrosity is the jam..

    • Totally Agreed

    • Deadpoetdied

      Completely agree. Tracks like Clockworks and Nostrum in a single album is a monumental achievement in itself.

  • Andrew Bryant

    Meshuggah is my favourite band of all time hands down. Alot of you might disagree but I think in a way Meshuggah did break new ground and did push the envelope with this new album. It probably wasn’t what everyone was expected but let’s face it, it’s Meshuggah. I hear the experimentation with this album, i for one love the longer tracks and further more it’s everything I expected from a new Meshuggah album. Nothing less.

    • Agreed

      • Peter Vallance

        Yep I think they did push the envelope even further, while it’s not quite the leap say Nothing was from Chaosphere, they’ve nonetheless pushed the complexity. Arrangement wise there seems to be a lot more going on with these songs bar Born in Dissonance, which is the most straight forward, but the title track? It seems very much influenced by Sol Niger Within, the arrangements just seem more eclectic, and I think the tempo variance has a lot to do with that to. Also it’s telling that there is no drum cover for “Nostrum” yet ha. I think of all their full lengths this one will prove to be the hardest to cover overall from a technical point of view.

  • Martin Knap

    Meshuggah is a Jiddish word, shouldn’t we be talking about cultural appropriation?

    • [not a Dr]

      They also culturally appropriated the English language in their lyrics.

    • Here’s Johnny

      Malmsteen culturally appropriated donuts!

  • Deadpoetdied

    My favourite Meshuggah albums are Obzen and Nothing. This could crack into my top three. It is a solid 4 for me.

  • manimal

    Gospel of Saint Jens, chapter 20 verse 16:

    …and Meshuggah said shit, and a thousand bottoms gleamed in the sun, and a groaning and a gnashing of teeth was heard across the lands…

    The bass guitar sounds fucking great. I hope that if nothing else, the album sets a trend for that.

    • tetters

      LMFAO!!!

  • Jarod RR

    Scores a 5 easily from me. I was enthralled from beginning to end. Long live Meshuggah ,,/

    • Chad

      Yup, I don’t know how this album can be scored any less than perfect.

    • Mesh24

      Yes, exactly. Whats with the 4.5 scores anyway? Or anything less than perfection? What is missing from this album
      exactly? Oh i know they didn’t throw in any damn boring interludes like
      the robot voice from catch33.

  • Willem Stander

    Great review Kronos! For a while there I thought you were headed for a 4/4.5, but I understand why that’s not the case.The songs do suffer a bit due to their respective lengths. I scored this a solid 4 in my mind prior to reading your review. It’s slowly, but surely, creeping it’s way into my top 3 and may even dethrone Nothing. Also, the solo on Clockworks is just fantastic. Truly.

  • Jason

    I really like that cover art. There have been some instances where it looks 3-D.

  • Smart US

    on my 5th run in 16h of having this album… its too short… its way too long between albums and everything else is just pop-music. do i feel like crying – who gives a f… when Violent sleep kicks boogieman a$$$

  • Artooro Casu

    I’d fuck Meshuggah