[Nuclear Blast, 2016]
Intro: Giannis Voulgaris
24 / 11 / 2016
If there is a reason djent exists as a genre, this is due to Meshuggah, since almost from their first steps they decided to write music different from the trivial extreme sound, using many different rhythms in their songs along with the voluminous sound of the stringed instruments, result of the eight-string guitars they use. Similarly, for the popularity that this idiom enjoys in the metal audience, this is due to Meshuggah since from obZen onwards more and more bands either copied them or were influenced by their music.
Certainly Meshuggah are not just a djent band, since at first they played death metal trying to incorporate in their prog influences in their sound, but since Nothing (2002) they have shaped their personal sound which they maintain and enrich in each album. Sometimes experimental (Catch Thirty-Three), sometimes more simple and melodic (obZen) and sometimes more brutal and aggressive (Koloss), they manage in every new release to engage many metalheads with them and submit an entry for the album of the year. Four years after the commercially very successful Koloss, they released The Violent Sleep of Reason.
Let’s start with the fact that the music of Meshuggah is wayward, difficult to hear and quite special. Although djent type labels do not express something tangible, it could be said that this is an extreme progressive metal band, with multi-rhythm characteristics, low tuned multi-stringed (7-8 string) guitars that build up a cold atmosphere which leaves a metallic taste. Having experimented with various forms within their musical contexts, they present a different result in The Violent Sleep of Reason.
If Koloss could be considered more atmospheric and melodic, the excellent obZen easier to listen to and thrashy or Catch 33 schizophrenic, now we are dealing with something different. Although its precursors (Koloss, obZen) were accessible and compatible with a relatively larger musical audience, The Violent… needs a lot of attention and multiple hearings to be deciphered. Its compositions are based on technical heavy riffs and a voluminous sound with occasional fast (kind of thrash) solos. The change of rhythm and the building of melody (it is quite relative how the melody is defined in the universe of Meshuggah) is realized through labyrinthine ways that while they impress and intrigue the fan, it is extremely likely to tire the unsuspected listener.
The pros of the album are quite a few; there are compositions that carry you away such as Born In Dissonance, MonstroCity, Violent Sleep of Reason and Nostrum that manage to convince you to let go and rock in the unfolding of their notes. The rhythm section is the cornerstone that as always holds all the weight resulting from the very low tuned guitars, with the performance of percussion remaining at a very high level of technical training.
The production is entirely matching with the sound dystopia described by Meshuggah and the lyrics that Jens Kidman spits in our faces -written by drummer Tomas Haake- are in fact complaints about the society and the political system based on terrorizing the masses, the brutal exploitation and the profit at the expense of its component members but also target to those who turn a blind eye to the grim reality. Historically the concerns of Meshuggah have been a momentous part of their music and are reference worthy. Note also that the title of the album is borrowed from the painting of Goya The Sleep of Reason Produces Monster and the central idea is that the oblivious ones are violently affected by the causes of what is happening, as described above.
The obvious question however, is whether such an effort can be rambling. Within an album of ten compositions, unfortunately this may happen. The complexity and the addition of different elements (jazz elements concerning the free expression either solos or synthesis generally) though it is the icing on the cake, it can make the cake a little tasteless. Compositions such as Our Rage Will not Die and By The Ton do not climax, while some points are repeated. If Meshuggah had added some atmospheric parts (except the closure in Stifled) as in Koloss (which I do not consider a better album than this one), the transition between the compositions would be smoother and the set a little more diverse. Additionally, the proper review of an album has to do with whether it can open up to other audiences, not only to preserve the core fans of a band. My estimate is that it will hardly be able to win new listeners.
A rough pathway is a decision that lies within the artist and we must respect it. Listeners of Meshuggah will be satisfied because this is indeed a very interesting album and they will not hesitate to analyze it by listening to it oftentimes. But if the chimera of complexity did not devour its flesh, we could talk about one of the best extreme albums of this year. Instead we will enjoy it inviting others to do so, a call which the band took care not to be an easy one.
7.5 / 10
This is the eighth album of Meshuggah and after a series of good quality releases I think the band came to a standstill. To avoid being misunderstood, I am not saying that The Violent Sleep of Reason is a bad album. It is simply an album of the same quality range as those being released for almost 10 years. Perfect production, heavy guitars, technical drums, extreme vocals and constant changes in rhythm rates; this was pioneering some years ago and there was space to experiment on so as not to become boring (see samples, melodic parts, etc.), but it seems that at some point it starts to repeat itself as the “circular” riffs of the djent genre they created. Certainly there are pieces that stand out as Our Rage Will Not Die and MonstroCity, but most are identical and they all sound somewhat tedious. Till next time…
5.5 / 10