Review: Meshuggah - The Violent Sleep of Reason

Label: Nuclear Blast Records
Runtime: 58 Minutes
Released: October 7th, 2016

It's difficult to believe that the monolithic institution that is Meshuggah has been littering the metal landscape with the precisely bludgeoned corpses of their contemporaries for almost thirty years now. Love them or hate them, the Swedish quintet is undeniably one of the most influential visionaries of modern heavy metal. The Violent Sleep of Reason marks Meshuggah's eighth full-length slab of rhythmic pummeling since their inception, and what a marvelous and brutal ride it's been--from the thrash roots of Contradictions Collapse to the mechanical pulse of obZen and Koloss, Meshuggah are always upping their game and giving fans new musical elements to pick apart and examine for years to come. 

Far from content to merely invent one of the most popular sounds in modern metal and inspire hundreds of younger bands, Meshuggah are always pushing the envelope while remaining true to their core sound. Much to do was made of the new album being recorded live, and while fans were skeptical at first, the difference between The Violent Sleep of Reason and Koloss is stark and immediately apparent. The new tracks feel alive and bristling with a human energy that has been lacking in Meshuggah's past few releases. Gone is the almost metronomic machine-like precision of tracks like "Bleed"--replaced by a lurching juggernaut trampling over a vast aural soundscape. The whole affair feels organic and spontaneous, a feeling that the band haven't captured since they recorded 1998's Chaosphere.

Bucking tradition as a matter of course, the longest cut on the album is up front and center on track one. "Clockworks" sets the stage for what's to come with Tomas Haake's unrivaled spastic drumming joining with the rest of the band in a series of polymetered grooves. As the third single released from the album, "Clockworks" got a deluxe music video treatment from Nuclear Blast Records and gets into the heads of the band as they lay out the rhythms--literally.

Other standout tracks include "MonstroCity", a song packed with so many riffs it will take a dozen listens to fully appreciate it, including an insanely catchy descending guitar riff around 3:45. "Ivory Tower"'s stuttering solo hearkens back to the discordant leads that permeated the classic Destroy Erase Improve album. "Stifled" ends with a soundscape that builds as a wall of sound under the pummeling riffs and emerges abruptly as the drums and bass disappear, leaving the final  minute and a half of the track to sweep you off your feet though a feather-bed of resonant swells. Sustained guitar cuts through the atmosphere with clean notes and subtle feedback, leading directly into the maw of the beast that is "Nostrum"--the second preview single.

"Nostrum" centers around a rumbling low verse riff that calls to mind a deep warning foghorn bellowing out its call over stormy seas, whether to warn incoming ships of rocky crags or tentacled monstrosities lurking below the black waves is left up to the imagination of the listener. The tempo slowly builds before unleashing the full fury of the album's fastest guitar solo--a cutting wind slicing through the waves, driving the listener inevitably and inexorably toward their eventual doom on the sharp rocks and guttural unearthly growls that close out the song.

Closer "Into Decay" rumbles fuzzily out of your speakers and morphs into a verse riff of slow single-string sludgy bends. It's a fitting final track that concludes the album on a simplified groove before fading out with a squeal of feedback.

Like all Meshuggah albums before it, The Violent Sleep of Reason will be well-received by long-time fans and maligned by their habitual critics. If you didn't like Meshuggah before now, The Violent Sleep of Reason won't change your mind. For better or worse, the band sticks well within their comfort zone when it comes to composition, and while the recording process has changed considerably--to the benefit of the album's production and feel--there is no significant evolution here that will convert skeptics into true believers.


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