MESHUGGAH – The Violent Sleep of Reason
MESHUGGAH Line up:
Jens Kidman – Vocals
Fredrik Thordendal – Guitars
Mårten Hagström – Guitars
Tomas Haake – Drums
Dick Lövgren – Bass
The Violent Sleep of Reason; a streaming experience.
For the purposes of this review, I’m going to assume you’re reasonably familiar with the work of Meshuggah, or at the very least, the elements that widely constitute their sound. Picked at random through the wonders of Spotify shuffle – I’ve gone through every song on The Violent Sleep of Reason and given them a skeletal assessment based on what I know and love about the band and what they’ve constructed musically for this, their 8th studio album. Most of it is positive, some of it isn’t. Ain’t no such thing as a perfect release!
Rate it or hate it, let me know in the comments below.
Brutal palm-muted riffage straight off the bat – djent ain’t a dirty word round these parts. That being said, a few gloriously groovy passages are to be found in this massive album opener, with fantastic aural layering on the part of Fredrik Thorgendal – from atmospherics that fill up the chorus to EVH-esque tapping, it’s all there. Jens Kidman does what he does best – vocals here are their own rhythm instrument, driving the pace as hard as Tomas Haake’s drumming… which at its most controlled, is still frantic to listen to. Closes like a knockout punch.
By The Ton
Meshuggah need to do more groove metal shit, coz this song is easily one of the standouts of the album. The big rhythm riffs plod through the track like a heavy metal Ent marching on Isengard (LOTR reference, whaddup). The drums fill up the gaps in the rhythm guitar work in much the same way as Do Not Look Down, from their last album, 2012’s Koloss. If you’re listening to this song with a friend who hasn’t heard Kidman perform before – start off on something less extreme because what happens at the 3:48 mark will put shivers up the spine of even the most hardened Meshuggah fan. This track bludgeons you in slow motion.
Delightfully gritty textures take you into one of the album’s more industrial-tinged offerings. If Batman was to headbang while tearing apart Gotham in the Batmobile, this would be the song he would do it to. Polar opposites abound; a musically straightforward rhythm section is contrasted with high-end fretwork that is all but impossible to disseminate for its complexity. Kidman marches you through this one with a consistent, if not predictable, bark. A less adventurous addition to the catalogue, but a song destined for the stage.
That title, the opening riff… is this a Slipknot song? While the resonant percussive addition of Haake quickly shakes that query aside, there’s definitely some weird sonic shit going on with this one. Remember the last couple of tracks on Slipknot’s self-titled debut? That sense of dread and fucked up feeling that came with songs like Prosthetics and Scissors? Same thing with Into Decay. Big, low chords throw this song open like a backyard surgery patient, with the rasping vocals of Kidman cutting through as though the surgeon was using kitchen scissors. This song is slow, visceral and dark… but some especially good head-banging times can be found at around 4 minutes in. You’ll need a few listens to get your head around this one.
(At this stage, Spotify killed my vibe with a bunch of shitty ads…)
While there’s plenty of chuggery here, the monotone savagery of the Kidman’s delivery is what kicks you in the balls the hardest. Some early fret-wankery courtesy of Thorgendal (as impressive as ever, but in this instance it feels a bit ‘thrown-in’) but as you dig into this one, things become a bit more frenetic and pacey thanks to Haake and that marvellous ability to make things sound faster than they really are – and just like that, those lovely ethereal textures that started it off send you out. Would’ve been nice to have that dynamic featured more heavily in this tune to be honest…
This very well could be Monstrocity, part II. Back to some more groove metal-inspired riffery – in fact as you hit the halfway point, the track begins to feel a touch repetitive. Everything fits and sounds awesomely – but where’s the shock and awe, the sudden change in direction or dynamics, that feeling of being caught off guard? Just wait – ¾ of the way through the slack is jerked out of you as things get really nasty; some of Thorgendal’s most expressive phrasing of the album that floats over a devastatingly upfront rhythm passage and with that, the song is saved. They’ve still got it!
The Violent Sleep of Reason
This song is gonna be a crowd favourite on tour, and it’s not too hard to figure out why. This is a team number; everyone gets their chance to shine. Haake is on point and in his element floating between more ponderous skin-smashing that punctuates the rasp of Jens and the more dizzying speed work that catches you off guard when it slips in. Hagstrom hits some stellar high-note slides that plunge into djent-town… while Thorgendal hits the atmospheric bits… in short, all the puzzle pieces that make up a great Meshuggah song are on display – but for all that, your ears should be particularly perked up from around the 4 and a bit minute mark, when Kidman defies physics and seems to find a lower register, if only for a line or two. It’s as though the devil decided to whisper.
Our Rage Won’t Die
Fuckin’ fuck yeah. Meshuggah dig in and churn out the filth on this little beauty. The arse drops out of the chorus a little bit, but that’s only really in comparison to the deliciously tight beginning. That more wallowing pace is what takes you through to the end but hey – those are the moments when you can actually take a second to catch your breath in the pit, so not necessarily a bad thing.
Call it fatigue from being at the pointy end of the album – but this song had to work a lot harder to grab me. There’s nothing to dislike about it but it just doesn’t feel adventurous, at least not by Meshuggah standards. The lead guitar work sucks you in admittedly… some of those juicy dissonant licks and chromatic phrases that pick up halfway through are a real joy to let wash over you – but the rhythmic heartbeat of the song borders on uninspired at times. A shame, given that it’s so central to the sound of the band. THAT ENDING THOUGH! Bloody shit-fucking beautiful. This album needed a good The Last Vigil moment and the lush conclusion to this one doesn’t disappoint.
Born in Dissonance
Here we go – first single, album tease, etc. A statement piece by the band and a song with so much grit you almost need to wash it off after. The mathematical complexity that is so synonymous with Meshuggah is on show in Born in Dissonance – it chugs, it stalls, it rushes forward again… the clarity of Kidman’s vocal delivery is such that is cuts above the noise in a way that is ear-catching, even for him. This rings similar to Rational Gaze in that you really wanna bang your head to this one, but it’s hard to without being completely fucking uncoordinated. And really, isn’t that the whole point of Meshuggah?
Overall, a fantastic album and one that will do them justice on the road. That being said, there’s a musical familiarity that overtakes this release and you might find yourself listening in vain for a New Millenium Cyanide Christ, a Swarm, or a Bleed… but for all its consistency, The Violent Sleep of Reason seems reluctant to offer up a big standout track to define this stage of Meshuggah’s career. Time will tell if one surfaces from this record or not.
Review by Dougie