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Meshuggah - "The Violent Sleep Of Reason" (CD)

Meshuggah - "The Violent Sleep Of Reason" CD cover image

"The Violent Sleep Of Reason" track listing:

1. Clockworks
2. Born in Dissonance
3. MonstroCity
4. By the Ton
5. Violent Sleep of Reason
6. Ivory Tower
7. Stifled
8. Nostrum
9. Our Rage Won't Die
10. Into Decay

Reviewed by on November 17, 2016

"Expressive guitar lines are utilized more liberally than in previous releases, with each blast of melody shining down like god rays upon the evil Rube Goldberg Machine."

Humanity has a tendency to shun otherness. We embrace what we know and lash out at the strange, striving to keep it at bay, imprison it, or simply eradicate it. 30 year metal mainstay Meshuggah was once such an oddity. So alien and foreign were albums like “Nothing,” “Catch 33,” and the grueling tour de force “I,” that the metal community didn’t know what to make of this jarringly mechanical, somewhat thrashy, vaguely progressive, and occasionally inhuman-sounding band.

Things have since changed. The odd man out has become an institution. Once largely beyond classification, the members of Meshuggah are now seen as genre innovators and sub-genre pioneers. Their fans mirror the zealous devotion known from the cults of Opeth and Tool. The band’s multi-decade spanning discography still sounds as though it was forged within a hellish blast furnace operated by cyborgs and the damned alike.

Meshuggah began to assume this current form with 1995’s “Destroy Erase Improve.” Relentless and bold for its time, comparisons to Fear Factory abounded, though the analogy would not last. 1998’s “Chaosphere” was an escalation; a swirling hurricane of unholy speed and fury. 2002’s “Nothing” would follow. Upon release this ponderous behemoth was a shock to many, with its lurching, granite-heavy riffs. Subsequent releases “I” and “Catch 33” were terrifying forays into long-form “songs.” The former, a continuous 21 minute experimental bombardment; the latter a dynamic, lengthy meditation that dialed up the off-kilter riffs, enigmatic transitions, and eerie ambient interludes. 2008’s “obZen” is widely regarded as the band’s best recent offering, a varied assault that drew wisely from each predecessor. Released in 2012, “Koloss” remains somewhat divisive, often criticized for being a retread of “obZen.”

Meshuggah's latest offering, “The Violent Sleep of Reason,” is not a course correction from the band’s two most recent releases. It draws from the same well but it does manage to add color and distinction where Koloss had not. Album opener “Clockworks” is an actual race against time. Every 30 seconds (and continuously to the 3:30 mark) the band reliably shift gears from clattering drums, to whirring riffs, and recurring leads in a mad dash to the expansive conclusion.

“Born in Dissonance” is an anthem in the vein of “Do Not Look Down.” Propulsive and immanently accessible, it peaks with a fleet-fingered solo. Dystopian album highlight “MonstroCity” opens with swerving rhythms that veer into a passage of colliding riffs that yield an absolutely frantic guitar solo. The giant tortoise-pacing made famous by the band’s “Nothing” era dominates this album but makes its first and most catchy appearance on “By the Ton.” The title track and album centerpiece is seven minutes of mounting, fever pitch dread; it also signifies a break in the album where the songs that follow are more difficult, slower-paced, and slightly experimental.

Lilting riffs slowly build throughout the beginning of “Ivory Tower,” gradually becoming a confident and furious beast, predictably climaxing with screaming leads and an erratic solo. “Stifled” is punchy and suitably dense until it ends with 90 seconds of spacey serenity, starkly contrasting the title and dominant themes. “Nostrum” applies laser focus to the same core riff that anticlimactically and painstakingly devolves into a slightly different riff. Unlike previous instances throughout the album, the flashy and jittery solos fail to elevate this particular song. Similarly, “Our Rage Won’t Die” spins a tight circle, lacking peaks or valleys, and it ends almost exactly as it began.

Pummeling finality arrives with album closer “Into Decay.” Glacially ponderous riffs cut a path through album’s darkest lyrical journey. Notions of a dying relationship, withering humanity, and dissolving virtue all find themselves interwoven in a bleak and funerary dirge. The song captures a grim self-awareness and slow-motion ruin that is as close to mournful as band like Meshuggah can possibly manage.

The Violent Sleep of Reason is 60 minutes of Déjà vu with brief flourishes of the unexpected. For fans it should be an engaging ride that is more memorable than much of “Koloss.” Drummer Tomas Haake remains the driving force, performing rhythms that continue to defy convention. As the principle lyricist, Haake conjures familiar demons: menacing state entities, fallible human attitudes and behaviors, societal collapse, technological proliferation/subservience… he’s pummeling on familiar thematic elements as well as the drums. Vocalist Jens Kidman’s barks and shouts in convicted lockstep with his bands mates, digging deep for his roars that would give a Tyrannosaurus Rex pause. Guitarists Fredrik Thordendal, Mårten Hagström and bassist Dick Lövgren are the album’s real change agents. Expressive guitar lines are utilized more liberally than in previous releases, with each blast of melody shining down like god rays upon the evil Rube Goldberg Machine. The album’s pacing is characterized by stomping or galloping mid-tempo songs that clock in at around 6 minutes each. There are bursts of speed, but the album is much more “Nothing” and much less “Chaosphere,” particularly the closing half.

Highs: "The Violent Sleep of Reason" is spilling over with lively guitar leads. The album is more catchy on the whole despite lacking a dedicated earworm single. “Born in Dissonance”, “MonstroCity”, “Ivory Tower”, “Stifled” and “Into Decay” are highlights.

Lows: The song structures become very predictable. Meshuggah’s strict adherence to their usual sonic tropes compound this feeling. The band rarely achieve their ‘full-speed ahead’ tempos. “Nostrum” and “Our Rage Won’t Die” are disposable.

Bottom line: Meshuggah spent the first half of its career being wildly experimental, to great benefit, and now seem to have settled into a routine of methodical tinkering rather than reinventing the wheel.

Rated 4 out of 5 skulls
4 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)