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Power aplenty - 74%

gasmask_colostomy, September 28th, 2018

Meshuggah have never been a band to make things easy, either for themselves or their listeners. First of all, there’s the name, taken from the Yiddish language; next, the baffling technical time signatures that have been in their sound since the new millennium; finally, chaotic, morphic songs that deal with curiously rigid - even formal - subjects, as with their latest offering, The Violent Sleep of Reason. This one picks up where 2012's Koloss left off, implementing themes of mechanized technology, the structuralism of the city, and troubling scope into their shuddering grooves.

Musically, this is not a far cry from the Swedes’ previous work, Tomas Haake laying down polyrhythms like some heavy metal Vishnu, the guitarists drowning us in treacle-thick downtuned riffage, while Jens Kidman roars out in his monotonous bark to narrate discomforting truths about our world. Some of these songs tend towards drier, more rhythmic workouts, while others like 'By the Ton' add in plenty of the elastic groove that gave djent bands like Meshuggah a name for their sound. Since this style of music has always been divisive at best, it would be difficult to claim that The Violent Sleep of Reason will persuade any new fans over to the cause, though the technical exhibitionism shown during 'Clockworks' and the title track prove that no one else is threatening Meshuggah's status as leaders in their field. Then again, the album seems to become freer as it goes on, 'Ivory Tower' and 'Stifled' making up a strong mid-album stint of more memorable riffing and an eerie, soothing outro to the latter song.

The true worth of this album thus depends a lot on whether Meshuggah is a band that you can feel excited by or whether their technicality and abstruseness leaves you cold. On a positive note for The Violent Sleep of Reason, there is atmosphere to be found on certain songs, growing with the use of keyboards on closer 'Into Decay' into part of the album’s legacy. On the other hand, there are moments too when the rhythmic demolition might appear all too soulless, not helped by the single fearsome dimension of Kidman’s voice. Either way, there is plenty of power contained in the hour of music on offer.

Originally written for Metalegion #3 -

El sueño de la razón produce monstruos - 44%

DemonFeces, February 26th, 2018
Written based on this version: 2016, CD, Nuclear Blast (Digipak)

The Sleep of Reason is an etching by Francisco Goya, Spanish artist of the late 18th / early 19th century. It depicts a man sitting down at a table with his head resting on his arms asleep with bats, owls & other baddies flying above. Meshuggah was formed in '88 and this late into their career they are still trying to dig out of their smudged history. Released in 2016 Violent Sleep of Reason may be a metaphoric title as perhaps a little rest allowed the Swedish stalwarts to rekindle some of their origins by getting rid of some of the bats in the belfry. What I mean is that there's a little less djent aspects and more death/thrash elements.

Ever since the invention and subsequent implementation of the infamous 8th guitar string, Meshuggah's sound went from a standard death/thrash tone quality to this massive bassy throbbing dirge. Enter: DJENT. The only song that is stylistically this, in it's entirely, is the mind-numbing downward spiral of dejected diarrhea that is 'Ivory Tower.' Luckily this obligatory slowness is tucked in just past halfway and the rest of the recordings are examples of a Meshuggah somewhat reawakened. Opening track 'Clockworks' begins strong in this aspect and sets the tone for what's left to come on this, their 9th album in 30 years.

'Born in Dissonance' the album's 2nd and shortest track & provides some tight palm-muted chords reaching higher octaves than most songs here and would rank among the best on this opus. It's is helped out by Throdendal's best licks here with the fretboard-wide noodlings that contain his dry, digitally stuttered notes like an orgy of R2D2s on too many little blue pills. 'Nostrum' and 'Our Rage Won't Die' also offer up more energetic and bouncy rhythms, giving pause to listeners wanting more of the old, less of the new. However the latter is very repetitive; the first half of the song continues its fast syncopation ad nauseum and then the remaining two minutes result in a dragged-out djent breakdown with these flickering guitar scrapes similar to the brief tapping exercise at beginning of 'By the Ton' yet offering no help in making the song any better. 'By the Ton', by the way, is more of the same: A six-minute disastrously djent dirge.

Haake is still the mind behind what's within and inside penning (90% of) the lyrics once more. Introverted outside perspectives on man and machine, diatribes against time. There's a few passages about breaking from the grip of modernity and flying free & he even touches on religious topics from an obfuscated distance. Vocally, I regret to inform you that you can expect nothing less than what Jens' been peddling since day one. I guess it works and as the old adage goes, if it ain't broke don't fix it. Ultimately, I'm not sure what I expected anyway...maybe something more along the lines of 'Sane' or 'Corridor of Chameleons' perhaps. His vocals this time around a not the focal point and are far from impactful.

They have had an undulating career thus far, starting off as thrash with a ton of experimentation then fell off the rails due to technology. Now they're climbing out from under the pile of circuitry in an attempt to recapture something more abrasive. If you are a devout follower of the Swedes, then by all means, continue your undying love and support. But I am left wanting more.

Grinding Density - 62%

psychoticnicholai, November 19th, 2017
Written based on this version: 2016, Digital, Nuclear Blast

Meshuggah have gone in the direction of adding more and more weight to their sounds as of late, This was represented by Koloss going for a much slower, and heavier atmospheric sound. They goes more or less in the same direction with The Violent Sleep of Reason, though this album has significantly more bounce to it than Koloss did. It seems as though Meshuggah were starting to sense that they were dragging more than usual on Koloss and decided to bring some energy back into the mix. What resulted was an album that improves on its predecessor's faults, but not by very much, and only brings a little bit to the table on terms of truly delicious songs. Meshuggah really hasn't changed all that much, but The Violent Sleep of Reason does offer something weighty and roughly in-between the sluggish sounds of Koloss, and the punchier and more aggressive ObZen.

If you've heard other Meshuggah albums, you likely already know what you're in for. This is a big, loud album full of down-tuned mechanical guitar grooves in odd time signatures with Jens Kidman's growls over them. There's a decent bounce to the music this time around with the grooves pushing more of their weight around. Though, they may be mechanical, they are also, extremely dense and chaotic with a lot of the energy on this album coming from the sheer weight of the grooves. The songs on here have more momentum than on Koloss, but not to an extreme degree. Few are particularly catchy or memorable. Some songs like "Monstrocity" and "Our Rage Won't Die" kick things off with a real punch from the get-go and stand out as the best pieces on here. The reason they do so is because they get to the point, and give us their best riffs up-front. Other songs like "Nostrum" are punishing ragers, but take a long time to really get started up. Buildup is fine, but a lot of it is just simple guitar grooves with the heavy tuning providing tension. Meshuggah had a lot of decent ideas for grooves on this album, but a lot of these ideas are spread out too much, and many songs tend to sit on a riff with rigid momentum, not to the same extent as Koloss, but definitely about as much as Nothing. This album is thick and weighty, but could really be bothered to pick things up, be more dynamic, and take less of it's sweet time building up and actually get to crushing.

As far as how I feel about this album, I'm of a pretty middling attitude. Meshuggah delivers more of their signature sound, but only goes so far as to make something that's just okay. It's crushing, brutish, and super-dense, but it's also just okay as far as the songs and riffs actually go. It's another bare-bones album, the musical bones are thicker this time around, but they are still laid bare. There's just not enough to enthrall someone when all you have to offer is thick walls of dense guitars where only a few of your riffs really have that "oomph" needed to hook you in. There just isn't enough variety in the grooves to fill up the 6 and 7-minute song lengths and make them totally worth it. The songs tend to feel like big, thick bricks of sound and only rely on their weight to keep the momentum going. If you are looking for pure heaviness, and pure heaviness only, this is an album that will work for you. For the rest of us, there's some decent grooves and a lot of really punishing and chaotic atmosphere, but there's also a lot of weight that's not being pushed as hard as it could. In order to have impact, you have to give that weight some momentum, and there is only a bit here.

As far as Meshuggah albums go, this one doesn't stick out to me as much as the others. It feels a lot like Nothing, but with a bit more added weight. I'm thankful it isn't as plodding as Koloss, and there are some positively destructive songs on here. However, a lot of this album feels like its just they're just re-treading ground they've already covered and aren't really pushing themselves anymore. Am I asking that they go make a fucking rock opera? Hell no. But I would like some more catchy, breakneck songs, with the weight, impact, and groovy punch that made Meshuggah so great. As an album, this is a satisfactory if underwhelming venture. I do give them some props for bringing the bounce back, I just want them to do more with it, maybe make their songs a little less monotone too. There are some good ideas on here, just pack them tighter, and give them more force to improve. This is fine, but Meshuggah should really come with more mania next time.

Our djent won't die - 90%

MikeyC, November 21st, 2016

It’s an Olympic year, meaning these five Swedish djentlemen are back with their 8th studio album The Violent Sleep of Reason. If you have heard any Meshuggah album since 1995’s Destroy Erase Improve, and especially since 2002’s Nothing, then you know exactly what you’re about to embark on. Djent riffs at odd time signatures, robotic drumming keeping it all together, Kidman’s trademark barking on top of it – yeah, it’s all here, and it’s all in a day’s work for these blokes. And yet, despite the age of the band members now and the re-crafting of their signature sound time and again, The Violent Sleep of Reason sees them gain a new lease on life, and the ten songs on here are possibly their strongest content for a while.

To preface this: Catch 33 is, and always will be, Meshuggah’s best album. It’s a special outlier and I can’t imagine anything touching it. However, since then, I felt like they’ve been treading water – doing enough to stay above the surface, but not really expending enough energy to swim to shore. ObZen was a decent album with the obvious highlight of “Bleed” being a crowd favourite, but also propped up by other songs like “Lethargica” and “Pravus.” Koloss, on the other hand, was more of a worry, and I thought this band was starting to dwindle. It has its good songs, too, but there are some like “Do Not Look Down” and “Break Those Bones Whose Sinews Gave it Motion” that I thought were too meandering. I don’t mind their slower songs, but these ones were starting to sound stale. It’s still an okay album but it was bogged down by some lacklustre writing. In light of this, I was less hyped than I usually am about a Meshuggah album once 2016 rolled around. However, all my fears have been allayed! This one completely surpasses the last two and is the closest competitor to Catch 33 since its release.

You just know you’re in for a good album when “Clockworks” kicks things off. This is my favourite song on the album and their best song since “Bleed.” Haake’s drumming is incredible here, and throws in ghost notes among the mechanical snare hitting which really livens up the song. I particularly enjoy the second half of this one, where the djent riffs take a more repetitive, simple note pattern. It’s easy to get lost in the rhythm and tap your foot to the energy. It’s about as good as an opener gets, really, and one I come back to and listen on its own away from its habitat.

The other nine songs here are completely worth your time, and while none reach the lofty heights carved out by “Clockworks,” you’re going to hear Meshuggah at their best once again. “Born in Dissonance” is the first single, and actually the simplest song here. It probably works as the second track to get the listener’s head back in the game. Other highlights include: “By the Ton,” a slower song that retains the energy infused from earlier, containing great riffs and a really nice ending; “Violent Sleep of Reason” for its chaos and the uncertainty of how everything fits together; “Our Rage Won’t Die” for being a more level-headed penultimate track, while still containing a really catchy opening djent riff that continues on in the song; and “Into Decay” for being a fantastic closer – the slowest song but also one of the more powerful ones.

Ironically, it’s the strength of the weakest tracks here that make The Violent Sleep of Reason as good as it is. “MonstroCity” and “Stifled” are my least favourite ones on the album, but even they have something to offer. The former sounds really sludgy, like you’re suffocating in their thematic city, and the latter is still a headbanging tune with a fantastic clean synth ending that I just love. And it’s these songs that portray the strength of this album, and where the last album fell short: the weaker tracks are still memorable in their own way, instead of clocking it up as “a Meshuggah song.” In the grand scheme of the album, they offer something even though it may not be as much. This, in turn, highlights just how good the good tracks are, such as “By the Ton” and “Into Decay,” but especially “Clockworks.” It underlines the potency of The Violent Sleep of Reason and gives rise to why this album is such a beast.

The djent riffs from Hagstrom and Thordendal are as intense as ever, utilising their 8-string guitars to their fullest (lowest?) effect. Thordendal’s solos have not changed but here there is some more feeling in them, whether he’s going all over the fretboard like in “MonstroCity” or keeping it simpler like in “Ivory Tower.” Each decision enhances the song, and they’re played with more conviction here than in the past. Haake’s drumming is still phenomenal, despite the greying hairs that make him look like Colonel Sanders if he was in a metal band. His drumming choices have a lot more power to them and I especially like his intensity in “Clockworks,” with the almost-a-blast-beat and double kicking action. His intensity shines through on songs like “Violent Sleep of Reason” and “Nostrum,” both of which show him at his energetic best, and in the case of “Nostrum,” almost loose and unencumbered by traditional beats.

If there was a weak point to the album, it would be Kidman’s vocals. Not that he has changed a great deal in decades, but here the slow passing of time has reduced his range. Credit where it’s due, though, because the dude is literally 50 years old now, and he can still bark ferociously, but I have noticed that it’s a lot more monotone than it would’ve been in the past. His vocals are already divisive and it will probably be make-or-break on this album, which I can understand. For myself, I can get past it and after multiple listens, the lack of range no longer bothers me as much as it did on my first listen. I hope that it’s the same situation for other fans.

I think this album shows Meshuggah clawing their way back to the top of the djent pile. It’s got more character than ObZen, and more life than Koloss. The production is similar to Koloss but it still feels more organic, which is another point in its favour. I’ve harped on it already, but every song here shows incredible power and momentum that doesn’t let up. Don’t be fooled into thinking that they blew their load early with “Clockworks” – while it’s the best one here, the whole album must be experienced. So while it doesn’t beat Catch 33 and Chaosphere, it’s a proud third-place and one that I will keep coming back to for years.

Album of the year - 100%

Writhingchaos, November 14th, 2016

Finally the damn wait is over! Now with the Swedes latest album, a lot of people were wondering whether this album would be a new direction for the band or a progression from Koloss and all the jazz so let me just reiterate - this is fucking Meshuggah you're talking about folks. They've had a unique and pioneering sound from day one spanning countless imitators over the years, not to mention giving birth to pretty much a brand new sub genre of metal (read - djent). They don't need to pander to any expectations whatsoever as the band since its inception has been all about defying expectations, not meeting them in any way, shape or form. All the fans of the band will know what I'm talking about. So if you're only looking for a band that comfortably meets your expectations without surprising you in any major way every time a new release of theirs pops up, you'll probably be better off with a band like Cannibal Corpse or Vader and the like. Also please don't confuse meeting expectations with consistency. The previous bands have been consistent over the years while meeting the expectations of fans at the same time. Meshuggah however have been consistent while defying expectations simply because they are the pioneers of their own sound, showing the endless legions of generic djent bands mindlessly copying their sound that they should probably just pack up and go home. Yep, you have been schooled by the masters yet again.

The hellish palm-muted chugging of the opener "Clockworks" as well as the first single off the album "Born In Dissonance" (the first single of the album plus the most straightforward) should be enough to convince you that this album does hearken back to their speedier days of Chaosphere and the like, not to mention being their first live recording of an album since the None EP all the way back in 1994. Speaking of which, the intro of the last track "Into Decay" opens with a technical thrash intro going all the way back to their Contradictions Collapse days only to morph into a slower beast with quite the foot-stomping breakdown. Seriously, in pretty much every Meshuggah album there was always an element of darkness or an apocalyptic theme (obZen) but this album in all its raw unrefined glory, truly sounds like the band as a whole were having a fuckton of fun while recording it. Check out the headbangers delight "Stifled" for further proof, not to mention the mosh-inducing riff at 0:41 plus the epic outro that almost plays out like an OST to s sci-fi film. Believe me, I'm dead serious about the last part. "Our Rage Wont Die" could almost be a lost track from obZen with some of the meatiest riffs that are almost reminiscent of the pounding title track of the aforementioned album. There's a crazy level of unabashed fun and pure energy pouring out of every nook and cranny in each and every one of these songs that is hard to find or beat in the vast majority of metal releases today. Listen to any song off the album and you'll see what I'm talking about: it's not about pushing or breaking boundaries at the end of the day so much as just royally kicking some mean ass at simply nailing the one unique thing that you're so goddamn good at. And that is exactly what Meshuggah (at this point in their careers, at the very least) are all about. And let's just face it, it's not 1998 or 2002 folks: you can't pull another album like Chaosphere or Nothing and break/push the boundaries of metal music anymore. Times have changed.

The blissful groove monster "MonstroCity" with its spine-chilling solo (definitely one of Thordendal's best, hands down) and unbelievably brutal breakdown is truly a sight to behold. The end tremolo part almost reminds me of Catch 33. Strange indeed. Definitely my favourite song off the album along with the maniacal title track (think Chaosphere on steroids loaded with tons of groove). "By The Ton" and "Ivory Tower" (with some of the best riffs on the album) are the slower numbers, taking the hypnotic crawling pace of Nothing/Catch 33 and kick it up a few notches as far as technicality and intensity is concerned along with "Nostrum" which actually merges the pummeling assault of Chaosphere with the groovy technicality of Nothing to amazing effect.

For those of you yet to start listening to this groundbreaking band (why you have been depriving yourselves for so long I'll probably never know, not that I even want to) - I'd suggest you start with Koloss or obZen first in terms of sheer accessibility and then work your way up or down from there but for all the fans out there, well what the damn heck are you waiting for?? Get your hands on the album right now!! Like the title says, album of the year hands down.

Snore at Your Own Risk - 83%

RondofedoR, October 24th, 2016
Written based on this version: 2016, Digital, Nuclear Blast

Meshuggah are back in business, and, as per usual, business is quite literally booming (in odd time signatures). Four years removed from the mighty Koloss, and the quintet have returned with album number eight in The Violent Sleep of Reason, a title inspired by ‘The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters,’ an etching found in Francisco Goya’s late eighteenth century suite Los Caprichos. On the outset, Goya’s work shows an artist having a nightmare, one filled with pestering, swooping creatures like bats and owls. But, as one would surmise, the context is deeper than the paper it’s printed on, with Goya using the scene to symbolize the folly and irrationality of his Spanish society. Meshuggah, of course, are not Spanish. They’re Swedish, and they are ‘crazy,’ which, if you’re following this whole Goya thing, should rightly elicit no small amount of troubled dreams.

One of a cluster of huge metal bands enjoyed by both metal ‘plebes’ and ‘purists’ alike, Meshuggah continue to rebuke the inevitable tide of gray hair and achy joints by playing their self-invented ‘djent’ sound better than their younger copycats and counterparts by way of sheer wisdom, finesse, and an approach that demands tourniquet tight teamwork. On The Violent Sleep of Reason, it is business as usual. What one expects from Meshuggah—bulbous grooves, gigantic off-kilter rhythms, and soul-scraping roars—one most certainly is granted, with the result, as far as these ears hear, falling somewhere between Nothing and Koloss, but, as it just so happens, eclipsing neither by way of impact or durability.

Does that make The Violent Sleep of Reason a lesser Meshuggah record? Well, no…and a most definitive, sort of. For the first time in nearly 25 years, the band recorded the album live, a distinction that does lend the album a more ‘natural’ feel, but which likewise doesn’t necessarily weaken their well-oiled, and unmistakable, dystopian air of big metallic things colliding with other big metallic things. The opener “Clockworks” proves the most exacting, longest, and most impressive bitch of the bunch, with the song’s final three minutes a hardened endurance test redolent of Obzen’s “Pravus.” The follow-up, the record’s first single, “Born in Dissonance,” plays like quintessential Meshuggah, swollen and labyrinthine with engine-driven bass-work and Fredrik Thordendal’s eerie guitar lines wailing over pummeling war drums.

With the exception of the curiously ineffective “Monstrocity,” the album is notably front-loaded. The band’s penchant for contagious groove undergirds tracks like “Stifled” or the closer “Into Decay,” but, performances aside, it’s hard to deny that many of the record’s most memorable moments occur early and often. Still, the kinetic and rubber-walled bounciness of “Our Rage Won’t Die” remains hopelessly fun, and does much to jumpstart any waning adrenaline.

Ultimately, The Violent Sleep of Reason exists as another stentorian slab of climatic progressive metal, coaxing even the weakest of imaginations to envision ranges of exploding peaks, terrible, billowing skies, and any other doomsday scenario worth its salt in destruction. Meshuggah may not have eclipsed the consistent mighty crunch of their last record, but there’s still no denying the white-knuckled satisfaction one feels when old man Kidman strolls to the storefront and flips the sign to ‘OPEN.’

Written for The Metal Observer