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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.