Many have tried, but since their inception in the late 1980s, few bands have come close to the levels of musical intensity, innovation, and sheer bone-breaking relentlessness that Meshuggah have undoubtedly achieved in their career. Their new album, The Violent Sleep of Reason, seeks to maintain the metal giants’ position on the throne of avant-garde “extreme metal”, while further pushing the limits of what you can achieve when no guitar part can be too syncopated, and no drum pattern can be too awe-inspiringly complex.
Since emerging from the Swedish “extreme metal” scene in 1987, Meshuggah have become iconic among fans of the genre, for producing music which fuses elements of thrash metal, avant-garde and progressive metal, as well as countless other influences. They are also widely credited with being instrumental in the modern “djent” subgenre of metal (named after the sound of low-tuned guitars, palm-muted with distortion) popularised by acts such as Periphery and TesseracT, etc., and proudly continue their work today.
The Violent Sleep of Reason, their 8th studio album, is immediately remarkable for carrying forth the trademark sound which made Meshuggah luminaries in their field – the confounding, 8-string guitar riffs of axemen Fredrik Thordendal and Mårten Hagström match perfectly with the sinister low-end rumble of bassist Dick Lövgren, and all is held together effortlessly by the polymeteric double-kick drum pulse of drummer Tomas Haake, a man more familiar to followers of Hollywood gossip for currently dating Orange Is the New Black star Jessica Pimentel.
Despite this, newfound romance is a theme which remains absent from Haake’s lyrics, all of which are aggressively delivered by frontman Jens Kidman. Jens is the recognisable, gurning face of the band, whose blood-curdling false-chord screams remain as robotic and fiercely insistent as on previous efforts. Haake’s words, vaguely decipherable through Jens’ savage vocal delivery, masterfully attack and dissect topics ranging from self-image and personal sanity, to outright obliteration, such as on opening track “Clockworks”, which implores: “Disassemble this machinery / Re-program these eyes, undo this design … Disintegration, the destruction of me now imperative”. While the title of “MonstroCity” may be one of the more questionable puns in contemporary metal, it’s undeniable that its concept, “Totalitarianopolis, city of dread / The glorious streets of dystopia continuously running red”, paints a vivid picture.
“Haake’s words, vaguely decipherable through Jens’ savage vocal delivery, masterfully attack and dissect topics ranging from self-image and personal sanity, to outright obliteration”
The fact that, musically, Violent Sleep remains as boundary-pushing and preconception-challenging as Meshuggah’s reputation establishes, is noteworthy in and of itself. Haake’s drums make light work of filling out each song with cymbals, snare rolls, and effortlessly complex grooves which underpin every other aspect of the band’s shifting, malevolent sound. The descending guitar slides of title track “The Violent Sleep of Reason” could easily soundtrack a descent into madness, while the carnage of “Nostrum” is the unbridled sound of a much younger, angrier band. Hallmarks of previous albums are present, too: the guitar solo in “Ivory Tower” is disjointed and dissonant in a style reminiscent of the solo from “Rational Gaze”, a fan favourite from 2002 album Nothing, while the galloping rhythm of single “Born In Dissonance” sounds loosely reminiscent of the unyielding rhythmic assault found in 2008’s “Bleed”, another of Meshuggah’s most famous songs.
The album’s two closing songs, “Our Rage Won’t Die” and the equally-sinister “Into Decay”, further showcase the staccato-laden synchronicity between instruments and Kidman’s false-chord technique, and end an album which is arguably even less conventional than previous LPs. The more disorienting elements of preceding album Koloss (2012), which drew inspiration from jazz fusion to source its discordant and experimental nature, have been built upon to produce a new album which is perhaps less accessible than such genre-defining efforts as Chaosphere (1998) and obZen (2008), yet has all the elements of Meshuggah’s influential trademark sound, which dedicated fans and recent converts alike have come to revere.
The orgy of carnage only pauses momentarily for periodic breathers during the album’s run, such as the chiming, choral guitar effects found in the outro of “Stifled”, and it’s fair to say that the unstoppable force of Violent Sleep may have the potential to turn off those not fully accustomed to the sheer brutality of the genre, in anything more than small doses, interspersed with pauses in which to reassess your mental security before the next breakdown. Those better adjusted to metal’s darker and less predictable side, or perhaps just breathtakingly open-minded to the broadest possible range of contemporary music, will surely find plenty to enjoy.
Josh Will Eden