Get out your compasses as experimental metal’s progenitors, Meshuggah, return to our playlists with their eighth studio album, The Violent Sleep of Reason (which is far more subtle than the title suggests). Since they started playing as a band 29 years ago, the Swedish metal giants have continuously evolved their musical style while indelibly changing the face of their genre. The terms “math metal”, “avant garde metal” and of course “djent” became go-to words in your typical headbanger’s lexicon, the last in fact going on to inspire the ‘djent’ genre in progressive metal. Djent, an onomatopoeia for the distorted low-pitch sound produced by the guitar, has been adopted by bands and acts from across the spectrum, such as Animals for Leaders and TesseracT.
Eschewing their usual practice of each band member recording their portion separately, something which allowed them to fine tune every microsecond of music and place each element just so, for The Violent Sleep of Reason Meshuggah sat down together in the studio as a band and recorded all the songs together. This gives the album a much more organic sound and while every note played and every growl uttered is still pretty much synchronous the music flows together much more naturally. The band doesn’t so much map out its musical course as it usually does but just gets together and lets it rip. So expect some serious layered riffing and instrumental solos which seemingly go off course until you realise they’re all following different paths to the same sound.
The first thing you hear (if you’re listening very closely) is drummer and main lyricist Thomas Haake counting down a ‘1-2-3’ before him and bassist Dick Lövgren launch you into the first (and boldly enough, the longest) track from the album, Clockworks, a polyrhythmic riot which has guitarists Fredrik Thordendal (lead) and Mårten Hagström (rhythm) join into the increasingly menacing sound, which reaches its completion when vocalist Jens Kidman unleashes his chthonic growls; this one serves as a reminder of all that Meshuggah was while the following tracks delve more into the band’s new dynamic. Next up is the tongue-in-cheek Born in Dissonance, actually one of the straightest and most melodic numbers with harmonic layering of guitar, bass and drums punctuated by Kidman’s ferocity.
If MonstroCity grooves with very brazen testosterone levels, almost as if the band is challenging themselves to dumb down and muscle up their metal, the title track is the intricately designed structure of sound for which Meshuggah is known.
Ultimately, the album belongs to Haake and Lövgren, who lay the foundations for the tensile sound, perhaps unsurprisingly as both of them wrote the music for the album, as opposed to Haake doing it by himself; their combination works. And because they provide such a solid base, it allows Thorendal and Hagström more freedom to experiment, which they do with jazz-like fretwork, weaving together a more melodic sound than the usually superstructured tonality the band is known for. And Kidman, of course, still is the fury in the band, unleashing his vocals like the possessed demon both him and his audience know him to be. Some things never change.