Review Summary: Chaos dominates, inspiration falters
The opinion that Meshuggah have been releasing the same album over and over again for the past twenty years is sure to be met with disdain from their followers, even if there is some truth to the statement. Still, it’s not exactly accurate. While rigidly adhering to their original aesthetic, the group has shaken things up enough to remain engrossing to listen to; an increased presence of ambience and melody among the crushing heaviness kept things refreshing over the years. Diversifying their sound carried the band forward, with this progress making for some of their most memorable moments and strongest material.
The Violent Sleep of Reason
brings much of the interesting songwriting ideas to a crashing halt unfortunately, resembling the relentless nature of Chaosphere
while being largely inferior overall. This is Meshuggah going back to the basics, with their most straightforward and least progressive material yet. Almost entirely comprised of crushing riffs and polyrhythmic breakdowns, the band have now gone full throttle with punishing grooves aplenty. Does this result in an impressive display of unrelenting instrumental prowess, or a band nearing an inspirational dead end? The answer ultimately lies somewhere in the middle.
Die-hard fans need not worry about being let down, as all hallmarks of another solid Meshuggah offering are there: driving groove metal madness and Thomas Haake’s always phenomenal drumming. Those looking for more dynamic sides of the group’s music, whether it be an ambient reprieve or eerie guitar lead, will ultimately find little to chew on save for the surreal outro of album highlight “Stifled.” The band instead keeps things massively heavy, furiously performing their instruments with the always intricate, machine-like qualities they’ve become known for. Despite no lack of impressive playing, the compositions themselves carry much less of the riveting nature seen from recent predecessors.
Most of the good ideas the band had for this seems to have gone in to album opener “Clockworks,” with the following tracks plummeting into monotony with hardly any distinguishing qualities to differ one from the other. Each track is still solid by itself, but there’s just not enough personality or creativity present that the band have proven to be capable of showing. The tribal, repetitive, pounding qualities of Meshuggah’s music are there, but sapped of the personality and unpredictability we’ve come to expect. There are a few dissonant guitar leads for a quick dose of variety, and soloing sections are ultimately the most memorable aspects of …Sleep of Reason
. The title track and “Nostrum” in particular benefit from wonderfully chaotic guitar solos accompanied by frenzied drumming all over the kit.
There’s no question that the expected instrumental virtuosity is still in full effect, frantic tempo changes and guitar wizardry galore lending to the compelling moments of high octane opener “Clockworks,” and a few others. While these sorts of highlights are rewarding, they are few and far in between here. The cracks began to show in Koloss
, but it still thrived and had new ideas worth experiencing, but it’s clear now that a major overhaul is in order. The band’s hot streak from masterpiece Destroy Erase Improve
, and to an extent Koloss
was an exhilarating evolution to behold. Unfortunately, Meshuggah are now at somewhat of a stalemate. In an effort to emphasize pummeling metal madness and been-there-done-that showcases of instrumental technicality, a part of the personality is taken away in the process.
The ambient reprieves coupled with increasingly technical grooving metal made the robotic, grooving sound of Meshuggah interesting to listen to for nearly two decades. Lesser groups emerging after the success of “Bleed” who have since followed in the band’s footsteps could not compete with these songwriting skills, which have unfortunately fallen to the wayside here. A monotonous vocal performance doesn’t help matters despite some insightful lyrics, and it’s left to the higher strings of the guitars and variety of drums played to give things an interesting new flavor. While the instrumental mastery still impresses as always, the end result remains enjoyable but ultimately missing a key aspect of what made the driving, mechanical sound of Meshuggah so worthwhile in the first place.