Review Summary: Meshuggah’s new LP is their most inspired collection of songs in a decade, as well as their most energetic album performance in nearly two.
One of the most incredible musical experiences I’ve ever had was when I saw Meshuggah live for the first time. They were playing at a festival near my home town, and they came on immediately after Megadeth, who were going a tad overtime. These guys didn’t wait: they came on stage right when they were supposed to and launched straight into an incredible rendition of “Future Breed Machine”. The clarity of the sound combined with the sheer volume and energy of the performance completely blew the tardy Megadeth out of the water; they didn’t stand a chance against the monstrously powerful force that was the Meshuggah set. They played through a small handful of songs from various places in their discography (including a couple of songs from their debut, which was surprising and pretty cool to see) and what struck me the most was the energy with which every song was performed. Seeing them live was a completely different experience from listening to obZen
; the raw aggression of the performance more closely resembled the dynamic that is heard in Destroy Erase Improve
, even when they played newer material. It was then that I realized the problem with Meshuggah’s newer albums: while they were technically accomplished and well-written, they were often lacking in that energy that made the live performance, as well as their earlier LPs, so effective.
Now, these guys must have completely read my mind from the stage that night because with The Violent Sleep of Reason
, they’ve completely solved the aforementioned problem. This is because they recorded this new album live in the studio rather than recording the stems individually, and it totally worked. From the moment I started listening to the (unbelievably good) opener to this album, “Clockworks”, the feeling I got from the live performance two years ago completely came back. The song immediately showcases a raw energy and power that we haven’t heard on a Meshuggah LP since Chaosphere
almost 20 years ago, and this quality continues throughout the album. The songwriting is also more unpredictable than we’ve heard from the band in quite a while; while the calculated song structures of previous albums were intriguing, it’s nice to hear Meshuggah pulling out some real surprises this time around, such as the unbelievable second guitar solo in “Monstrocity”, or the ambient transition between “Stifled” and “Nostrum”. The lead guitar work in particular has improved quite a bit from previous albums; rather than just being a cool effect to create contrast in the middle of a song, some of the guitar solos here provide real depth and colour. Tracks like “Monstrocity” or “Violent Sleep of Reason” just wouldn’t offer the same adrenaline rush without their shimmering lead guitar work. And, of course, Tomas Haake’s drums are as varied and brilliant as they’ve ever been, helped this time by the rawness and punch that the live recording process gives to the album’s sound.
The funny thing about The Violent Sleep of Reason
is that none of its freshness comes from any fundamental change to Meshuggah’s sound. The chugging, intensely syncopated rhythm guitar work is still there, Jens Kidman’s tried-and-true vocal style is still there, and the songs are as perpetually heavy (a less seasoned listener might say “monotonous”) as they’ve ever been. However, this is a HUGE step up from Koloss
, and even obZen
, simply due to how much more alive
these songs sound and how much more inspired the band appear to be as performers. So if you’re not a fan of Meshuggah’s sound, this album probably won’t make a convert out of you (I recommend a live performance for that!), but fans who were disappointed with Koloss
may be pleasantly surprised this time around, and those who loved Koloss
will probably love this even more. The bottom line is that this is easily Meshuggah’s most inspired display of songwriting since Catch Thirtythree
and their most energetic performance on an album since Chaosphere
. If that sounds promising to you (which it should), give this a listen as soon as you can!