2016 has been good to the metal community, specifically in terms of new music. Each sub-genre has been well represented by a solid new release or two, and I’ve had the privilege of reviewing a few of these. Meshuggah’s 8th studio album, “The Violent Sleep of Reason” is the focus of this review, and to be frank- it might be the best release of the year.
Meshuggah’s sound and style has always been a unique blend of polyrhythmic patterns and soul crushing melodies. I find it near impossible to play any track from this band without methodically bobbing my head while visions of fractal enlightenment dance behind my eyes. Their most recent album continues this tradition, while also showing the band’s ability to be fresh and innovative with a style that has recently become the trendy sound in metal. Since the release of 2008’s “ObZen,” countless bands have formed under the premise of using Meshuggah’s pioneering sound to create something of their own. And while some of these bands have experienced success, or grown into their own unique sounds, Meshuggah remain the engineers and godfathers of a progressive metal style that they created back in the late 1980’s.
Speaking of their earlier years, the band departed heavily from the recording methods used in their last two (and arguably most successful) albums, “obZen” and “Koloss” (2012) to opt for a live recording similar to that of their first recordings. This allowed the true sound of Meshuggah to shine through, peeling back the layers of over-perfection that purely digital recording can often create and leaving a raw, bulbous album that bellows out with triumphant victory. This suits the band completely, and presents a truly massive soundscape that inspires the listener to delve deeper into their own psyche and reach a place of enlightened self-awareness. Meshuggah’s music has always been a social commentary on the greater problems of the world, and “The Violent Sleep of Reason” is no exception.
Lyrically, the album discusses a broad array of topics, but it seems to focus mostly on being a wake up call to humanity. Vocalist Jens Kidman’s distinct delivery, with it’s monkish quality, present drummer and lyricist Tomas Haake’s words with conviction and poise, which immediately ensnare the listener and focus their thinking on the message this album is trying to deliver. Right from the start, the opening track “Clockworks” discusses dismantling the man-made pressures of time and freeing ourselves from the shackles of deceitful machines like clocks. Tracks like “Monstrocity” and “By the Ton” represent the poisons and pitfalls of religion, where everyone knows “the truth” and people turn a blind eye to the suffering their close-minded beliefs reign down upon the world. The meat-and-potatoes of this album lies within tracks 5-8, which are (in reverse order) “Nostrum,” “Stifled,” “Ivory Tower,” and the title track “Violent Sleep of Reason.” Each of these songs represent the process a person goes through as they lose their religion- the awakening to the reality that religion may be wrong or might not exist, the decision to not be bothered with leaving those old world superstitions behind, the pride that comes with freedom, and the attempt to reach out to others and share these new found realities. The album ends with two messages: that those responsible for the world’s atrocities and pains will face punishment at the hands of those they’ve hurt, and that we must always battle apathy, lest we fall deeper into the darkness we’ve already spread across the world.
The skilled musicianship of Meshuggah has never been in question, but their talent seems to shine through even brighter on this release. Lead guitarist Fredrik Thordendal really cuts loose at various points over the course of the record, unleashing wonky, disjointed solos that curl their way in and out of your ear holes. The entrancing rhythm section, spearheaded by guitarist Mårten Hagström, and augmented by the talents of bassist Dick Lövgren, keep a persistent, driving beat alive throughout “The Violent Sleep of Reason.” But these precise elements pale in comparison to the god-like percussive skills of drummer Tomas Haake. Watching his drum play through videos are mind bending, and the fact that each of these songs were recorded live makes me giddy beyond on reason at the prospect of seeing this band perform songs from this album live. They pulled out all of the stops, and it paid off.
Do yourself a favor and purchase “The Violent Sleep of Reason.” It’s a power-packed punch to the guy, a reality check in its truest form. Visionary doesn’t even begin to cover it. This is an album worth owning, and is without question the best metal album to drop in 2016.