Meshuggah are simultaneously credited and maligned for the creation of "djent," a sound that has spawned countless -- and mostly bad -- imitators. But these Swedes have never tried to sound like anyone but themselves, each album carving that track further into metal history. A year shy of their 30th anniversary, the quintet offers another set of intensely syncopated, technical, hard-grooving metal that is not remarkably different than anything they've done before. That said, it's still intricate as hell, meticulously composed, ridiculously complex, and executed with a manic precision beyond the imagination of most metal mortals. The Violent Sleep of Reason doesn't try to reinvent the wheel but to reaffirm its purpose.
That said, this date marks the first time since 1994's None EP that the Swedes have recorded organically -- i.e., absolutely live -- in the studio without overdubs or error correction in post-production. As a result, this recording captures their monstrous agility and adrenaline-drenched physical athleticism; it articulates the power-surging explosiveness their shows do but in much higher fidelity. Arguably, Meshuggah haven't displayed this kind of unhinged energy on an album since Chaosphere at the end of the last century.
They make their case on album opener (and longest cut at over seven minutes) "Clockworks." The jam's brutal riffs and spiky, spiraling guitar solos are simultaneously punishing and almost unearthly, but Tomas Haake's groove-laden slamming, hyper-limber drumming steals the show. The tonal contrast in the guitar and bass riffs on "Born in Dissonance" is easier to grasp, but the stop-on-a-dime changes and double-time drumming -- coupled with squalling solos and sub-vamps -- turn this notion on its head. The title track is disorienting initially; it commences in forward motion without a backbeat. It's like the song's obliterating breakdown bridge (sans anchoring rhythm) became its intro. Jens Kidman's lyric delivery about disastrous regional and international military conflicts, natural disasters, and class tensions is appended by Fredrik Thordendal's angular lead guitar that duels with Mårten Hagström's dissonant six-string riffs, interlocking Haake rhythms, and Dick Lövgren's bass whomp. While "Stifled" is slower with all its detuned guitar and bass weirdness and intense breakdown mania, it benefits from a wandering, labyrinthine Thordendal solo. Closer "Into Decay" is the physical bookend to "Clockworks" but it's sludgy as hell. Because of the guitar and bass distortion and initially slow pace, its various tonalities, syncopation, and riffing tech are temporarily obscured; they establish their presence inside two minutes, as the band swells and collides in a tremendous clashing finish.
On The Violent Sleep of Reason, Meshuggah set out simply to capture the energy of their live shows in the studio. They accomplish that in spades, and reaffirm why they don't need to worry about innovation: their writing and playing accomplish that in their very nature.