The Violent Sleep Of Reason review by Meshuggah

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  • Released: Oct 7, 2016
  • Sound: 7
  • Lyrics: 7
  • Overall Impression: 7
  • Reviewer's score: 7 Good
  • Users' score: 8 (29 votes)
Meshuggah: The Violent Sleep Of Reason
3

Sound — 7
In my review of their previous album "Koloss," I made it no secret that I felt like Meshuggah's creativity was starting to run out. I admonished the album for its poorly-executed guitar solos, its sterile feel, and its relative sameness compared to the band's past few albums. Meshuggah had always been known for pushing the envelope, being one of the first bands to adopt seven-string guitars (right around the same time as Korn and Dream Theater), performing jazz-influenced polyrhythmic metal decades before it would become one of the most popular styles in metal, and constantly updating their sound from album to album. But, by "Koloss," they had become a band that was just pumping out the same album over and over again.

"The Violent Sleep of Reason," the band's eighth full-length album overall, sees the band trying a new tactic for them: going back in time towards the beginning a bit. The album was tracked live-off-the-floor (though probably with ample overdubs for Fredrik Thordendal's and Mårten Hagström's ample layering of atmospheric guitar parts and solos), and marks the first appearance of proper live drumming on a Meshuggah album since possibly as far back as the original version of the "Nothing" album (the band had been either using Tomas Haake's "Drumkit From Hell" samples exclusively, or augmenting Haake's actual performances with these samples since then). This method of recording has given a fairly organic result to the songs, and this is the most alive the band has sounded in ages. The band's music itself has also become a little faster, and maybe a little less technical. In terms of the polyrhythms and the riffs, this is probably Meshuggah's most straightforward album in a long time.

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The first three tracks, "Clockworks," "Born in Dissonance" and "MonstroCity," comprise some very similar-sounding material, and basically come off as subtle variations on a theme. The speed and heaviness of the three tracks harks back a bit to the sound of the band on the "Chaosphere" album, with very little breathing room in softer parts, and full of Fredrik's wacky tapping solos. "MonstroCity" has a weird atmospheric part in the middle that almost comes off as "pretty" sounding, which is a bit odd for Meshuggah these days. "By the Ton" has a slower groove and probably sounds the most overtly "Nothing-esque" on the album. The title track sounds like the band tuning down their eight-strings even further (or perhaps using Ibanez's recently-released 9-string RGs that Fredrik has been photographed with), and adds a guitar solo that immediately recalls tracks like "Elastic" or "Concatenation." "Ivory Tower" is mostly a slow groove that sounds a lot like their last couple albums, but the guitar solo on this track is one of my favourites on the entire record, and really saves the song from sounding a bit rehashed.

"Stifled" also has a bit of that kind of rehashed "Nothing-thru-Koloss" style groove that I'm liking less and less as they keep coming, but saves itself with another great solo from Fredrik. In fact, that's one of my favourite things about this record so far. While Fredrik's solos on "Koloss" sounded almost as if they were lazily thrown in (save for the solo from "Do Not Look Down") and just sloppily executed, Fredrik seems to have taken greater care on this album to produce better guitar solos. This can be seen in "Nostrum" as the song is basically the same kind of riff that's getting regurgitated endlessly throughout this record, but the solo is pretty masterful. "Our Rage Won't Die" actually opens with a thrash-inspired riff that sounds almost like it could have come straight off of "Contradictions Collapse," and it's great when the band doesn't do as much riding the eighth string on their guitars, and leaves the low end mostly to bassist Dick Lövgren, who typically performs the same part as the guitarists. This straightforward track is probably my favourite on the album as far as riffs and beats go. It's only a shame that the song doesn't have a great solo like many of the other tracks on the record. Ending the album is another slow groover, "Into Decay." It's just kind of more of the same in terms of groove and tonality.

The production, being that the album was largely tracked live, is probably the most organic this band has sounded in a long time, and while there are still snaky layers of ambient melodic guitars that pop in and out of the mix, this album doesn't quite feel as sterile and mired down as their last two records. The mix is a touch louder than "Koloss," and I have to admit that it's one of the few areas where I prefer their previous album, the production and the mixing on "Koloss" was incredibly done and made it one of the band's cleanest-sounding records ever. But this over-the-top wall of sound production style is definitely something that will remind listeners of "Chaosphere," and the album does live up to that one as far as being a brutal assault on the senses goes.

Lyrics — 7
As mentioned by the band, the album's lyrical themes play off of many of the same kind of esoteric subjects the band has been known for over the years, but also includes a bit of a deeper theme of "religious dogma," extremist views, and even a commentary on terrorism. The title itself is compelling and gives an idea of the lyrical themes: "The Violent Sleep of Reason"... the violence that comes from when we cease to think rationally and give ourselves to our religious beliefs. In actually reading the lyrics, you're not going to come across anything that's blatantly political, and the band avoids any kind of real pandering on the record, perhaps only getting close on the title track ("A systematically applied veil to heedless eyes/Focus deflected, ignore/This is not our war/Bury the abject shame in the same bile as our ideals/The potent lubricant to deceits grinding wheels"), but for the most part, the lyrics on this album read as the same kind of lyrics they've been known for. They're actually fairly deep lyrics, overall, though this is possibly the angriest album the band has done in a while. As is the case with all of their albums since "Chaosphere," Tomas Haake writes the majority of the lyrics, with only "Ivory Tower" being written by another, in this case, Mårten Hagström.

Vocally, Jens Kidman continues in the same vein as on previous albums, and it's about the only part where I feel this section of the review suffers a little bit. While I'm certainly not yearning for a return to the time where Jens' vocals actually had notes in them, his monotone bark has only gotten more and more one-dimensional with the past few albums, and while I actually enjoyed his performances on "Koloss," here, he kind of falls a little flat. And one of my favourite things this band does vocally, Tomas Haake's spooky "spoken word" sections, are not present at all on this album (though they weren't on "Koloss" as well). Jens' vocals are indeed quite powerful, but there's absolutely no variety to them at all, and they make this album a really exhausting listen.

Overall Impression — 7
While I have outlined many traits I did not enjoy about this album in the paragraphs above, let it be known that I think this is the best album Meshuggah has done since at least "Catch Thirtythree." The organic playing, the return of Fredrik Thordendal's more creative-sounding solos, the more potent lyrical themes, and the brutal production all serve to make this a better album than "obZen" and "Koloss" in my opinion, and for a band that I've seen as wallowing in a lack of evolution and creativity, I find this album to be a victory. It's not perfect, and there are definitely points where this album fails to keep my interest, but I still feel like this album is a huge step in the right direction for them. The return of properly recorded organic drumming is certainly one of the top factors in this album's increased quality, and I hope this is a trend they keep up on future releases (though it might be hard to keep up with, considering the band is getting up there in age).

While this album is probably not going to be "album of the year" material for me, this is certainly a step up for them, and to me, at least proves that this band's creative juices are still flowing and that they are still capable of making a fresh-sounding record, while at the same time, highlighting some of the more positive traits of their past records. I definitely feel that the best tracks on this record are "Clockworks" for its hard-hitting, speedy sound that brilliantly opens the album, "Ivory Tower" for one of the best solos Thordendal has committed to tape in ages, and "Our Rage Won't Die" for a more straightforward return to some of the band's earliest thrash riffs.

26 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Peres.T.Peanut
    I still don't know what to make of this album. Its one big fucking kick to the face, which is what one wants when listening to Meshuggah. On that deppartment its deffinitly an improvement over Kolloss. However, and I hope to change my opinion in time, the songs just kind of blend in together. You have huge moments throughout the whole album, but there isn't one song where you go like "Fuck yea, this shit right here". Listened to it over 10 times already, feel like I'll need at least 10 times more to fully digest this.
    DeadlySulfur
    I can fully agree with you dude. For example, with ObZen (yes I know this is the obvious choice), Bleed was one of those songs that stood out like a fucking bomb in my opinion. This album doesn't seem to have that so far. Maybe "Born In Dissonance" is one of those songs, or at least that is the closest song in my opinion. Though, for the UG guys: To give this album a 7 is very unnecessary. I.m.o, this album really deserves at least an 8
    Jimjambanx
    What's wrong with a 7? Since when was 7 a negative score? 7 means good, 8 is great, and the album is exactly that; good, but not great. Hell, I reckon a 7 is too lenient, given how uninspired this album feels from the band's previous work, and how most of the tracks sound the same, I think a 6 (above average/okay) is more appropriate, though I wish reviewers would just stop using numerical based rating systems entirely, but that's another can of worms for another day.
    Peres.T.Peanut
    Yea I'm relating bits of this album to catch 33 a lot more than to the other ones. ObZen had so many hooks and catchy parts, every song was instantly recognizable. Its just different, not worse.
    travislausch
    "You have huge moments throughout the whole album, but there isn't one song where you go like "Fuck yea, this shit right here"." NAILED IT. That was one of the hugest things that prevented me from rating this any higher. Even Koloss had a couple good hard-hitting tracks, this one is just kind of a very same-y quality the whole way through.
    anthsband
    I feel like this with all the new albums that my favorite bands came out with this year. Everything is just 7/10....I'll listen to it and think it is good and won't turn it off or skip a song, but at the same time nothing stands out as memorable.
    Peres.T.Peanut
    You have some outliers like Darkthrone, Ihsahn, Alcest or Vektor (there are others ofcourse) that pumped out really great material, but for the most part I tend to agree with you. Even the new Opeth, I was hailing it as a return to form, for after several listens I just ended up wishing it was an EP instead of a full length... Really underwhelming year so far...
    EpiExplorer
    Been a fan of Meshuggah since 2009, I found this album extremely uninteresting. When someone makes the boring and lazy criticism 'it's all tech, no soul', eye rolls ensue. But I might finally understand what they mean when I listen to this album. It is entirely technical ability. Nothing made the blueprint, I derailed it entirely, Catch 33 then redifined it again and made this slow, grinding delve into the psyche, ObZen just had really good songs, Koloss had very few good songs, VSOR doesn't have many more. Perhaps I'm jaded, there's Ion Dissonance and Car Bomb albums out that are much much more interesting.
    travislausch
    Yeah, I think I tried to express the same thing while still outlining some positive qualities. But overall, if the last couple albums didn't interest you, neither will this one. I also didn't know Ion Dissonance was coming out with new stuff. Thanks for the tip!
    Draconis93
    Gonna have to say I agree, more or less. Obzen is, in my opinion, Meshuggah's magnum opus, and they probably won't make another record like it.
    GoToSleep
    The album is enjoyable but does tend to be a little exhausting and kinda the same after awhile. The thing is there's not much else ground for them to cover with this same sound they've been doing for forever and there's nothing left for them to prove.
    mobidguitar
    87/1433 timing is still cool as fuck they should also check out the 9 string guitars from Ibanez. ground breaking in terms of DUGGA DUGA DUGGA DUGA DUGGAness
    pressureproject
    Can't handle Jens' monotone vocals anymore. I feel "constipated" when listening to them. I'd actually prefer to strip the vocal tracks on this and just hear the instruments.
    EyesWideOpen
    Totally agree. His vocals have become more and more unenjoyable to listen to. Sure it sounds heavy as shit, but it gives me a headache. Meshuggah vocals were way better back in the early days.
    ErikMontenegro
    Good sound overall, good lyrics, good rhythmics, good solos, good approach to the overall theme of the album on its entirety. I give them 7/10
    Jimjambanx
    I actually think the production style hurts the record. It's almost impossible to tell what's actually going on underneath the cacophony of the fizzy amps and bleeding cymbals. All in all, disappointing, koloss had a lot of duds, but the songs that did stand out are daily listens for me, outside of into decay maybe, this album i think is showing the limits of meshuggahs songwriting.
    proXy124c41
    I respect your opinion, but couldn't disagree more. Koloss was extremely boring and (mostly) slow for me. TVSOR on the other hand is energetic and great. Clockworks is one of the best songs Meshuggah have ever written in my opinion, and no I am not a "new" fan.
    Jimjambanx
    Being energetic is cool and all, but if the songwriting isn't there then you've lost me. Koloss may have been too slow for you, but at least that album had some variety, and the tracks felt like actual songs. There aren't any surprises in the songwriting, remember hearing Bleed for the first time? That shit blew me away, the first two tracks on Obzen were mostly safe, but then that song came on and rocked the fucking boat. I was waiting for that song to come on and flip everything on its head in TVSOR, and it never came.
    stefan_771
    This took a while to grow on me but it has overtaken Sorcress as my favourite album of 2016
    kojoto
    It just sounds like typical Meshuggah. Pretty meh album, nothing new that they haven't been doing since they switched to 8 string way back when.