Swedish progressive metal act Meshuggah have been active for more than a quarter of a decade by this point and over the span of their career they have built quite the reputation for themselves, giving the main impulse leading towards the inception of djent as a subgenre of progressive metal towards the end of the 90s and the early 2000s. The initially rather primitive and frantic form of that style was first heard on their 1998 release Chaosphere and took a more palpable form on their Nothing album in 2002.
Following that Meshuggah kept being one of the most relevant bands in the genre as they released albums such as Catch 33 and ObZen, the latter of which would go down in history for its song Bleed, a song so demanding on the drummer that it was uncertain if it would make it on the album at first.
With a catalog like that behind them, the expectations for a new album were naturally high, however Meshuggah came out with what I personally consider to be their best album to date when they released Koloss in 2012. Living up to its name, Koloss delivered a set of obsolutely monumental tracks. The ten songs on that album were diverse, crushing, and simply mountainous. Meshuggah were on the top of their game.
Considering that I was all the more excited when the band announced that they would be coming out with a new album in 2016. The Violent Sleep of Reason of the result of their efforts and constitutes Meshuggah's eighth full-length album.
Leading up to the release of the record Meshuggah released a number of trailers and promotional tracks that kept the hype for their upcoming release going.
The first full track we got to hear was Born in Dissonance, an infectiously groovy track that prioritizes rhythm and accessability over the more complex qualities of Meshuggah's sound. Follwing that the band released Nostrum, a track that was already featured in the first teaser for the new album. The drumming on this track is absolutely stunning and heavy on the snares. It can generally be said that Tomas Haake really outdid himself on a few of the drumtracks on The Violent Sleep of Reason. Aside from that the song features some layered guitars in its busier sections and picks up towards the halfway point, with a quite strong guitar solo that precedes one of the more intense parts before reaching the climax.
When I first got to listen to the full album my expectations were met by the album opener Clockworks. Based on the intro of that track and what I had heard prior to it made me think that this might actually be Meshuggah's most dissonant album, a feeling that subsided as the song went on. Clockworks starts off with some massive staccato guitars accompanied by Tomas Haake's impressive polyrhythmic drumming that once again put a heavy emphasis on the snare. Meshuggah did a great job of syncing up the drums and guitars on this track, creating a very impactful composition.
However, this already pretty much covers all the stronger tracks of this album.
Large parts of The Violent Sleep of Reason left me rather unfazed. There were a few more memorable moments like the way the wailing, layered guitars at the end of Stifled transition into Nostrum and the heavy grooves on the title track, but especially songs like By the Ton and the two last tracks on the album really have close to no staying power.
Meshuggah mostly focussed on a rhythmic approach to their sound, but I can't say that they managed to make it work out throughout the entire playtime of this record. It's actually closer to the opposite.
Something else that I noticed was that Jens Kidman's vocals sound just ever so slightly off. They seem to be missing a bit of their lower end compared to his previous performances.
The single most impressive aspect of this record on the other hand, and my personal highlight, are Tomas Haake's performances on the aforementioned tracks. Haake continues to be one of the most ambitious and creative drummers in progressive metal and adds a great amount character to Meshuggah's music.
Overall, The Violent Sleep of Reason is a solid album that doesn't have to shy away from stepping toe-to-toe with most of the band's releases, but it definitely cannot prevail against Meshuggah's strongest albums. There's a number of good tracks on this album, namely Nostrum, Clockworks and Born in Dissonance, but there are just as many that are only reasonably enjoyable and again just as many that end up being almost entirely unremarkable.