Going into The Violent Sleep of Reason, the eighth album by technical death metal heroes Meshuggah, there was little question as to the caliber of the playing. Yet what I wanted to hear was something new and different, something more than the band simply clocking in to hammer us with another dense, angular chug fest. What they delivered is the best of both worlds in this regard. Right from the opening barrage, the drumming is impressive—if you are trying to keep count, it will surely befuddle your metronome. And though it’s a vulgar thing to ask for actual songs from a band who built their name on technical prowess, Meshuggah make a strong showing from the get go.
One of the primary differences between The Violent Sleep of Reason and its predecessor, Koloss, is that the band was in the same room together rather than just sending tracks back and forth online. “Born In Dissonance” brings the best kind of familiarity from them, reminiscent of their strongest album, Nothing. The guitar solos provide the needed atmosphere and work off some cool melodic chord progressions. “Monstrocity” is the first major standout, with a chorus that is about as hooky as the band gets. All too often the term prog gets thrown around, though some bands never actually progress beyond sprawling indulgence. Meshuggah works best on this album when making their way toward more atmospheric breathing room.
The weighty grooves of “By the Ton” go into that tricky sonic territory that turned into a genre called “djent.” Since this band grandfathered the term, it’s on their terms. The title track, however, finds them turning out some dizzy instrumental spirals until locking into the groove. There is a pretty cool Zappa-like guitar line that is somewhere between a solo and a melody. One thing that makes this album better than the last is the wider use of contrasting sonics. It’s not all heavy handed low end, a song like “Ivory Tower” serving as a good example of how this put into motion. They don’t really back all the way off, but sonically expand and retract enough to provide depth.
They plow into their normal stomping grounds on the tank like churn of “Stifled.” The vocal is another mid-range bark of a cyborg drill sergeant. There is almost a thrash feel to the onset of “Our Rage Won’t Die” making it one of the album’s more powerful grooves. The vocals fall in the right spots to make the most of the riffs. It slows into their usual bulldozing, only to be pulled from the mire by the guitar solo. They continue to pulse with the low frequencies of deep space on “”Into Decay.” There is a cool melodic bridge going into a verse. Yet here and throughout the album, the vocals fall back on the same old bark. So in the end, it’s hard to say if I really ended up getting what I asked for. It’s not a massive leap, but The Violent Sleep of Reason is solid, capturing what Meshuggah does well without any drastic reinvention.