No need for Kool-Aid…
Released through Nuclear Blast on 7 October 2016
Review by Jason Guest
In his 2007 book God Is Not Great, Christopher Hitchens explains the contemporary relevance of Goya’s etching The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters:
“The immortal Fransisco Goya gave us an etching… where a man in defenceless slumber is hag-ridden by bats, owls, and other haunters of the darkness. But an extraordinary number of people appear to believe that the mind, and the reasoning faculty – the only thing that divides us from our animal relatives – is something to be distrusted and even, as far as possible, dulled. The search for nirvana, and the dissolution of the intellect, goes on. And whenever it is tried, it produces a Kool-Aid effect on the world.” (p.198)
With anti-intelligence, ignorance, prejudice and religious zealotry on the rise and looming large in the houses of political power and the cultural (un)consciousness, the 21st Century continues to bear semblance to the dystopias that many an author, auteur, artist and musician have long-since warned us about. Thirty years in and with a catalogue that has continually challenged what extreme music can do, what better inspiration could there be for Meshuggah’s ninth album, The Violent Sleep of Reason?
A four-count on the hi-hat and the idiosyncratic grooves, dissonant and discordant riffs and menacing vocal barbs that have long since distinguished Meshuggah from those that attempt (and always fail) to imitate or better them, album opener ‘Clockworks’ is the first punch in the face of embraced ignorance. With lines such as ‘Dismantling the clockwork…’, ‘Disassemble the machinery / Re-program these eyes, undo this design’ and the threatening refrain to ‘Break this deceitful machine’, Meshuggah are immediately on the offensive.
Where ‘Born in Dissonance’ is the most straightforward of the tracks and ‘By The Ton’ is a disorientating and hypnotically hefty slab of technical deviance, the title track shifts through many a jarring rhythm peppered with grating textures in the lead work and ‘Ivory Tower’ adds transitory layers to the dark and shifting grooves that reinforce its menace. The pummelling chug of ‘Nostrum’ is augmented by a beautifully unsettling and persistent lead, ‘Our Rage Won’t Die’ revolves around jauntily jarring riffs, down-and-dirty grooves and atmospheric lead work, and ‘Into Decay’ drags the tempo down for a mind-bending closer. All outstanding, that the two weakest tracks – ‘MonstroCity’ and ‘Stifled’ – are so strong is testament to the band’s achievement in the face of their outstanding oeuvre.
What is readily apparent across the album is the approach the band took to recording. For a long time up to and including Koloss, Meshuggah have been writing, recording and producing material separately, sharing files and arriving at the finished product through intelligent design rather than feeling them out. That’s not to say that this approach was a sterile or perhaps failed method of composition – their catalogue and live performances are evidence to the contrary – but in choosing to record this album live brings with it a distinctly organic feel, the human element bringing to the tracks a distinguishable depth to their gruesome grooves. Given the social atomism that necessitates the sacrifice of individual rights in favour of the preservation of society at large that’s coming to dominate mass thinking, this oppositional – and more human – approach is rather fitting.
With thirty years of riff mutilation, time signature mangling, and the perpetual disfigurement of that queer quintet of guitars, bass, drums and vocals behind them, what remains for these Swedish polyrhythmic perverts to maim? Bands of such “advanced years” usually look to their past for inspiration and in doing so either morph into feeble parodies of what they once were or lose sight of themselves completely and produce material that is as bland as it is embarrassing (need I name names?). Meshuggah’s back catalogue is their best enemy (1995’s Destroy Erase Improve and 1998’s Chaosphere are absolute classics) and has kept them producing one innovative work after another. The Violent Sleep of Reason is no exception.
Meshuggah’s UK and Ireland tour (with support from The Haunted) begins next week and they arrive in Birmingham on Friday 13 January. Be there. There’ll be no need for Kool-Aid…
9 out of 10
- Born in Dissonance
- By The Ton
- Violent Sleep of Reason
- Ivory Tower
- Our Rage Won’t Die
- Into Decay