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Review: Meshuggah Separate the Kids from the Grown-Ups on The Violent Sleep of Reason

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The Violent Sleep of Reason is a freaking tour-de-force; a total deconstruction of heavy music.

I considered reviewing this thing track-by-track, taking into consideration what I can dissect about what exactly is going on, but that would be a disservice to the essence of what is, unbelievably so, a rock record in the classical sense. This is an album performed by a group of musicians – tracked live, song by song – except they’re some of the best musicians that the genre has ever had to offer. Not unlike some related (not by sound, but by spirit) albums by their metal and jazz peers in Gorguts (Pleiades’ Dust) and Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society (Real Enemies), Meshuggah and The Violent Sleep of Reason are basically as good as it gets.

Almost every song on Violent Sleep seems to take down what Meshuggah have stood for, and everything that their copycats aspire to. I’m not talking just about the Bane-Batman dynamic of a burner like “Born in Dissonance” (which is, perhaps cheekily so, one of their least dissonant, most melodic and harmonically straightforward songs), either. Meshuggah are toying with just about every tool in the metal and rock handbook, playing with them and riding them just as far as they’ll go in an organic band setting. Just a few examples of this include:

  • Minor 2nd/Minor 3rd riffs and boogie-esque chromatic walkups in “MonstroCity”
  • Polyrhythms in “Clockworks”
  • Space and push-pull tension in “By the Ton”
  • Syncopation – in every song, but in particular on the title track.
  • Linear single-note riffing, in songs like “Ivory Tower”

Of course, the key to Meshuggah’s sound and the success of Violent Sleep is the interplay between all of these elements in every song on the album – particularly when they are working off of an exciting musical idea. Some critics (and even music theorists) argue that what makes a Meshuggah song work is excessively convoluted theories about rhythm: that they plot out every single detail about the overlapping tensile curves of their rhythms between each instrument.

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That’s what makes this new album kinda funny to me, for two reasons. First, because Fredrik Thordendal has gone on record saying that he doesn’t really know or pay attention to theory (which I believe, and you can too! Just listen to the way he plays guitar solos). And second, because the live nature of how these songs were written and recorded sounds almost like Meshuggah are punishing these theoretical ideals. Theoreticians out there might say that Violent Sleep is “a commentary on itself.” Meshuggah would probably respond “shut up and check out this sick riff.”

Violent Sleep is a tremendous piece of art because it isn’t intricately plotted out by basement-dwelling theory nerds – but rather, played by pros. To my ears, its the first Meshuggah album where the band aren’t trying so hard, but just ripping so hard. The single-note riffs rip; the solos rip; the drum parts rip; the vocals rip; the grooves rip. For a band that’s often a bit too verbose and long-winded, it really feels as though every single musical idea on Violent Sleep is critical for the entire thing to hold together, and I can’t really think of a single point during listening where I wasn’t totally in it.

I have to let this thing sit with me some more, but I’m fairly convinced its basically a perfect album and the best the band have ever made – though this is coming from someone who has a ton of respect for the band but never been that big a fan of theirs. Now I’m a believer.

Meshuggah’s The Violent Sleep of Reason comes out this Friday, October 7th. You can stream the track”Born in Dissonance” here and pre-order the album here.

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