Extreme metal has a reputation among its detractors for being one-dimensional and exhausting -- and apropos for such a difficult genre, Meshuggah is both these things and neither. In the nineties, they led the way for technical metal, combining harsh instrumentation with avant-garde sensibilities, and with artists like Dream Theater and Tool citing them as influences, they've been energising discerning audiences ever since. While 'The Violent Sleep of Reason' continues their legacy, their continued adherence to metal convention - despite such intricate compositions and virtuosic solos - leaves an underwhelming impression.
Meshuggah's chemistry as an ensemble is clear from the very start, and the understated production and freeform song structures make for a far more organic, listenable album than much of their recent fare. Yet the cycles within each song are jarringly brief in some places, tediously long in others. 'Clockworks', the opener, strikes the perfect balance between elegant repetition and perpetual evolution, but it's an act the band struggles to follow.
"a far more organic, listenable album than much of their recent fare"
The album's mood, though, is consistent and refined: the cerebral lyrics make a solid companion to Jens Kidman's deadened growl, and the microtonal guitar screeches on tracks like 'Born In Dissonance' deliver a nightmarish atmosphere, as do the euphoric chords above 'MonstroCity'’s djent rhythms. The titular track and its neighbour 'Ivory Tower' are equally notable for their jazzy solos, betraying a dark mischief which still feels sadly underused.
It's easy for a casual listener to get lost in Meshuggah's relentless grooves, and though each track is rich with complexity and reinvention, the similarity in arrangement and tone means there's little to separate one song from another. 'Stifled' and 'Our Rage Won't Die' are particularly forgettable, with their lack of melodic interest leading to near indistinguishability. Still, while not for everyone, long-time fans will almost definitely be satisfied with this outing.