Album Review: Meshuggah, ‘Violent Sleep of Reason’

Written by Lucas Jones


Meshuggah is a Swedish extreme metal band that formed in 1987, and has reached its current line-up through a few changes, including moving from fast tempo death metal on seven string guitars to what many musicians would describe as Djent (pronounced “jent”), even if they haven’t quite figured out what Djent means, or is, or how Meshuggah is so damn good at it. They play down-tuned 8 string guitars to achieve their sound, and along with odd time signatures, note structures, and complex instrumentation, have become one of the most important bands, well, ever. Their latest album, The Violent Sleep of Reason, was released with much anticipation by fans of the genre.

To try and go through this album thoroughly track by track would be nearly impossible. The album is incredibly dense and complex, and there is no filer here; every track has something that makes it stand out on its own. “Clockworks” is a great way to kick off the album, with a crushingly heavy feel, but “Born in Dissonance” does a great job of capturing the essence of the band. It starts with heavy palm muting, but your head just starts to groove, and keeps grooving for all four and a half minutes. “By the Ton” feels like a gut check, combining a loose intro that drops into a sludgy long note riff fest that is sure to make the pit come back to life (as if it could ever die).

I really enjoy “Stifled,” and Meshuggah shines when they drop down a faster tempo track, especially when it flows seamlessly into “Nostrum,” a song which is nearly impossible to head bang to unless you really enjoy throwing your brain around while trying to count 16th notes, especially in the insane bridges between the more “normal” verse sections. The solo is best described as a chromatic swirl of tapping that will make your head spin, but is the standout solo of the album. Reason closes with “Into Decay.” The song is the musical equivalent of being crushed under a boulder made of metal, but you are also made of metal and sinking into a pit of liquid metal…I mean, you get the idea. Odd time changes and quick riffs are replaced by brutal mutes, and guttural screams guaranteed to dislodge your head from your neck.

This album combines heavy and groovy in ways that most modern bands could never touch. That groovy feeling is actually one of the best things about Reason. It isn’t heavy for heavy sake, and it isn’t a cacophony of noise. It is an extremely focused presentation with tight riffs and precise solos that drop in and out of key, and drumming that makes you wonder how that is physically possible. The most impressive part of the entire album, is that the songs were recorded live. No quantizing, no cut and paste. You can occasionally hear instruments dropping slightly back or coming a bit forward, but that makes it better. It reminds you that these guys are human, and I think makes the music more dynamic. Speaking of dynamics, I really appreciate the way this was mixed. The drums are present, but the ghost notes and thick bass drum equally have their place. The guitars aren’t oversaturated, and there is plenty of headroom in the mix to really crank it up without hearing the all-too-familiar distortion present in many pop songs, and more recent metal albums. Reason is a tour de force of progressive metal, and the djentlemen of Meshuggah have given fans of Djent a mind bending, time signature straining, head banging masterpiece that may be one of their best albums to date. I give it a 4/4, with a 17/8 guitar riff that will sync up after…you know what? Let’s keep it simple.

Rating: 10 out of 10