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While lacking in true surprises, The Violent Sleep of Reason does what it's supposed to do: scratch a familiar itch while staving off any hint of stagnation

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Album Review: MESHUGGAH The Violent Sleep of Reason

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Meshuggah have miraculously managed to remain aloof from the oft-maligned genre they are credited with inventing – the onomatopoeic "djent" – largely through an ingenuous adherence to quality and songcraft. This in spite of the fact that the band's work has relied less on novelty than sheer consistency the last decade and change; what was once a revolutionary sound has arguably settled into staid formula, although the old adage "if it isn't broke don't fix it" ought certainly to apply to these inveterate Swedes.

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Equal parts Cynic and Machine Head, Spiral Architect and Fear Factory, djent weaves a complex strand of technical thrash (often bordering on death metal) with catchy 90's-era groove metal to produce a dateless style that most imitators frankly kind of suck at… hence the love/hate relationship with the genre that many fans – and indeed the members of Meshuggah themselves – find themselves wavering in and out of.

With next year marking their 30th anniversary as a band, The Violent Sleep of Reason find Meshuggah charging out of the gate in familiar fashion, blistering riffs and stop-on-a-dime time signature changes in familiar effect. The primary purpose of a Meshuggah album this far along in the band's trajectory is less to rewrite the script and more to overwrite the all-too-familiar back catalog that fans have worn down the needles on their record players over. Which is not to say that anything on this album will make one forget the very existence of classics like Destroy Erase Improve or Chaosphere,  but a little fresh blood never hurt anyone, and the ten extended tracks making up Violent Sleep will resound with any existing fan, even while it fails to win over that small segment of the metal fan base that never really got the band… and probably never will.

Cockily starting off the album with its longest song at over seven minutes, Meshuggah turn "Clockworks" into a clinic of what has made the band so revered over time: brutal tech-savvy riffs, wailing guitar solos seemingly time-shifted from another dimension, Tomas Haake's incomparable octopus-like drumming. "By the Ton" shifts the emphasis away from sheer brutality – not entirely absent, by the way – and complex instrumentation toward a fitful, staggered groove, with "Ivory Tower" splitting the difference between the two approaches with a true block-leveling guitar riff.

While lacking in true surprises, The Violent Sleep of Reason does what it's supposed to do: scratch a familiar itch while staving off any hint of stagnation. At this stage of the band's history it becomes more and more difficult to play favorites among a reliable catalog not necessarily known for its diversity; most Meshuggah fans will likely favor whatever the first couple of albums they heard by the group. Which is fine by me; not every band needs to toss out the playbook and blaze new trails, and if anyone should be exempt it ought to be the ensembles that actually wrote the damn playbook to begin with. And so while any band can technically do whatever the hell they want, it doesn't matter much if the results do not resound with listeners. 30 years in, Meshuggah prove that, for them, that will never be a problem.

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Score: 8/10

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