Meshuggah – Koloss

Since the band’s inception, Meshuggah have had to face the problem, albeit a good one to have, of overcoming the almost impossibly high expectations and scrutiny of both their fans and critics alike. This has never been a more present imposition than it is today for the following reason.

Even though the band is probably unaffected by what occurs around them in the metal world, it would be hard to write a review of “Koloss” in a relevant context without mentioning the so-called “djent” movement, made up of a slew of younger bands who are highly and overtly influenced by the Swedes’ back catalogue. To not discuss it would be like ignoring the proverbial elephant in the room.

Gaining steam during the period between Meshuggah’s last album “Obzen” and this new one, the popularity of djent perhaps puts Meshuggah in a position, especially in the minds of the young connoisseurs of this movement, in which people might be looking for Meshuggah to retaliate sonically and, in essence, out-djent the djenters.

Thankfully Meshuggah couldn’t care less. Without belittling the worth of the movement – which does have its moments – other than the fact that these bands know how to make riffs that abide by a formula that Meshuggah pioneered in metal, there is little else that Meshuggah and most djent bands have in common.

For one, though there are plenty of sonic similarities, the intent is very different. According to Meshuggah themselves, the band has always operated by focusing on creating expressive music first, with the technicality of it all resulting as a simple by-product of their personalities and the way in which they compose and hear the music in their heads. It seems that most djent operates in the exact opposite direction, putting most of the emphasis on complexity and making riffs that look good while being played on YouTube, leaving very little time spent on creating a distinctive and moving musical statement.

This extreme influence on modern metal leaves Meshuggah in the predicament mentioned earlier – facing expectations that demand them to either alter history or be considered disappointments. And let’s not forget, there were plenty of bands swagger-jacking Meshuggah’s earlier sound much before their seminal “Nothing” album came out and laid the blueprint of 8-stringed groove mongering that the djent movement reveres. Asking the band to reinvent their wheel every decade might be a little much, even by Meshuggah’s standards.

Herein lies the best thing about “Koloss,” which is the fact that it sounds like an album recorded by a band with absolutely nothing to prove. “Koloss” shows a Meshuggah that is looser than ever, extremely confident and immaculately comfortable in its own skin.

Seemingly picking up right where “Obzen” left off, “Koloss’” opener “I am Colossus” features the same churning and purposeful precision and weight that has been their calling card for well over a decade, with vocalist Jen Kidman rabidly calling on the listener to bow down in submission. “I’m the imposing giant – infallible dictator. My rules apply to all. You’ll heed me.” Lead guitarist Fredrik Thordendal is in rare form once again here, making his guitar speak languages that not many understand, solidifying his often mentioned status as the Allan Holdsworth of metal. Except while Holdsworth usually tries to make his guitar mimic the fluidity of Coltrane’s sax, Fredrik usually reaches for something far more obscure, making his guitar rumble through the riffs like the mating call of a lonely whale in this opening track.

As the album rolls on, it seems as if the band has tempered the tracklist to sway back and forth between the expected and unexpected. Just as the opener sounds like an obvious beginning to a new Meshuggah album, the next track veers into a rather unexpected direction.

“The Demon’s Name is Surveillance” might just be the simplest and most accessible track Meshuggah has ever recorded. It’s a pulsating waltz that while still complex, is not as mind-numbingly obtuse as is the norm for Meshuggah. Remove Kidman and insert Warrel Dane, and the track could almost sound like one of the heavier and more complex moments of Nevermore’s “Enemies of Reality” album – almost. You’ll be glad that no one other than Jen’s is providing vocals to this track though, because it might be one of his most intense performances ever – perfectly pitching his hellish screams to follow the melodic turns of the song and accenting the rhythmic aspects of every stabbing guitar riff with brutal precision.

“Do Not Look Down” features Meshuggah’s lauded groove in rare form and while the riffs sound like they could be leftover material from the “Nothing” era, Thordendal surprises us yet again with a very uncharacteristic, pentatonic-heavy lead that sounds like he’s channeling the essence of Kirk Hammet’s mustache, but taking that rudimentary, blues-based heavy metal vibe into rarely explored psychedelic territories.

“Behind the Sun” starts off with expectedly sludgy brutality but shifts halfway through the song into riffs that probably represent the most outwardly present death metal influence that Meshuggah have ever shown. Heavy on tremolo picking and “Where the Slime Live-esque” half-time pummeling, it might not come as a surprise that Kidman, who played guitar in some of the earliest incarnations of the band, wrote this song. The chugging outro riff sounds like hanging out with Gojira and Devin Townsend heavily on the festival circuit last year might have rubbed off a bit on Meshuggah as well.

“The Hurt that Finds You First” shows Meshuggah retracing their thrash metal roots and upping the speed factor considerably to kick you out of the trance that the previous track might have left you in, only to end the song with a stifling palm-muted end riff that pulls you back into it.

The album steamrolls ahead with “Marrow” which is the centerpiece of the album and probably the most “Chaosphere-like” track that they have done since that album’s 1998 release. The track features punishing riff after punishing riff and has not one, but two Thordendal solos that showcase his signature experimental lead guitar artistry, which sounds like the verbalized thought patterns of an alien species. The final riff of “Marrow” is a slashing reminder of why there is no other band that can make you want to punch someone in the face like Meshuggah can.

“Break Those Bones Whose Sinews Gave it Motion” may just be the heaviest thing Meshuggah has ever done, featuring a deceivingly complex set of slow grooves and guitar accents that seem as if they aren’t able to decide whether they prefer landing on the up or down beat. “A sonic declaration of spite and resentment – it’s resonance grinding to dust our souls.”

The main riff of “Swarm” sounds like a factory full of industrial strength meat grinders working in unison to hypnotize the listener before Thordendal strikes with another blotch of guitar hysterics, followed by a chromatically ascending climax of riffing that peaks abruptly before settling back into the hypnotizing dirge of the main riff.

“Demiurge” begins with more uncharacteristically easy-to-follow riffing from Meshuggah and is a nice pounding pre-conclusion before the final delay-soaked ambience of “The Last Vigil” ends the album – which if someone tells you sounds like Tesseract, be sure to play “Acrid Placidity” off Meshuggah’s 1995 album “Destroy Erase Improve” for them before administering a swift kick to the gonads.

“Koloss” is an album that not only shows Meshuggah as a band that is unwavering in its vision and musical purpose, but it also shows a newfound confidence and looseness that says, “Maybe we don’t have to sound like aliens all of the time. Maybe we can take a couple moments here and there to rock out like a regular Earth-born heavy metal band.”

This newfound nonchalantness is what makes “Koloss” Meshuggah’s most approachable offering yet, while at the same time reaffirming what longtime fans of the band have known all along – that Meshuggah are still the professors and that all of their studious minions still have a lot to learn from them.

Tracklist:

01. I Am Colossus
02. The Demon’s Name is Surveillance
03. Do Not Look Down
04. Behind the Sun
05. The Hurt That Finds You First
06. Marrow
07. Break Those Bones Whose Sinews Gave It Motion
08. Swarm
09. Demiurge
10. The Last Vigil

Line-up:

* Jens Kidman – vocals
* Fredrik Thordendal – guitars
* Mårten Hagström – guitars
* Dick Lövgren – bass
* Tomas Haake – drums

Links:

http://www.meshuggah.net/

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: