Meshuggah and I go way back: that is to say that the band was one of the first I discovered that truly sounded like nothing else, and my headlong dive into their music really began to expand my understanding of what progressive music could be, and ultimately helped define for me what the broader genre stood for as a whole. Very few artists can lay claim to creating something entirely unique, entirely their own, but the Swedish mathematicians have done just that time and time again. Although facets of their sound have been adopted by a new generation of bands, the fact remains that when Meshuggah is firing on all cylinders creatively and conceptually, no band truly “sounds” like them. The science of Meshuggah is the science of precision and controlled chaos, machine-like but without the coldness and sterility the comparison would offer. Instead, Meshuggah offer up soundscapes of suffocating, crushing atmosphere, an atonal hellscape that is punishing and sometimes uncomfortable to listen to, but from which the listener can’t turn away. Now 8 albums into a storied career, Meshuggah return with another exploration, and I am happy to say it is everything I wanted and hoped it would be. In fact it might just be one of their best.
While listening to the record, I grappled with how to describe it. I turned to the old standby review tool of comparison with their previous work, but this approach largely failed me. After thinking long and hard on it, the best I could succinctly describe the sound of the record would be a combination of the atmospheric and rhythmic sensibilities of “Chaosphere” mixed with the uninhibited tech-groove of “Nothing”, but written by the band that wrote “Obzen”. That being said, “TVSoR” exhibits shades of all of Meshuggah’s previous work, and in that way it is a wonder to behold. This is the record that they wanted “Koloss” to be.
I was surprised at how diverse the record is, while simultaneously functioning as a survey of Meshuggah’s sound. There is something here to please a fan of any era of the band, from the early thrash years to the 8 stringed chaos of the post-“Nothing” era. There is an omnipresent “grind” here that was so indicative of those early years, where the heaviness came from the crunch rather than the elastic overtones of extended range guitars. This side of the band has always been my favorite, which is one of the reasons that I am so excited that it makes a comeback in a big way on the record. Not only does this “chunky” focus on riffs return, but the band revisits their past with aplomb: the songs are focused, creative, and sound fresh.
Opener “Clockworks” and first single “Born in Dissonance” exemplify this “early” approach, but fed through the filter of 2016 Meshuggah. “Clockworks” in particular is in my opinion one of the best Meshuggah tracks EVER, and has some insane drumming and guitar work, on top of being just a generally very well put together song. It is memorable and really sets the tone for the rest of the record, and it was a wise choice as the lead off track. “Born in Dissonance” was the first single, and in context the already killer song really serves as a strong one-two punch that hooks the listener and establishes the re-emphasis on grit and rhythmic diversity. An absolutely crushing way to open this record, and it was here that I knew it was going to be a triumph.
“MonstroCity” has an almost hard rock like swagger, which is as strange to hear as it is to type in a Meshuggah review, complete with what has to be the closest the band has gotten to a hook-y chorus in probably forever. It works though, and actually comes off as a highlight of the early record, with some really wacky riffing throughout and some very complex transitions. Next up, “By The Ton” takes the record’s first real detour into the later day groove territory, and I was initially a little skeptical, as the trip into slower riffing felt like a jarring change of pace. After a few listens though, the track grew on me, and once I wrapped my head around the intricacies of what the band was doing, I came to enjoy it as much as any of the other songs.
The remaining tracks maintain a near pitch perfect balance between the old and new sounds of the band, with “Stifled” and “Our Rage Won’t Die” being my personal highlights, although every track retains its own personality and each one has at least a few elements that make them special. Although not as immediate of an album as “Obzen”, “TVSoR” actually maintains a certain degree of accessibility, which is quite an achievement considering how complex some of the material is. In context I think this record could be viewed along with “Obzen” as a good entry point for a prospective new fan of the band, as it rather perfectly encapsulates the various sounds the band has become known for, packaged conveniently as some really interesting and multifaceted songs.
Finally, much has been said in the run up to the record’s release of the band’s production philosophy, and this review wouldn’t be complete without mentioning it, because I think it has alot to do with the triumph that this record ultimately is. The band stated that they recorded the record live, with real amps and everyone playing in the same room. This unified vibe is totally present, palpable, and permeates every inch the record. There is a fire and energy here that complements the music. The band sounds tighter and more “together” on this record by comparison, and oddly enough, Meshuggah’s robotic calculus metal sounds undeniably human and alive. This dichotomy provides the fuel that propels the songwriting and performances into something truly special, and in the era of digital tracking and stacking takes, it is admirable to imagine the preparedness and chemistry that is required to produce such complex music in this way.
Overall, this is simply a record made by a band that has rediscovered a creative fire in the face of success and acclaim. They easily could have rested on their laurels, which they came close to doing with “Koloss”, but instead they have reestablished they they are still hungry and have something to prove, and as a result they have elevated their music instead of simply iterating. A simply devastating statement of intent by one the the most important and influential bands in the genre. One of this year’s best, and not one to be missed.
- Born In Dissonance
- By the Ton
- Violent Sleep of Reason
- Ivory Tower
- Our Rage Won’t Die
- Into Decay