Thursday, March 29, 2012
Meshuggah - "Koloss"
I review a lot of metal albums on this blog, and as an attempt to further educate those few readers who manage to discover it I like to provide a little context on bands and genres as is necessary. If you've read any of the previous album reviews you'll likely have picked up on a recurring theme: metalheads are finicky. Arguably one of the most vitriolic fan bases, metalheads go after one another and one another's favorite bands like it actually matters. I can't tell you how many times I've heard or read someone say "Fill-in-the-blank is amazing, fill-in-this-other-blank is pathetic." The language used is often much more colorful, but the message is always the same: "Because of the bands I listen to, I'm better/more metal/more hardcore/more legit than you because of the bands you listen to." Don't get me wrong, plenty of bands out there claim "metal" as their genre label and are just objectively piss-poor examples. As often as not, these claims are based purely on the tastes of the listener. But if there's one subgenre debate that will stop just short of starting a war, it's djent.
Did you hear that? That was the sound of blood in the water...ok bad analogy. But go to literally any YouTube video from TesseracT, Animals as Leaders, Vildhjartha, Periphery, or any other band that might be called "djent" and you'll find yourself stepping into a war zone. Djent is a word that emerged to describe the metal subgenre almost exclusively pioneered by Meshuggah. "Djent" itself is onomatopoeia, meant to articulate the particular sound of rhythmic palm-muting on an electric guitar that defines a good portion of the music to come out of that tradition. But because everything that is "djent" started with Meshuggah back as early as the 90s, metal kids get all butt-hurt if a band who took cues from Meshuggah is hailed by fans and critics alike.
But independent of all that, Meshuggah is still alive and well - continuing to nuance and explore the genre they defined. And whether you're admittedly a "djentleman" or cringe every time someone uses "djent" for portmanteau and pun - there's no denying that Meshuggah is still at the top of the heap. Their latest, "Koloss", is a perfect example of why.
Much like the title implies, "Koloss" has an incredibly massive feel to it musically. Every song seems to emanate sonic size and gargantuan imagery. The album explodes onto the listener's ears with the force of a giant's angry fist on the opening track "I Am Colossus." Yes. Yes, you are track #1. Immediately following the opening, "The Demon's Name Is Surveillance" cuts to the quick with a riff that's frenetic and determined, reminiscent of "Bleed" from 2008's ObZen.
The album's first major single, "Break These Bones Whose Sinews Gave it Motion" exists somewhere between a flashback to "Spasm" from 2002's Nothing and something completely new. The guitars lumber along like massive beasts, chugging with a controlled ferocity in the key of (what sounds like) drop Z - all the while a wailing high note underscoring the crushing echo.
There's so much here that's just...classic Meshuggah. And I mean that in the best way imaginable. Elements of their entire discography appear in "Koloss," but each time more refined and matured. It's hard to imagine that a band that has been around as long as Meshuggah could still find room to mature musically, but "Koloss" is testament to the fact that with the right instrumentalists it's not only possible but preferable.
If you're a fan of Meshuggah then you've got to enjoy polyrhythms, because the band barely writes anything but polymetric/polyrhythmic music. Another delight I found in "Koloss" was that the intricacy of the time signatures was still very present, but somehow more accessible. Maybe I've just listened to so much of their stuff my brain is getting used to layering multiple time signatures at once. I doubt it though, because the majority of 2005's "Catch Thirty-Three" still throws me for a loop. But with "Koloss" somehow they've managed to refine and streamline their musical process and the result is both stimulating and profound.
And, to top it all off, the album is almost an hour long! You've heard me bemoan short album lengths ad nauseum, and it thrills me to not revisit that complaint for this review.
One or two of the songs feel a little lost to me. The closing track, "The Last Vigil" is ominous and soundscape-y but not particularly compelling. Similarly "Behind the Sun" feels like a bit of a filler track. I don't know if Meshuggah is even capable of knowingly writing a "filler" song in the first place, so I'm not accusing them of padding their material. I just didn't find those two tracks to be nearly as great a pleasure as the rest of the album. And fortunately, it's a small complaint such as it is.
Meshuggah isn't a band that has to overdo things. 4 years passed between their previous release and this one, and before that the gap was only slightly smaller. They're a band that takes their work seriously, and have every reason to. "Koloss" is proof that dedication to one's craft can still yield new fruits, even when confined to a limited medium. Meshuggah's definition of djent and progressive metal hasn't changed a great deal in recent memory; albums released over 10 years ago still bear a great deal of similarity to "Koloss." That's part of what makes Meshuggah such an incredible band; they've carved out their musical territory a long time ago, and they've spent most of their life perfecting it and making it their own in a way that few other artists can ever claim to.
It's hard to say this album is heavier or darker than previous releases, but it does pack quite a significant punch. And whether you hate Periphery for being lumped in with a band as seminal as Meshuggah, it's hard to say that any band's existence diminishes Meshuggah's accomplishments.
The band is simply in a league of their own, and "Koloss" is an album in a league of its own as well. Progressive metal, djent, avant-garde metal, polyrhythms; if any of those are things you enjoy, pick up "Koloss" as soon as you can.
It's pure Meshuggah.