*Reviewers disclaimer – This is the most Meshuggah I have ever heard, so here you get two viewpoints – a fan perspective and, well, mine. Sweden’s Meshuggah (literally meaning “crazy” in Hebrew/Yiddish) have been the backbone of the extreme/technical/progressive death metal scene since their inception way back in 1987 and are usually credited with coining the term “djent” to describe their unique sound. “Djent” is not a genre as such, but more a descriptor for the kind of technique and distinct palm-muted sound used by Meshuggah’s guitarists and subsequent followers of this style of music – see Periphery, Animals as Leaders, Tesseract et al.
And with that short but sweet history lesson over, let’s crack on with talking about Koloss, the bands seventh studio album in what has been a lengthy career. It’s an album that threatens to be massive - they didn’t come to decide that title for no reason – and the technical skill on show is often breathtaking. Opener “I Am Colossus” staggers into the ether, all chunky as heck bass (Dick Lövgren) and screams from the throat of Jens Kidman. It’s a curious choice for the first track, fairly slow by all accounts but no less punishing in its tone for that decreased sense of speed. But. There’s something missing. You’re waiting for something astounding to happen, this is Meshuggah after all, a band famed for their prowess as a super techy group. And when the cursory solo is thrown in you still don’t feel as though these musicians are giving it their all. Disappointing? A little.
Not to worry though, because along comes “The Demon’s Name Is Surveillance.” The guitars hammer away at your skull, boring deep and the kick on the drums of Tomas Haake is terrifically brutal, blasting like there might not be a tomorrow. It’s unrelenting in its fury and is a welcome breath of anger in a record that runs for nigh on an hour. And boy, do you feel that running length. By the time you reach the pinnacle of the album, it’s track eight and you’re left wondering just how much more there is. Surely it should be over by now? It’s not that the songs are overly long, but it just seems like such a struggle at times. Riffs come and go, barely leaving their mark on your brain and nothing sticks. Of course those eight-stringed guitars are fantastic to look at but when they aren’t destroying your mind with molten sound it’s hardly worth it. Fredrik Thordendal can certainly bash out some incredible moments though, particularly on “Do Not Look Down” and “Marrow.”
“Swarm,” the aforementioned height of Koloss, has this tight little melody in the rhythm. It’s difficult to describe but it climbs and climbs during the chorus section and is likely the most interesting and different track on the album. It veers away from the standard chugging nature of the guitar and is genuinely a delight to hear Meshuggah trying something that little bit against the norm of Koloss. “The Last Vigil,” an instrumental and somewhat melancholic piece, completely out of step with the rest of the album, closes the record. It’s gentle and serene and sounds like nothing else heard previously. It’s odd, to finish like this. Meshuggah aren’t known for composing pieces such as this and it’s lovely to hear them trying something so wildly different. Yet it doesn’t fit, much like the rest of the record it always feels as though something huge is missing and you’re constantly waiting for that little bit more. It’s, dare it be said, a tad boring. An album named Koloss should destroy, Meshuggah have been doing this long enough to know how to punch that home and whilst there are some sweetly gigantic moments here it just doesn’t pack the aggression you would expect.
Meshuggah is one of those bands I have an unnatural reverence for. Ever since I first heard Nothing, I've been in perpetual awe of their musical virtuosity and incredible technicality. Needless to say, when I heard they had a new album out, I emerged from my room, boldly risking such dangers as human interaction and contact with direct sunlight to get a copy of 2012's Koloss.
If I could sum it up in one sentence, I'd say: this is pretty much just Meshuggah as usual. If you have listened to any of their albums before, you'll know what to expect: a sweet, sweet combination of delicious grooves and unforgivably heavy metal. It's a pretty representative look at their career, too. "Behind the Sun" and "I Am Colossus" sound right out of Nothing with their slow, deep, plodding riffs, "Do Not Look Down" is full of the djenty bass goodness and mid-tempo aggressiveness of obZen, and "The Hurt That Finds You First" sounds like it was taken directly out of their Metallica-esque debut Contradictions Collapse. The presence of Meshuggah's fearsome thrash elements is quite welcome, given how neglected it often is throughout their discography. "The Demon's Name is Surveillance" in particular is a brutal, unrelenting piece of fury, and "Swarm" is impossible to describe without using phrases like "crazy nasty" and "aural hemorrhaging". Even "The Last Vigil", though something of a throwaway piece, is notable for being one of the few 'clean' pieces the band has recorded, something we haven't heard since "Acrid Placidity" on Destroy Erase Improve in 1995. It's a good closer to the album, reminding us that Meshuggah aren't all grease and groove (even if the song itself is a little bland).
Now that I've said all that, here's the biggest issue with this album: there are no standout tracks. There's nothing of the same obscenely satisfying calibre as the stupefying "New Millenium Cyanide Christ", or the moving "Straws Pulled at Random", or the absolutely pulverizing "Bleed". No song on Koloss carries that level of sublime writing to it. Sure, some tracks are better than others: "Marrow" and "Swarm" in particular seem to be stronger tracks. But there aren't any real all-career great tracks here, and the result is that the album begins to blur together after a while.
Another problem is that these are all fairly "safe" compositions for Meshuggah. None of the pieces feel like the band is taking any risks at all. Sure, it's okay to have a few more reserved, "normal" compositions on an album, but if that's all there is, the album feels a bit staid and stale. "Do Not Look Down", "Behind the Sun" and "I Am Colossus" in particular just reek of lazy, cookie-cutter writing (by their standards, anyway), and aren't even particularly interesting pieces on top of that. The band's normally very prominent and technically challenging math rock elements and polyrhythms are inexplicably toned down here, often being reduced to something as basic as a three-note pattern repeated over common time. Some pieces, like "The Demon's Name is Surveillance", just don't even try at all to mix it up, opting for straight-ahead streams of double bass drums and repetitive melodies. Hell, even the album artwork just looks like a blending of elements from Catch Thirtythree and obZen. Of all of the tracks on the album, only "Marrow" sounds relatively fresh for the band, and even then that's being incredibly generous.
And I know I'm gonna get flack for this one, but it's very apparent on this album that Thordendal only has two different types solos he can play: crazy random tapping ("The Demon's Name is Surveillance"; "Swarm") and slow melodic ambience ("I Am Colossus"; "Break Those Bones Whose Sinews Gave it Motion"). When you've heard both of these over and over for seven albums now (not even counting Sol Niger Within), it gets a little repetitive. I'm not saying in any way that he's a bad musician; what I am saying is that he has a few tricks that work and he sticks with them. "Do Not Look Down" has what is likely the only solo on the album that doesn't sound homogenous, and even then, it's essentially just going halfsies on both styles.
In fact, the only thing that really hasn't suffered on this album at all are Meshuggah's lyrics, which, as always, are top-notch. Pretty much every track (with vocals) on the album has excellent lyrics to go along with it, even if some of them can be a mouthful. One of my favourite lines comes from the otherwise boring "Do Not Look Down": " Do not look down / Or the abysmal beast of nonconformity might stare some unpleasant truth into your desensitized mind". You feel that? Shivers. Same as every album.
The special edition of the album includes a DVD with two 25 minute documentaries, neither of which are worth your time. The first, Konstructing the Koloss, features the band talking about how they like to keep their music "fresh" and how writing each album is a struggle (you know, the usual platitudes), as well as some details on how they recorded the album. In addition, it has enough camera blur effects to blind someone of weaker constitution. It's not incredibly interesting unless you're into the technical details of the album recording process and a fan of dropping brand names. The second, Meshuggah in India, features concert and tour footage from Meshuggah playing, fittingly enough, in India. It doesn't really have much of a purpose beyond providing an excuse to show a few clips of their performances and some short behind-the-scenes vignettes (not to mention the same excerpt from "Sum" played over and over).
So, what should you take away from this? To longtime fans of the band: this isn't stuff you haven't heard before, but it's still worth your time to listen to. Even if this album is on the weaker side for them, Meshuggah are still head and shoulders above other bands; an 'average' album for them would still be colossal (har har) effort for most of their peers. And even if they're not expanding outwards much at all, they are embellishing on what they've already established very well. If you're a first-time listener to Meshuggah, you'll find that Koloss is a satisfactory introduction to the band, and will provide a good, career-spanning idea of what the band's sound is like. It's not their best, but it's one of their easier albums to listen to, and can give you a good idea of what to expect from their masterpieces like Nothing or Destroy Erase Improve.
tl;dr: nothing new, buy it anyway
6.75 / 10
Reviewed by 2 writers.
Will Prinzi (Broken Bellows) SPB: What drummer (not your own band) stands out to you the most? Will: Thomas Haake (Meshuggah) is the greatest drummer ...
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Posted July 20, 2016, 10:40 a.m.
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Posted April 13, 2013, 10:13 a.m.
Kongh, who released Sole Creation this year, has announced they will join Meshuggah on their Scandanavian tour this May. Check out the dates below.
Posted Jan. 29, 2013, 9:19 a.m.
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