(BadWolf reviews KOLOSS. Need I say more?)
Meshuggah’s career boggles the mind. Now 30-plus years into their tenure, their ubiquitous style of polyrhythmic metal has crossed as many genre boundaries as it has informed — death, thrash, groove, industrial, ‘post-‘. . . Meshuggah fits all of these containers, but never completely.
If you never have, I dare you to listen to their discography front-to-back. Witness their awkward beginning in And Justice For All... worship; the solidifying identity of Destroy Erase Improve and Chaosphere; the cryogenic sound of Nothing (itself as far ahead of its time as AJFA was); the cybernetic experiments of I and Catch Thirtythree; and finally the culmination of all that experimenting with even tighter songwriting in ObZen.
ObZen. There’s the rub — or rather the rub lies in its tour. Meshuggah toured behind that album with Cynic and The Faceless. I predicted [here] just weeks after seeing it that the ObZen tour would spawn a new era of metal. As far as I’m concerned, I was right: Djent started its ascent shortly thereafter. Sure, Tesseract, Textures, and Periphery existed before, but their major breaks and endless legion of imitators followed after.
What was Meshuggah to do, having inadvertently created a new vision for what Heavy Metal could be?
They took the ball in the opposite direction, and created Koloss. Instead of a new vision of metal, these ten tracks aspire to the traditions of classic metal records—punchy riffs, structural songwriting. For the first time since Chaosphere, Meshuggah sound like five men in a room together, not disembodied entities conjuring sound from a digital hell.
The production on Koloss is red-hot — every bit as precise as Meshuggah have been, but more flesh than machine. Most of the odd synthesizer tracks and ambient jazz sections have been cut away almost completely. In addition, Koloss sports fewer riffs per capita (at least to these ears) but at a far greater hook-to-minute yield. There are a few more introspective tracks — “Behind the Sun” in particular is a standout, alongside closer “The Last Vigil” — but these tracks serve as pauses in the action or gracenotes, rather than random space-filling noodles.
For the first time ever, minimalism is the watchword. For example, Koloss launches right into the tank-tread chugging of “I Am Colossus,” with Kidman’s vocals following the rest of the music in short succession. Almost like hardcore punk, Meshuggah disregard the intro, and skip right to the meat of the music. Then, much like the one-two punch of the best heavy album openers (“Necrophobic” following “Angel of Death,” “Master of Puppets” following “Battery,” “Hourglass” following “Laid to Rest”) “The Demon’s Name Is Surveillance” launches into a more rapid attack, as if the engine of the band kicks up a gear and explodes from suburban street to highway. What does that mean? Moshing. Headbanging. They will happen with great frequency and at prodigious magnitude.
It also makes Koloss out to be a willing step away from Djent. If their followers have been adding more and more flourishes to their music, putting on fancier clothes if you will, Meshuggah have been lifting weights — exchanging aesthetics for killing capacity. The difference between Koloss and ObZen is like the difference between Chaosphere and Destroy Erase Improve.
In fact, the only real criticism I could level at the record on the first listen was the lack of a standout song. The album felt great, but I couldn’t find a “Bleed” or a “Rational Gaze.” Then I heard “Swarm” and had a conniption fit. Do you remember the Wildebeast scene in The Lion King, where baby Simba is threatened by a cavalcade of stampeding hooves? “Swarm” feels like that, except Meshuggah is the mass of animals trampling you. The song only feels sweeter when it gives way to the climax of “Demiurge,” where the ominous background noises finally return in a sweet, minimalist whiff of atmosphere before the record ends.
At this point I see no reason to rank albums or rate bests or worsts; I would settle with saying Koloss comes across as conservative compared to Nothing, Catch Thirtythree, or I. What Koloss adds to Meshuggah’s legacy — besides 10 killer tracks to supplement their already mosh-friendly live repertoire — is a movement away from the commercialized dross of their imitators, and toward consistent records that they can pull off on tours.
Or think of it this way: to borrow a christian metaphor, Meshuggah are watchmakers — frequently Rolexes. This one trades diamond studs for crystal panels — all the better to see the gears beneath, my dear. While it may not match your most cutting-edge fashion, it’s still going to look pimp around your wrist — and sound sick on your iPod.
Koloss will be released by Nuclear Blast in Europe on March 23rd and in North America on March 26th. The North American deluxe digi-pak version includes a bonus, hour-long DVD with studio footage taken during the making of the album. Pre-order options are available here. And Nuclear Blast has kindly provided a free download at this location of one song from the album — “Break Those Bones Whose Sinews Gave It motion”.
Meshuggah is headlining THE OPHIDIAN TOUR with support from Baroness and Decapitated. It begins April 29. Here are confirmed dates:
4/29/12 House of Blues – Houston, TX
4/30/12 House of Blues – Dallas, TX
5/01/12 Emo’s – Austin, TX
5/03/12 Marquee Theatre – Tempe, AZ
5/04/12 House of Blues – Anaheim, CA
5/05/12 House of Blues – Hollywood, CA
5/06/12 The Fillmore – San Francisco, CA
5/08/12 Commodore Ballroom – Vancouver, B.C. – CANADA
5/09/12 Showbox Sodo – Seattle, WA
5/11/12 Odgen Theatre – Denver, CO
5/13/12 First Avenue – Minneapolis, MN
5/15/12 House of Blues – Chicago, IL
5/16/12 St. Andrews Hall – Detroit, MI
5/17/12 Sound Academy – Toronto, ON – CANADA
5/18/12 Theatre of the Living Arts – Philadelphia, PA
5/19/12 Palladium – Worcester, MA
5/20/12 Olympia de Montreal – Montreal, QUE – CANADA
5/22/12 The Fillmore – Silver Springs, MD
5/23/12 Terminal 5 – New York, NY