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Monday, March 5, 2012

Album Review: Meshuggah – Koloss (Nuclear Blast)

As a late arrival at the Meshuggah table I find, at times, that I can be driven nuts by their overbearing attack and often flat, uneven grind. Their music may be bulging with slap-in-the-face aggression, something that is overwhelmingly exciting when witnessed live, but it’s a feature that requires a little more craft when brought to bear on an album. Too many times, all for the sake of an addictive hook, stand-out riff or crafty lyric, they seem to allow tracks to be dragged down into the deep. It’s here in these submerged waters that I lose them, only hearing the sound of repetitious, over-familiarity echoing from undefined sources coming from somewhere above the waterline.

For a band that’s birthed a whole genre of wannabes I’m clearly in the minority here. It’s exactly this level of adoration that adds extra pressure to each Meshuggah offering as they strive to stay ahead of the game. One glance at seventh long-player Koloss shows they aren’t afraid of going the extra mile to please. I mean, just look at that album art. It’s all a bit reminiscent of some of Tool’s more-innovative covers with its mind-bending 3D digital rendering. Stare too long at the image and your brain begins to hurt. That took Luminokaya Lab a whole nine months to create so could feasibly contain the entire World Wide Web within its multitude of brassy squiggles! So, if Koloss can cause pain on a visual level, how does the album stack up sonically?

Well, “I Am Colossus” is typically pin-point accurate and easily as deeply-furrowed as Nothing’s “Stengah”. As an opening track, it’s a beast. Instantly, they concentrate on one rumbling chord and ping it repeatedly you, loading everything into the steady, syncopated rhythm whilst Jens Kidman meshes his monotone, scorched earth vocal to it. Meshuggah are sending out a clear message of intent. “Palm-mute this, you mothers… JUN… JUN… JUN… JUN… JUN JUN…”. The guts of it are so deep that when the guitars let loose, the strings are dropped so low, you need to strain to hear the changes. It’s skull-crushingly heavy.

“The Demon’s Name Is Surveillance” is a speed-freak, light on its feet next to the elephantine “I Am Colossus”. The whirling vortex created by the continuous double-kick of Tomas Haake drills ever downwards. He’s back with more pummelling crush for “Swarm” which will make your skin creep. Behind the thunder drums, the crawling guitars go batshit mental to recreate the sound of a billion insects screaming out of the sky to poison and devour you. You won’t forget this one in a hurry, already a future classic, and as such it eats Machine Head’s recent insectivorous offering, “Locust”, for breakfast.

These are the kind of tracks we expect from Meshuggah; it’s when you dig deeper that you begin to find their mixed bag of tricks. There’s the Primussian slapped funk of “Don’t Look Down” which gets a harder, dirtier make-over for “Break Those Bones Whose Sinews Gave It Motion.” Check out that spiralling solo and those semi-distant atmospherics on the former, or that trippy, warbling guitar on the latter and tell me these psychos don’t pay attention to their surroundings.

“Behind The Sun” finds them stretching each note, grinding them into a murky wall of sound, generating a backdrop that sounds as complex as their cover appears. The band appear to be sucking up a doom/black metal quality to go with their vindictive death metal patter and they save some of that primordial darkness for “Demiurge”. However, be warned, this one’s a real howler of a track if you’re seeking a similar spark. It’s so lacking in charm you may as well listen to the sound of your own heartbeat through a stethoscope for six minutes instead.

And that’s Koloss in a nutshell. For every blinder, you get a duffer. So, whilst “Marrow” lurches and energises with its pinged guitar slaps overwhelming alongside clean, scrambling solos and fuzzball chugs, you get the bafflingly, mighty attack of “The Hurt That Finds You”. With tightened snare and bags of crunch, it’s a song so sharp it hurts and yet it’s all for nothing when it seems the destination is Nowheresville.
Judging it from afar, it’s easy to spot the dirge-like hammering and prolonged sections of extreme technicality of Nothing running through Koloss, and yet the band still find time for the kind of dark, mesmeric groove and changes of tempo that you’d associate more readily with obZen. And yet, there’s something new here; something infinitely more enigmatic; a dangerous edge bordering on a barren, post-apocalyptic atmosphere. Whether that is something that will inspire their legion of admirers remains to be seen but, considering how the metal scene has so easily fallen back in love with mood-metal, I can’t see it hurting them.

There, and I didn’t use the D-word… not even once.

Also online @ Ave Noctum = http://www.avenoctum.com/2012/03/meshuggah-koloss-nuclear-blast/
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