One of the most ridiculous trends in recent years is djent, a form of metal rooted in the mathematical tempos, dizzying polyrhythms and jackhammer guitars of Swedish experimental metal veterans, Meshuggah. New pioneers of the djent scene, including Periphery and Tesseract, are combining Meshuggah’s inventions with progressive noodling and the sugary choruses of metalcore bands like Killswitch Engage to create a dichotomy of sound praised by many for its incongruity and shunned by others for its, well, silliness. Unsurprisingly, Meshuggah want nothing to do with the alleged genre, and it’s actually possible that being credited as progenitors of djent inspired them to create the diverse, playfully inventive and mindblowing Koloss.
There’s one element that unites Meshuggah with the djent crew — the desire to stretch boundaries. But while young djentlemen strive to be expand their parameters by learning their instruments and following a challenging formula, Meshuggah have always shunned convention by reinventing themselves with each new outing.
The band’s last record, 2008′s obZen was an unrelenting barrage of rage, paranoia and misanthropy that mirrored the insanity of a war-ravaged globe, and (perhaps accidentally) adopted the axiom that to rebuild it is sometimes necessary to destroy. With the ground razed and the slate cleared, Meshuggah set the stage for Koloss, which showcases new musical and emotional approaches and sounds like an album the musicians had fun making instead of a laborious scientific pursuit, as much of their past work has been.
Instead of overwhelming listeners with walls of noise and busts of speed, Meshuggah have composed songs with a wide range of oddball sounds, tempos and rhythms that are more playful than nightmarish. Rather than lash out like an uncaged beast, Meshuggah invite listeners to approach with caution. And in lieu of resurfacing with a new, but definable sound, the band blast out a dozen new styles and techniques and dare us to find a name for it all. Djent it sure ain’t.
“I am Colossus” starts with a tribal chug that builds into a mid-tempo beat penetrated by stabbing arrhythmic guitars and a vocal rant that sound like a hybrid of Jesus Lizard’s David Yow and Ministry’s Al Jourgensen. “The Demon’s Name is Surveillance” sounds like coughing, hyperspeed chainsaws cutting petrified trees, and features a guitar solo that might have been played on an instrument missing every other string. Then there’s the almost standard tones of “Do Not Look Down,” which flaunts (dare we say it) a fairly traditional beat (even if the snare strikes seem almost random) and jagged guitars reminiscent of Helmet. But as soon as the song locks into a groove, the beat flips sideways and the riff turns into a warped series of notes, as if the instrument neck were suddenly being bent like a Gumby doll.
Elsewhere, Meshuggah experiment with guitar string tapping, headbobbing thrash beats, slow, groove-laden bass lines, and even atmospheric guitar arpeggios. The final cut, “The Last Vigil” is a guitar collage of echoing notes and layered melodies that proves that, if they wanted to, Meshuggah — like their Swedish peers Opeth — could stretch far beyond the confines of jawdropping metal. It’s definitely food for thought, but for now they deserve to exchange a round of high-fives and revel in the masterpiece they’ve created.