For one of the world’s most innovative, influential, and respected metal outfits, Meshuggah has long been at odds with its own genre, albeit indirectly. The Swedish band’s level of technical deconstruction has mercilessly laid waste to the more hackneyed elements of metal tradition, even as it’s helped revitalize its future. Still, zealous progressivism can become its own trap. Case in point: Meshuggah’s seventh full-length, Koloss. The good news is, it’s another predictably fantastic Meshuggah album. The bad news is, it’s another predictably fantastic Meshuggah album.
The pluses outweigh the minuses, and heavily. Granted, there’s not a single new beat, fresh riff, or young idea on Koloss; even the band’s last album, 2008’s excellent ObZen, threw a few subtle twists into the mix. But in recombining its own chromosomes, Meshuggah has turned Koloss—as its title suggests—into one of its most consistently Herculean discs. Opener “I Am Colossus” opts out of the obligatory epic intro and picks up practically in mid-syllable; guttural frontman Jens Kidman immediately evokes a pants-shitting awe of the archetypal and unknown, even as he and Fredrik Thordendal chisel out a comfortingly crushing monument to intricacy and distortion. The group’s signature complexity, however, is kept on a taut leash. Relying less on polyrhythmic dazzle and more on pure pulse, songs like “Behind The Sun” and “The Demon’s Name Is Surveillance” carry a primal menace that beautifully complements their apocalyptic dread and technophobia.
“Demon” also showcases one of the album’s few overt guitar solos—even if Thordendal does play it simultaneously sideways and inside-out. In fact, Koloss flaunts less jazzy virtuosity than any Meshuggah album to date. Even when the disc’s second half devolves into a sludgy yet atmospheric crawl (not counting the teeming “Swarm,” a textbook example of metallic onomatopoeia), the grooves are allowed to repeat and deepen. Then again, Kollos in general is an exercise in repetition and depth—not just in regard to the songs’ own structures, but to the band’s typically hyperkinetic attack. The result is more elliptical than progressive. But at this point in Meshuggah’s staggering career arc, there’s nothing wrong with slowing down to regroup, reflect, and reinforce the foundation.