Swedish extreme metal band Meshuggah has never been conformist, in any sense. With this, their third major full-length release, they've once again defied expectations and changed their approach from the whirlwind insanity of Chaosphere and jazz-fusion stylings of D:E:I, favouring instead a very tightly-controlled, deliberate and unrelenting sonic assault.
It's a gamble, but one that ultimately pays off, despite criticism from "fans" who were expecting another Chaosphere. What this album lacks in speed, it makes up for with sheer heaviness and complexity, as the listener is battered by Thordendal and Hagstrom's awesomely heavy 8-string riffs, complemented by the most intelligent drumming on any metal album courtesy of Tomas Haake, and finished off by Jens Kidman's intense vocal growl (you can just imagine the veins popping out on his neck and temples). As with previous Meshuggah releases, all the instruments seem to work against each other, but somehow the conflict always resolves itself and everything meshes together beautifully. The only thing really missing is Frederik Thordendal's awesome Houldsworth-inspired jazz-fusion solos, which wouldn't really have fit very well with the texture of the album overall, although the odd solo can be heard here and there. (Of course, if you want solos, you can always listen to D:E:I.)
Nothing is a difficult album to withstand, but ultimately very rewarding, as with each listen you become more familiar with the complex interlocking patterns within the music, and further appreciate the technical skill and musicianship of the band. Hopefully this new direction will bring them the commercial success they richly deserve.