In the four years since the release of Meshuggah’s last effot, 2008’s superb obZen, it’s no stretch to say that the metal world has changed a bit. Massively downtuned guitars and polyrhythmic structures are pretty much vogue these days and this is the band predominantly responsible for that. Bands like Periphery, Tesseract and Uneven Structure have taken palm-muted guitar riffs to heart and pushed that core musical ideal further than Meshuggah perhaps ever could, which has led some to ponder aloud if Sweden’s biggest metallic cult band are relevant anymore, as their original formula has been so refined and, in some cases, improved upon. Whilst it is true that there are a number of bands doing exciting things with a sound Meshuggah inadvertently popularised, suggesting that they’re over the hill as a result of that comes across as exceptionally trite when you consider how young the scene known as djent actually is. Couple that with the fact that we’re dealing with a band that only tends to release an album every 3 to 4 years (the Approximately Whenever We Feel Like It timescale) and you’re left to wonder if people want Meshuggah to fail. Interest in Koloss, the band’s seventh full length is understandably high, and ultimately, it’s a mixed bag, failing to match up to previous classics, but providing enough evidence to casual bat aside any notions of irrelevance.
As early as the slow, rumbling stomp of opener I Am Colossus, it’s clear that attempting to predict Meshuggah’s reaction to the host of chuggy whippersnappers consistently aping their sound was foolish; it appears that they haven’t really taken any notice at all. In a way, good on ‘em; Meshuggah’s approach throughout Koloss remains as uncompromising, nihilistic and satisfyingly brutal as ever. Follow-up The Demon’s Name Is Surveillance is one of the most pulverizing songs of the band’s career, with its constantly pounding double-bass beat over an elastic main riff, and Behind The Sun lurches and evolves into a deliciously dark epic. As with obZen, Koloss’ greatest strength lies in its variation and ability to change things up, refusing to anchor itself to a singular tempo or sound. It also represents frontman Jens Kidman’s best vocal performance to date, with a welcome clarity added to his admittedly one-dimensional bark not previously heard of.
This sailing doesn’t stay consistently plain, however, and Koloss does have its issues. Whilst Meshuggah have certainly earned the right to have their music judged on its own terms and without the influence of the output of perceived peers clouding anyone’s judgement, you can’t escape from the fact that this is simply not one of their best releases. Demiurge gets stuck in a primitive, uninspiring thud that it doesn’t recover from, Swarm offers a fairly sparse rhythm that it never fully develops, only being saved by a typically obtuse solo from Fredrik Thordendal and The Hurt That Finds You First seems so preoccupied with bouncing along with a speed of a hardcore punk number that it never attempts to be a decent song. Even first single Break Those Bones Whose Sinews Gave It Motion relies far too much on its atmosphere, offering riffs that never grab your attention. This hardly amounts to a grand failure, but in the context of a Meshuggah album, after four years of waiting, these issues stick out and hold it back. This severely diminishes the impact of closer The Last Vigil, a haunting instrumental guitar passage, and Koloss just gently slips away from you innocuously, leaving you to ponder just how much of an effect it’s truly had on you.
Ultimately, if you strip away the hype, the waiting, the questioning and that legendary aura surrounding Koloss, then you’re left with what amounts to a decent metal record. It certainly never veers towards the disastrous but it doesn’t flatter as consistently as you might expect. It is somewhat disappointing considering Meshuggah have taken four years to follow-up obZen, and returned with what amounts to a record spent mostly on cruise control. That sort of coasting would be unacceptable if not for the quality of some of the material on offer, so credit where credit’s due. The problem is that you know Meshuggah can do better.