Originally written by Rae Amitay
When Meshuggah announced their plans for Koloss, I knew that this news would dominate every metal outlet from that moment until weeks after the album’s release. Sure enough, each time Meshuggah issued an update, the metal universe ignited with near-manic excitement. Usually when this happens, I get nervous that the hype will end up drowning the final product. Not so with Koloss, which balances newfound accessibility with ever-present brutality in what may be Meshuggah’s most anticipated work. Their seventh full-length lives up to (and maybe even exceeds) the hype, in bone-splintering form. The tracks that the band has ‘leaked’ so far offer obvious (albeit incomplete) insight into the record, but the true glory of Koloss lies in the full listening experience.
In a few ways, Koloss picks up where obZen left off, but in a far more unyielding and captivating way. Opening with the slowly churning “I Am Colossus”, Meshuggah takes their command of groove and damn near enslaves it, trading in their former frenzied structures for something much more controlled and primitively brutal. The production on the album is stunning, trading in the digitized abstract battering from previous recordings and exploring a much weightier and more tangible sound. Each song is a clear part of a greater vision, as was the case with Catch Thirty-Three, but Koloss has far fewer stretches of ambient filler and is void of digitally manipulated narration. There are fewer frenetic riffs, but almost every track has a definitive hook that will demand multiple listenings and sold-out shows in support of this phenomenal record. It goes straight for the jugular and never loses murderously intense focus, but that focus may be a bit too static for purveyors of Meshuggah’s more convulsive offerings.
The album goes straight from the cool and collected aural castigation of the first track, into “The Demon’s Name Is Surveillance”. Instead of tapping the listener on the shoulder with a pounding intro or gradual progression, Meshuggah pistol-whips the audience into submission with a merciless up-tempo assault. If ever there was a clear-cut headbanging track on a Meshuggah album, this is it. The pace is relentless and the ferocity never wavers. “Do Not Look Down” opens with the band’s signature polyrhythmic synchronicity of chugging riffs with Tomas Haake’s drumming to create a five-minute embodiment of their evolutionary sound. It’s not the most creative song on the album, but it fits well within the context of Koloss, and it’s more vibrant than the track that follows.
“Behind The Sun” begins with a eerily subdued clean guitar, and invokes vague memories of “Acrid Placidity” from Destroy Erase Improve, but the guitar is soon joined by a sludgy riff and rock-solid drumming. Unfortunately, the song’s momentum is damaged by down-tempo repetition, and while most of Koloss’ tracks function quite well independently, this is not one of them. It almost comes across as an excessively long interlude, replete with technically proficient playing, but lacking substance until a few dynamic shifts toward the end. It’s a six-minute weak spot, only because the surrounding material is so damn strong.
“The Hurt That Finds You First” pulverizes any lingering sense of disappointment, with thrashing drums and a vigorously percussive feel. The short bursts emanating from the guitars and drums are at times echoed by Jens Kidman, but he also provides some lengthy roars worthy of praise. His vocals have greatly improved in range and overall quality over the years, and Koloss exemplifies some of his finest contributions to date. The track slows down in sections, but loses none of its dominance. Instead, the creeping and ominous ending only intensifies the song’s magnetism.
Meshuggah continues their unrelenting streak with “Marrow” and “Break Those Bones Whose Sinews Gave It Motion”, the latter of which is one of the best tracks on the album. There’s incredible varying textures and the seven minutes fly by in a wicked blur of aggression and atmosphere. “Swarm” lives up to its name with buzzing chords and brilliant offerings from the bass and drums. “Demiurge” continues their spine-shattering prowess, and makes the quiet closing of “The Last Vigil” all the more provocative. It’s an interesting choice to end the album, with softly resounding guitars and a somber sonic landscape. The instrumental piece serves as a series of breaths, a reprieve from the exquisite violence created on this prodigious record.