JAM Magazine Concert Reviews

May 1, 2012
Emo's
Austin, TX USA
Review by Justin Press
Photos by Terry Walsh

Meshuggah

Sweden's Meshuggah has always been heralded as the more extreme, visceral version of Tool. But as time moves onward, the brainchild of guitarist Fredrik Thordendal and drummer Tomas Haake's has grown ever increasingly tribal and rhythmic. In their restless state, the band has created its own 'game of thrones' in which they no longer swear any fealty to the presumptive bearer of the crown - in this instance Tool - and have staked their own unabashed claim as the rightful heirs to the progressive metal kingdom.

The group's latest entry, Koloss, shifts further away from their lacerating earlier efforts of Destroy Erase Improve. The move has transformed Meshuggah's sound into a swirl of warring rhythms, atonal space passages and free-form jazz madness, all anchored as usual by the sixth "instrument" in the band, Jens Kidman's voice. Through all the guttural roars Kidman's mouth can utter, it somehow provides the backbone to this already titanium built monster.

The show at Emo's in Austin was set amidst a backdrop of an Egyptian Gorgon. White lights and haze welcomed the quartet on stage as they made the walls quake to the slow motion grind of "Obsidian". It set the crowd up for the teeth chattering 'Pravus". Haake's double-bass work along with Thordendal, and co-guitarist Martin Hagstrom's 8-string, turned this overflow crowd of hearty souls into a swaying sea of bodies. Metal heads never known for their 'dancing' abilities sure were grooving to the sound of the band. Heavy on the rhythmic trappings of Roots-era Sepultura, it was easy to get swept up in the trance of it all.

By the time the band finished "Do Not Look Down", there was little doubt there would be many necks aching the next morning. The highlight, as far as I was concerned, was Meshuggah's epic 13-minute opus, "In Death - Is Death" off of the Catch Thirty-Three album. For all intent and purpose, this was the real starting point for this band's attention to rhythm over chaos. But it wasn't all creepy-crawl and bass rumblings this evening as "The Hurt That Finds You First" and "New Millennium Cyanide Christ" reminded one that Meshuggah also has a "strike first, questions later" side to them. In such instances of speed and aggression, Slayer has nothing on these Swedes.

This extraordinary group of musicians truly excels at the niche in prog metal that it has created for itself. Tracks like "Bleed" and "Rational Gaze" mapped out monsters that sound like the tail of a dragon whipping itself into a maniacal frenzy. During all this shamanistic pounding, there is Thordendal's clinic like space tones and oddly timed solos burrowing into the mush that your head has become. It's like hearing a power drill in the distance during a thunderstorm; it doesn't overpower you but does intrigue.

As the last chords of the encore, "Dancers To A Discordant System" poured out of the sound system, the audience was given notice that what they had witnessed and no doubt, shake, rattled and rolled to, was the genesis of almost twenty years of work by the band summed up in a brutally original 15-song set. Meshuggah's importance in the metal scene can never be overstated since they continuously deconstruct the architecture of their sound, only to build it back up in a different formation.

These Swedish metal heavyweights are true torchbearers in a genre that can work against itself in so many ways. They lay waste to the notion that heavy metal is a one-trick pony. For every Lamb of God and A7X, there is a Meshuggah out there always stretching the perimeters of their art without sacrificing the voluminous brutality its subjects all crave. Sweat definitely poured out of bodies tonight.

Set List:
Obsidian
Demiurge
Pravus
Combustion
Glints Collide
Lethargica
Do Not Look Down
The Hurt that Finds You
In Death - Is Death
Bleed
New Millennium Cyanide Christ
I Am Colossus
Rational Gaze
Future Breed Machine
Dancers to a Discordant System