There is so much to admire about Meshuggah; their union of complex polyrhythms and crushing death metal riffs makes them one of the most technically ferocious bands in the history of music. They unwittingly blazed a trail for a whole sub-genre of heavy music so technically accomplished, it took about a decade for enough bands to become proficient enough to establish it as a movement.
Tonight is the last night of a UK and Ireland tour in support of their eighth album, The Violent Sleep of Reason. Keerych Luminokaya’s rich, vivid album artwork is re-created in sumptuous detail, providing a suitably horrific backdrop for the complex brutality on display. A synched light show almost as technical as the riffs that spew forth from the stage add occasional glimmers of beauty to the maelstrom and magnificent display of lasers lifts the set around the halfway mark, just as our battered ears might be about to tire.
Look at any review of Meshuggah's live show and you’re pretty much guaranteed to see the band described as playing with machine-like precision. It’s undeniably true that the five musicians are rigorously tight way beyond the means of 99% of other people on the planet but the descriptor does come with the insinuation that Meshuggah are emotionless. The lighting, whilst beautifully evocative, does little to dissuade this notion, presenting the band as one giant silhouetted hulking mass, but in truth, Meshuggah are perfectly adept at conveying emotion, provided those emotions are shot through with a searing polemic vitriol. The band’s latest album comments on many themes worthy of discussion; religious dogma, extremist views, the apathy of modern society to rise up against oppression, and is well-represented with some of its strongest cuts, including Clockworks, Nostrum and Born in Dissonance.
Vocalist Jens Kidman is a ferocious presence, his feral bark gradually meshing with the other instruments as another means with which to batter the audience's senses. And the skill with which drummer Tomas Haake manages to keep the whole train from de-railing whilst still playing in time-signatures that would boggle the brightest of minds is breath-taking.
The setlist has a momentum that sustains the brutality, a stunning feat considering how easy it might be for the listener to become accustomed to a vicious onslaught lasting 1 hour and 45 minutes. But herein lies a potential dilemma; it may have taken 30 years, but the world has now caught up with the savage intricacies that lie within Meshuggah’s music. For the first 15 years of their career, the Swedes were kings in a class of one, but in the last decade and a half, other pretenders to the tech-metal crown have sprung up in their wake (Car Bomb, Sikth, Ion Dissonance and Gojira to name but a few) and are beginning to take the genre into newly compelling avenues. It could be argued that Meshuggah haven’t really evolved their sound since 2008’s Obzen; refined and honed? Sure. But have they shown much growth in that time? Debatable.
Whether this is something that bothers you or not comes down to your disposition for being pummeld around the head with complex, intricate riffs so powerful, they could knock out a herd of elephants. It’s undeniable that Meshuggah’s influence and standing as a pioneer in heavy music is already written into the annals of metal history and their live show, as it stands, is powerful enough to continue to astonish fans around the world.
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