Metal is about power. Raw, skull crushing, blood boiling power. It should feel like you were struck by lightning while running with the bulls in Pamplona. Like getting the best head of your life after you’ve won a shootout with the cops. The sublime release of every impulse coursing through our veins to substantiate the feral inside. The innovative style that Meshuggah has been crafting since they formed back when the likes of Bon Jovi were still considered ‘Heavy Metal’ is incredibly technically proficient, with intricate polyrhythms and clockwork chugs weaving throughout a sea of dissonance and distortion. Yet through all this, band leader and legendary drummer Tomas Haake holds down that rock n’ roll 4 count with his china crash and hi-hat like a freight train without brakes. At this point, they are elders having created a sub-genre to call their own. This year they released Koloss, an album which stylistically continues very much in the same vein as their last effort obZen, with a steady progression in their technical prowess. This will be my third time seeing them (fourth if you include an abbreviated three song opening set for Ministry) and in my long and spoiled career as a concert goer, I would put their last appearance at the Commodore in my Top Ten Shows of all time….maybe even top five. The bar was set pretty high.
Unfortunately, I didn’t arrive in time to catch Decapitated’s opening set. From what I heard from my friends who did catch them, it was so good that they should have been billed ahead of Savannah Georgia’s, Baroness. I saw Baroness tear Pat’s Pub a new asshole about five years back when they were riding the wave of sea shanty paced triplet metal popularized by bands like Mastodon in the last decade (though inspired ultimately by Black Sabbath. Credit where credit’s due…). Since then, they’ve garnered a following and critical acclaim for 2009’s The Blue Album. The set flowed back and forth with rising swells bursting in to four on the floor rockers then sinking back in to atmospheric obscurity. The dual leads from the guitarists, though not as cheesy as most power metal, fell flat after being used as a gimmick for several songs. At one point, they played a quasi-punk track that took me right out of it and basically spoiled them for me. It’s incredibly unfortunate that instrumental masters, Animals as Leaders weren’t able to stay on tour with Meshuggah after their stint together through Europe. They would have been the perfect fit. (If you have not heard them yet, CHECK THEM OUT).
The crowd was whipped in to a frenzy waiting for the main event while disco Rod Stewart was played on repeat till the band was good and ready. Tribal chants of Meh-SHU-GAH! summoned the mausoleum ghost choir that precedes the onslaught of Demiurge off their newest release. Their first attack wave is fully united, the dual guitars, bass and drums all pounding out a single diving line. The vocals of Jens Kidman are used to offset the instrumental rhythm, his rabid cougar growl serving more as a metered counterpoint to the rhythm section rather than a melodic lead. By the time the band launched in to the speed metal masterpiece ‘Combustion’, the doubles of Buffalo Trace bourbon had kicked in nicely and I crashed the pit to the juggernaut opener from obZen. The following numbers brought out their sludgy doom pacing which took no energy away from the churning pit but taking a step back, I noticed that among the fat sweaty metal fuckers and the bondage babes, I was standing next to a dude in a plaid button-up shirt and a bow-tie. A fucking bow-tie! Index fingers nerdily to the sky, I could see him counting out the oddly cycled riff progressions and getting off on it. Meshuggah have a rare following. Beyond the black minions who revel in the dark spirit they invoke (which I do appreciate) and the burning man hippies who sway to the tides of their teetering grooves (which I appreciate as well), there are musical connoisseurs who take it in like sipping a fine wine. Like a surreal jazz conception. Duke Ellington once said when asked about his piano playing: “This? …..This is not piano, this is dreaming”. In Meshuggah’s case they use juxtaposition to recreate the absurd and disjointed realm of the dream world.
The midpoint of the set highlighted their concept album Catch Thirty-Three with a trio of songs beginning with a dystopian robot soliloquy and culminating with a flawlessly executed syncopated opus. Each musician lays out a completely different yet unbelievably complimentary line to riff on in a monstrous build to a crushing unified finish. The band brought the night back to a slightly more straight forward groove with their biggest ‘hits’ to date; the air-raid frenzy Bleed and the whiplash inducing New Millennium Cyanide Christ. Through the stuttered evolving chugging, the snare lands right in the middle of the beat like a Viking drummer keeping the rowers on pace. Another from Koloss and the 2002 single ‘Rational Gaze’ rounded out the main set and the band left the stage to a roaring crowd of satisfied but not satiated fans.
The band dished out two more offerings to ensure you wouldn’t be moving your neck the next morning. An urgent alarm sample jabbed in time with their break through record, Future Breed Machine. For the finale, the closer from obZen, a long line of groove-slaves (myself included) headbanged in unison as the band jammed out on the last sludgy riff. In the end, talking about it can’t do it justice. The power of a band that grabs you by the collar or the balls or the lady balls like they do is indescribable. The only other acts that I can put in the same category are The Dillinger Escape Plan and Ministry. From the moment they launch in to the first number you are hooked in to a parallel universe. Time does not act the same, the rules of music that you are accustomed to on a daily basis vanish. Raw fucking power surges through you. A friend of mine was standing on the edge of the swirl of the pit and at one point a 250 pound, 30 year old dude came barreling towards him. He grabbed my friend by both shoulders, yelled “This is the first religious experience I’ve had in my life!!!” then turned around and vanished back in to the crowd. This is what truly powerful metal is capable of. Long live…