Even for fans of heavy music, a Meshuggah gig is an intimidating prospect – their extreme metal aggression fused with polyrhythmic textures makes them a disorientating experience without respite.
Fellow Swedes The Haunted are the heaviest band on the bill in the vast majority of circumstances, but their thrash metal approach seems a little safe here compared to the headliners.
They initially struggle with a crowd happy to be pummelled by technical proficiency over displays of who can pull off the fastest riff, but as they slow down into a more groove metal orientated part of the set, the heads start nodding and the people start bouncing.
As hyper-masculine as it all is, they do appear genuinely appreciative of everyone who paid them any attention, seemingly aware of how special it is in the current musical climate for two inaccessible bands to be playing such a large room.
Meshuggah’s latest album, The Violent Sleep of Reason, is hardly any more welcoming than the rest of their relentless back catalogue, with opener ‘Clockworks’ stretching past seven minutes and not once slowing down for a breather.
This constant battering of the listener might weigh down a live show if it were not for the equally technically marvellous light show that keeps pace with every twist and turn throughout the set.
‘Clockworks’ opens the headliners’ set, and it is as musically tight as you would imagine, but what elevates it in the live environment is the backlit stage with lighting as aggressive as their music which silhouettes the band as monstrous stoic figures.
Frontman Jens Kidman prowls the stage with his arms apart from his body as if he is soaking wet, while every guitarist stands with their legs apart, slowly nodding back and forth: it is restrained for an extreme band, but adds to their gargantuan presence.
Red and blue lights flicker back and forth to give the stage a sense of motion, as if the riffs have become so heavy things have begun to literally fall apart, or that the foundations of the place are awakening.
Each tiny rhythmic anomaly and each tonal shift is captured perfectly via the light show, searing into your eyes in a way that somehow avoids becoming bothersome, but is absolutely as violent as their music.
The devoted following Meshuggah have amassed over 30-years is staggering, as tracks like ‘Bleed’ and ‘Future Breed Machine’ are greeted like mainstream classics, but classics they absolutely are with the latter in particular influencing any even slightly interesting metal release of the last 20-years.
Everything is note-perfect, and they show no signs of slowing down or exploring tamer sides as they enter their late 40s – while plenty metal trends have come and gone, Meshuggah have stayed the course, stayed fierce, and have never compromised.
Despite the respect and acclaim they rightly earn, it is inarguably difficult music to penetrate, but their live show makes a huge effort to contextualise what it is they do, so even if things have yet to click on record, catching a Meshuggah gig might just be what you need for it all to fall into place.
Words: Scott Wilson
Photos: Stewart Fullerton