By James Whitlock
Date / Venue: Thursday March 9th, 2017 - The Powerstation, Auckland
Meshuggah's music is brutal in a way that is difficult explain... or comprehend. But I'll try.
Nup… Brutal. That’s all I can come up with. Brutal. Brutal. Brutal.
Heavy metal has more sub-genres than almost any other type of music (except maybe dance/techno) and Meshuggah owns most of them, as well as inventing a few extras.
They have spawned a generation of 8-string guitarists and drummers who play in their socks. Maybe not so brutal in itself, but the sound coming from those shoeless and bestringed nutters definitely is... brutal.
It's an easy thing to say... that a band "leads the charge" or "challenges the norms" but these guys truly and genuinely do. They pick a new hitherto un-thought-of direction and just go there. And everyone follows... or tries to.
They’ve been doing this since 1990 when drummer Tomas Haake joined the band. This guy is a rhythm savant. Seriously, as a drummer of some 20 years myself, I can play along to most music I listen to… but with Meshuggah I don’t have a chance. It would take months of careful analysis (and endurance training!) to get close.
So, given that I’m something of a long term fan, I really was looking forward to seeing them play live again... this time at the mighty Powerstation.
But first we had to get through the warm up act - Thy Art is Murder, from New South Wales. The intro to their first song got me all hot and ready for some polyrhythmic glory but before long it descended into pretty standard fare. Don't get me wrong, it was good solid 4-on-the-floor death metal with a personable front man who broke the mould quite nicely. Huge kudos to him for voicing the struggle he's had with substance abuse and rehab. He got a cheer from the crowd but I hope his message of encouragement really did hit home for any troubled souls in the room. Not easy to stand up in front of a hard-arse bunch of metallers and do that.
During their last song he even went for a good ol' crowd surf, which was hilarious to behold... in a good way. Keep doing what you're doing Brendan van Ryn... you obviously have a decent NZ fan base and you deserve it.
Then Meshuggah arrived on stage and for the next 80 minutes… tore my mind a new one.
I can truly say that I’ve never before experienced a concert that was so clinical and deliberate in its assault on the senses. The light show was perfectly synchronised to the music, and fired into the audience with such ferocity that at times it seemed as though those shafts of white, red and yellow were beaming the sound directly into our heads.
After the first three songs (Clockworks, Born in Dissonance and Sane), my adrenaline was up and I couldn’t wait for more. Then a brief hello from frontman Jens Kidman before launching into Perpetual Black Second then the fantastic Stengah from their fourth album ‘Nothing’ (my highlight of the night).
Not long after, I looked around the room and noticed that the energy of the crowd had subsided a bit. There were still breakdowns of certain songs that got them moshing again but I realised that they (and I) were tired man. We had been beaten up.
Meshuggah didn’t let up. They kept slamming wave after wave of their insane rhythmic sleight-of-hand and darting lightsabres into us. I felt like Alex during his ‘therapy sessions’ in A Clockwork Orange... unable to bear it any longer, but unable to look away.
They finished their main set with Bleed… one of the most infamous and beloved metal songs of the last decade. Seeing the endurance and precision required to pull this off at the level they did was truly a sight to behold. If you’re rhythmically inclined and are interested to understand this song a bit… try the little exercise I’ve set for you at the bottom of this page.
Going to a Meshuggah concert is like running a marathon while solving a rubik’s cube… in a thunderstorm. It is brutal in every sense… on every sense. I’m so glad these guys are doing what they do. They are one of a kind.
Full setlist: Clockworks, Born in Dissonance, Sane, Perpetual Black Second, Stengah, The Hurt that Finds You, Lethargica, Do Not Look Down, Nostrum, Violent Sleep of Reason, Dancers to a Discordant System, Bleed (Encore: Demiurge)
Meshuggah’s Bleed – a brief explanation of how hard it must be to play live:
I mentioned lightsabres in my review. If you say the phrase “lightsabre fight” out loud, that’s a mnemonic for one cycle of the rhythm that plays at the beginning and end of the song.
Now say “lightsabre fight” over and over as fast as you can. That’s the rhythm Tomas is playing with his feet… while he plays a cool and casual 4/4 backbeat over the top.
Now get three guitarist mates to play the same rhythm in exact unison, while slowly bending their note up and down over three semi-tones… also in exact unison with each other.
That sorts out the first verse (and the outro). The second verse is different (but only very slightly), and the breakdown and middle sections of the song are different again. Oh and the song is 7 ½ minutes long.
These guys are geniuses.