Few extreme metal bands seem to have put much thought into how to present their music on bigger stages, probably because they never expected to pull large audiences. There’s crazy ol’ Devin Townsend, obviously, but he exists in a field of his own. Not content with an unrelenting sonic assault, Sweden’s unmerry djentlemen Meshuggah have always added a powerful visual component to their sensory barrage. Not in their own performance, since they appear mostly in shadow or silhouette, but in a retina-scorching light show that isn’t programmed but ‘played’ live by offstage sixth band member Edvard Hansson in perfect synchronisation with the sound.
They pitch up at the Academy every four years or so and each time the lights get bigger, brighter and more spectacular. While some metal bands set out to impress us with a giant Marshall stack, Meshuggah present a multi-layered stage set with giant translucent backdrops based on the Violent Sleep of Reason cover artwork, each flanked by a tower bearing an arsenal of state-of-the-art, multi-coloured spinning LEDs topped with powerful strobes. Further lights, including lasers, are positioned at ground level and above the stage. If the Academy had a glass roof, there are enough lumens here to be seen from Mars.
Fellow veteran Swedes and Meshuggah’s old chums The Haunted manage to squeeze themselves onto the stage in between all this high-tech gear for a suitably ferocious support set. With roots in the early ’90s melodic death metal scene, they sound decidedly old-school next to the headliners’ cutting-edge experimentalism, but have no difficulty in winning over the already packed crowd. A suitably belligerent Hate Song wraps things up nicely for the main event.
Nothing quite prepares Meshuggah virgins for what happens next, as the sheer exhilarating force of metal et lumiere makes those old psychedelic Hawkwind shows feel positively candle-powered by comparison. During opener Clockworks, some members of the audience even respond as though they’re at a fireworks show, oohing and aahing when the rapidly moving beams of light sweep and mesh in the fog to produce an effect that feels like the Aurora Borealis dancing above the stage. Like the music, however, this is not just about blunt force: each song is carefully thought out and appropriately colour-coded to produce a complementary and immersive experience.
Ah yes, the music. Considering this is the first date on a lengthy tour, Meshuggah are on quite magnificent form. As usual, a good proportion of the plaudits must go to astonishing drummer Tomas Haake (23/16 time, anybody?) and extraordinarily creative guitarists Fredrik Thordendal and Marten Hagstrom, who collectively push metal into a thrilling new territory somewhere at the outer reaches of prog and jazz.
Then disaster strikes and the lights fail. Actually, a brief interlude of minimalism amid the visual onslaught works rather well and they ought to consider incorporating it into the show. But unfortunate growler Jens Kidman seems distinctly uncomfortable as he struggles to find something to say while roadies scurry about purposefully in the gloom. Fortunately, things get back on track swiftly enough, with crowd-pleasers Dancers to a Discordant System and Bleed provoking a frenzy of moshing and crowd-surfing prior to the now-traditional encore of Demiurge and Future Breed Machine. All in all, a stunning show by one of the great metal bands of our time.
All photos by Mike Evans
Read more: Metal & Prog Picks: January 2017