Cogs roar and gears shear as machine metal thunder gods Meshuggah return to Bristol’s O2 Academy for the first time in five years. A venue that feels a touch too compact for the size of crowd the band now attract. Somehow, moving into their 36th year of business, Meshuggah garner a greater following than ever before. This is due in part to thousands of online cover, reaction and “how to sound like…” videos that have spawned millions of gaping mouths, aching brains and a mountain of tedious copy cats. The eclectic crowd bears witness to this. People from all walks of musical life come to wrap their brains around the Meshuggah’s sonic Rubik’s Cube.
Zeal & Ardor
Tales of going on tour with Slayer and Iron Maiden are infamous in their difficulty. Crowds around the world are medieval in their loyalty to bands with such a singularly fierce sound. Woe betide the band who opens. Meshuggah crowds are no different and Zeal & Ardor frontman Manuel Gagneux confronts this wall of disapproval head on, stating “We’re what stands between you and Meshuggah”.
The differences are plain to see. Comparatively poptastic in their melodicism and flying the blues banner high. The band sing Field Song-esque three part Gospel harmonies to a Tech Metal backdrop. An alluring proposition for the first three tracks, but constant use of the same structural tropes starts to veer into the territory of gimmickry.
Decidedly digital sub harmonics thunder through the crowded room as Meshuggah blurt out ‘Broken Cog’. An exercise in using an entire band as a combined instrument. Staccato thunder claps, robotically tight, nothing but tension builds with this nigh-on perfect opener.
Audience reaction to neck breakers like ‘Rational Gaze’ and ‘Pravus’ show just how genius Meshuggah’s particular brand of quantum chug really is. The stink face brutality of the prior sees them tread a line of accessibility and complexity that other bands pass by, oblivious. The pinnacle of this musical trapeze being Immutable’s ‘Ligature Marks’. A track where rhythmic sophistication hidden from plain sight almost completely and quite frankly a bit of a surprise to hear live.
Thordendal’s triumphant live return brings a kind of improvised chaos to proceedings. Ignoring vast swathes of his impenetrably complex recorded solos, in favour of a kind of skronk guitar abuse that wouldn’t be out of place on a Sonic Youth record.
Truly a fan’s set, Meshuggah deliver surprises from Catch 33 and Nothing, alongside pummelling crowd pleasers with the kind of inhuman precision that only they can muster. “BUT THEY DIDN’T PLAY BLEED” I hear you cry. No they didn’t.