Over the decades of their existence (almost three now), they seem to have abandoned the road less traveled method in favor of forging ahead on a twisted path that hadn’t yet been discovered. Now universally considered the godfathers of their brand of extreme metal, they remain several steps ahead of cronies and clones alike, without any signs of resting on their laurels.
The LA Live area near the Staples Center used to enter The Novo, normally inhabited by some combination of Lakers, Clippers, Kings and Sparks jerseys, has been taken over by a sea of black t-shirts. Also worthy of note, there aren’t very many bands represented by these shirts besides the Swedish headliner, furthering the point that this particular band has accumulated quite the contingent of diehards.
I begin the set standing right up against the front of the stage. Large banners of the album cover for their latest release, “The Violent Sleep of Reason” hang above and on either side of Tomas Haake’s Sonor double barrel drum kit. It’s an ominous image of what appears to be a human being consumed by his own mechanical tentacles, falling right in line with previous album artistry.
When the lights go out, what had been a low murmur, crescendos into a large roar of the crowd as the band members enter from stage left. They each approach the front of the stage from their designated spots, dressed casually in all black, and then go right into one of their newest tracks, “Clockwork.” Low, hypnotic chugging of the guitars and bass, frenetic pulsating of the kick drum and snare, accented by cymbals and steady growls, all in disjointed yet perfect time; exactly what the typical Meshuggah fan has come to expect from its favorite heavy act.
Next comes another new one, “Born in Dissonance,” less groove than the previous but no less intense with its hyperactive rhythm and thrashing syncopation. Their live show is quite minimalistic as far as today’s acts go, but the music succeeds in drawing the listener in so much so that a barrage of flashing, multi-colored lights makes for an enticing visual effect.
Their blend of polyrhythms and low tones, synched with machine-like precision has become almost commonplace in the metal genre, casually referred to as “djent” metal. However, Meshuggah has been using this blueprint for more than twenty years now, and they take this time in their set to play a few selections from some of their earlier releases. To the casual fan, it might be difficult to tell that these songs span such a long period of time. Other than a switch from 7-string to 8-string guitars in the early 2000’s (or in other words, going from deep to deeper), they have consistently combined thrash riffs with odd times into a steady groove of mathematical nuance. They are possibly the first and best example of where the musician nerd from Berkeley can find common ground with the grungy metalhead jamming in his parent’s garage.
About halfway into the set, the band goes into “Do Not Look Down,” from their previous release. After just a few years, this track has become one of Meshuggah’s most popular anthems, all but exemplifying what the band offers and driving the crowd crazy as soon as the opening riff starts up. The listener is just as likely to headbang as flow like a rapper. The urge to break someone’s face is only barely eclipsed by the involuntary need to break into dance.
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Meshuggah’s musical formula has gradually led to critical acclaim, from peers as well as fans. Some of the members have formed friendships with prog giants Tool, while their influence has reached other metal acts, from Deftones’ guitarist Stephen Carpenter, to metal genius Devin Townsend, who has become a bit of a legend in his own right.
The band completed their set with “Bleed,” a song that can be put on a short list of most impressive displays of double bass footwork by a drummer in all of metal lore. After a brief reprieve, they returned to play two more to close out the evening for good, including a longtime fan favorite, “Future Breed Machine.” They’ve gotten to a place now where a few songs that had once been staples of their live set must be left off to make room for new releases. Even so, it was yet another 90 minutes of brutal decadence, exactly what we thought it would be.
Meshuggah was supported by metal veterans High on Fire and their own 45 minute set. They are a three-piece act that combines sludge and thrash riffs with harsh vocals in the same vein as bands like Converge and older Mastodon.
Born in Dissonance
Perpetual Black Second
The Hurt that Finds You First
Do Not Look Down
Violent Sleep of Reason
Dancers to a Discordant System
Future Breed Machine