Pumpehuset, Copenhagen, DEN - 13/3
support High On Fire
author AP date 09/12/16 venue Amager Bio, Copenhagen, DEN
Despite the fact that I am no stranger to Meshuggah’s live spectacles (such as they tend to be in these club venues), I always look forward to them and anticipate seeing one of the best concerts that year. It has been no different with regard to this, the Swedish progressive metal virtuosos’ second appearance on Danish soil in 2016 — and it seems like the first one might have drawn in some fresh ears, judging by how rammed the venue is as our party arrives. It does not hurt of course, that Meshuggah has tapped such a potent support act as High on Fire for the occasion, even if I do have certain reservations about the stoner metallers’ efficacy on larger stages.
The Oakland, CA-based trio gets about its business with diligence, but frontman Matt Pike’s roar has trouble penetrating the bass-heavy mix, which sounds like it has already been optimised to accommodate Meshuggah. Still, there is no escaping the groove of “Carcosa”, nor the gloom and grandeur of “The Falconist” when those newer tracks are aired, as the instrumental channels at least sound less clogged up. The way the setlist is sequenced, the temperance of the two songs is set in stark contrast to the likes of “Rumors of War” and “Turk”, both of the intense variant that most people associate High on Fire with — so the dynamics are certainly in order. And with Pike’s part-anguished, part-exuberant face expressions reflecting a man of passion and conviction, logic would have it that all (except the mix) should be going in the band’s favour.
Yet nonetheless, my experience of the show is marred by a nagging sensation that High on Fire’s showmanship is not extending beyond the stage’s edge like it tends to. The fact that the audience may not be as accustomed to such primitive, organic metal might go some way toward explaining why the pieces are not falling into place — people are perfectly happy to just headbang to the tune of “Fertile Green” et al. without lapsing into the sort of frenzy that we have seen before. The intensity of the music does not seem to rub off on people tonight, so for the duration of the hour-long support set, we are very much left to enjoying the merits of tracks like “Blood from Zion” and the epic closing piece, “Snakes for the Divine”. No, this is not High on Fire’s finest hour, and as the group’s most recent Danish concert also proved, they are far more suited to intimate settings.
Time after time, Meshuggah’s live production continues to inspire awe. Obscure and barren, the backdrops recall the sci-fi horror of Ridley Scott’s film “Prometheus”, whilst the lighting, choreographed on-site of course, is both mesmerising and sinister, brilliant yet never revealing much of the musicians. These elements serve the band well; with songs as otherworldly and… alien as the opening duo of “Clockworks” and “Born in Dissonance”, you do imagine Meshuggah not as human, but as some perverse fusion of man and machine. Almost all of the light is shone from behind, so apart from vocalist Jens Kidman, you see the musicians only as hulking silhouettes, barely moving whilst they grind through some of the heaviest music in existence. Indeed, listening to the polyrhythmic machinery that is the that is a song like “Stengah”, it really is hard to think of them as humans.
With little movement beyond Kidman’s ape-y stomping and constant, deranged eyeballing us then, Meshuggah requires all the assistance that their light technician, Edvard Hansson, can provide. Having seen some unreal arrangements by him in the past, it seems preposterous, the degree to which he has topped himself now, conjuring from his knobs and dials not only the best Meshuggah light show yet, but also one of the best light shows I have ever seen. Quite simply no other band has managed such a perfect interplay between light and sound as what we bear witness to here, the lasers, spotlights, and curtains very much personifying the concept of “Dancers to a Discordant System”, which incidentally is the second last song to be aired from tonight’s setlist.
But only once you learn the trick of following drummer Tomas Haake’s hi-hat as the only available cue to headbanging in-rhythm (he tends to follow a 4/4 signature with it) can the experience of watching Meshuggah live be complete. Only once your neck muscles have ached as much as mine from becoming lost in the alien groove of “Bleed” (quite possibly the most brutal and unforgiving song ever written) have you really understood what it is that keeps drawing the Swedish maestros’ disciples to their concerts. The level of intensity is so high it is near-suffocating — no wonder the moshpit seems to grow larger and wilder with each passing song. Combine that with the terrifying stage production, and it is nigh impossible to take your eyes off the performance.
For a weathered fan such as myself, there may of course be a few aspects I would ‘correct’ — neither “MonstroCity” nor “Stifled” have made the cut for instance, despite representing two of the finest picks off Meshuggah’s latest record, “The Violent Sleep of Reason”. But from an objective standpoint, it is hard to argue that the band could have staged a much better concert in terms of the full aesthetic.
- 01. Clockworks
- 02. Born in Dissonance
- 03. Sane
- 04. Perpetual Black Second
- 05. Stengah
- 06. The Hurt That Finds You First
- 07. Lethargica
- 08. Do Not Look Down
- 09. Nostrum
- 10. Violent Sleep of Reason
- 11. Dancers to a Discordant System
- 12. Bleed
— Encore —
- 13. Demiurge
- 14. Future Breed Machine