Meshuggah

support Kongh
author AP date 05/05/13 venue Lille Vega, Copenhagen, DEN

Given that my only experiences with Meshuggah thus far have been enjoyed at festivals in suboptimal daytime conditions, this postponed Danish leg of the "Ophidian Trek" was something that I had been looking forward to for weeks on end; so much that even the punishing hangover I had procured the previous day and night on the annual Copenhell Metal Cruise wasn't going to impede my plans to be in attendance at Lille Vega. Read on to find out what I thought about this sold out show.

All photos courtesy of Philip B. Hansen

Kongh

Although my familiarity with these Swedish doom metal patrons is limited to their latest opus "Sole Creation", it is nonetheless with a certain sense of enthusiasm that I take my place in the center of the still-empty room to devour the best song for me off that record: the title track. Clocking in at over 10 minutes, it would be a hefty start to any concert, yet in the live context its main riff sounds even more crushing, frontman David Johanson's singular guitar tuned and toned down to what I'd imagine a swamp would sound like if those could play guitar. But even so, as all of the four songs mimic "Sole Creation"'s length, there are passages therein that are simply too long-winded and uneventful to maintain my undivided attention for the entire duration of Kongh's set. Kongh perform their songs in a disconnected, spaced out manner that leaves much to be desired by way of a performance as well - something that no doubt could be remedied by songs that aren't quite as droning in their nature. Given the right setting - say, a sweltering late afternoon set at a summer festival - however, I feel like Kongh could stage a much more interesting show.

6

Mårten Hagström and Dick Lövgren of Meshuggah

Meshuggah

Does a heavier band exist than Meshuggah? No - until you've felt the rumble of two eight-string guitars and a five-string bass rocking your inner organs and had your heartbeat displaced by Thomas Haake's polyrhythmic drumming, you have not experienced the true meaning of heavy. Nor have you truly felt afraid, watching a band perform. So deafening is the volume tonight that once the frenetic strobe flicker and eerie rattling sounds that comprise the intro to the show give way to the monolithic "Swarm", the horns and screams that have engulfed the venue transform into gaping eyes and utter silence. For a few minutes every single person in the venue stands aghast, in a mixture of terror and disbelief as Meshuggah quite literally melt our faces off; burst our eardrums to drill their time-bending riffs and space age lyrics directly into our cerebrums; and twist our minds with probably the most breathtaking lightshow I have ever seen in concert.

Fredrik Thordendal of Meshuggah

I feel enlightened, and also terrified by the majesty unfolding before my eyes. Not a word is uttered throughout the first 15 to 20 minutes of the show as Meshuggah magisterially - and with a certain hint of arrogance - grind their way through "Combustion" and "Rational Gaze". Some people are of the mind that Meshuggah can never truly stage a scintillating performance, by virtue of the focus that needs to go into being able to play such songs. True enough, none of the five members are dispensing much energy bar with their hands, fingers and necks, but the brilliance of this band has never stemmed from their antics. No, it stems from their ability to challenge, inspire and dominate an audience with music that, realistically, should not be possible to play. Take the beginning of "Rational Gaze", for instance: whilst Haake follows a rather simple 4/4 time signature, hitting the snare on every third beat, guitarists Fredrik Thordendal and Mårten Hagström and bassist Dick Lövgren count the same quarter notes in a different time signature, eventually converging with Haake around the 64th beat. Now, if that sounds baffling, that's because it is baffling - even more so the fact that these guys can actually pull off such a dizzying, mesmerizing feat live without ever veering out of control. That is part the beauty in watching Meshuggah.

But it is only part of the complete experience. It hardly matters that deep headbanging and vocalist Jens Kidman's slow, demonic movements and white eyes are the only real feat taking place with lighting as perfectly synced, premeditated and profuse as this. Almost all of the lighting rig faces toward the audience, with the effect that we rarely glimpse more than silhouettes of the five musicians, creating a kind of disconnect, inhumanity even, that fits so well with the band's technically supreme music. Each song is thus given the appropriate atmosphere, with the monumentally heavy "obZen", the intense assault of "The Hurt That Finds You First", and the impossible rhythmic warp of "Bleed" inspiring sheer, paralyzing fear in every one of us in this sold out crowd. This impression is only strengthened by Thordendal's unique style of solo/lead bits that sound like some malignant signal from space, whining and bellowing amidst the brutal coordinated chaos that is the band's rhythmic foundation like something that would probably loosen my bowels if heard in any other setting.

Mårten Hagström and Dick Lövgren of Meshuggah

Whilst "Demiurge", "New Millennium Cyanide Christ" and "Dancers to a Discordant System" bring the ordinary set to a close in esteemed fashion, it isn't until the science-fiction horror of "In Death - Is Life" and "In Death - Is Death" in the encore that the show reaches its pinnacle, the preceding sample "Mind's Mirrors" and its backdrop of incongruous flicks of green strobe light that slowly divulge glimpses of the otherwordly "Koloss"-inspired backdrop, almost convincing me that a portal is about to open behind Haake's drumkit to unleash some horrific space presence with tentacles upon us all. I must think long and hard to remember a performance that has impressed me so, and as such, I feel absolutely confident in concluding this with "Hail Meshuggah!" and the coveted perfect grade.

10

Setlist:

  • Swarm
  • Combustion
  • Rational Gaze
  • obZen
  • Lethargica
  • Do Not Look Down
  • The Hurt That Finds You First
  • I Am Colossus
  • Bleed
  • Demiurge
  • New Millennium Cyanide Christ
  • Dancers to a Discordant System

--Encore--

  • (Mind's Mirrors)
  • In Death - Is Life
  • In Death - Is Death
  • (The Last Vigil)

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