Monday, May 21, 2012

When Meshuggah came to town

In naming its new album “Koloss” you have to wonder if Meshuggah was thinking autobiographically as this band has never sounded bigger or wielded as much influence.
            Playing May 19 at The Palladium in Worcester, Meshuggah leaned heavily into “Koloss” and its predecessor “obZen.’ On those records_ and in its live show- the Swedish prog-metal troupe carved a signature sound from the lower end of the sonic spectrum, a place where many metal bands get crushed into a dull pulp.
            But guitarists Fredrik Thordendal and Martin Hagstrom successfully harness the thunder generated by their eight-string, down-tuned guitars. Thorendal built soaring leads and galloping riffs even as the band’s overall tone is dark and rumbling.
            Meshuggah’s precisely honed dynamic shifts and stark contrasts give its unrelenting darkness a broad reach. In response, Meshuggah is selling out many of its U.S. dates and “Koloss’ is the band’s highest-charting album to date in Billboard magazine.
For the so-called “Ophidian Trek,” Meshuggah keeps the stage fairly darkened, sporadically piercing the shroud with searing lights mounted on towers flanking the band. Banners depicting the folkloric-goth “Koloss” album art completed the demonic air of the band’s work space.
            Singer Jens Kidman by and large went for texture over clarity, most often looking like he was simply riding the massive swell of music. His smart, chiseled lyrics are better served by the band’s studio albums, but he compensates for that with a menacing stage presence that aptly gets the message across. Kidman at his best doesn’t so much sing live, but rather shakes the words out of his skull as his body spasmodically jerks to the rhythms counted off by drummer Tomass Haake.
             Meshuggah bore down quickly with “Demiurge,” letting the song’s churning dynamics slowly unfold with a controlled patience. “Pravus” picked up the tempo and let Meshuggah revel in a bit of good ol’ groove-based head banging.
            “Glints Collide” was full of jagged contrasts, while “The Hurt That Finds You First” conjured full-on panic.
            Over the course of 90 minutes, Meshuggah brought more nuance into its monolithic sound than many bands are able to achieve in an entire career, hitting a near perfect balance between core identity and sense of adventure.
            Meshuggah crafted a “Catch Thirty Three” suite out of “Mind’s Mirrors,” “In Death-Is Life,” and “In Death-Is Death” which almost put some drag into the show as it slowly worked from droning intro to pummeling conclusion.
            Meshuggah reined in the sprawl for the concert’s home stretch that featured furious renditions of “Bleed” and “I am Colossus.”
            For its encore, Meshuggah reached into the back catalog for “Future Breed Machine,” and kept the song’s leaner underpinnings intact. Meshuggah had enough left in its tank for one last mind-scrambling shot, delivered in the form of “Dancers to a Discordant System.”
            Baroness and Decapitated opened for Meshuggah. While Baroness’ lava-like flow and Decapitated’s lacerating death metal may seem at odds, the contrasting sounds actually fit well under the broader umbrella Meshuggah brought as a headliner.

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