Edit: A version was first published on March 12, 2017, in Metal Obsession
Eight albums into a formidable career, Meshuggah bought a djent onslaught to The Tivoli, Brisbane, for the first show in an eagerly anticipated Australian tour on the back of The Violent Sleep of Reason, an album that has received a mixed response from critics. Pitchfork summarised it as a record that “…begins to get mired in tentative rhythms that hover and even grate rather than achieve the kind of acceleration that Meshuggah excel”. So how would the album’s tracks sound live? Would they hold their own against fan favourites?
First up, internationally acclaimed deathcore crew Thy Art Is Murder arrived with a considerable response from punters, especially so given three of the band’s five members are Brisbane lads. Sean Delander, Andy Marsh and Kevin Butler offer lesson after lesson in brutal down-tuned guitar soundscapes, complemented by the battery of drummer Lee Stanton. Stanton could be Australia’s preeminent extreme metal drummer, our equivalent to Tim ‘The Missile’ Yeung of Hate Eternal and Morbid Angel. Watching Stanton’s technique live, his forearms locked and ready to strike the tom and snare, reminded me of the great Midnight Oil percussionist Rob Hurst.
Today is the first opportunity for many to witness vocalist Chris ‘CJ’ McMahon in action since he returned to the band earlier this year to claim his rightful place as the band’s frontman and spokesperson. McMahon was always the type to wear his heart on his sleeve, and tonight is no different. His larrikin nature shone through when he summed up the irony in the opportunity to tour with the headliners, saying that they are one of the bands “…you wanna play in front of, but you don’t want to”, alluding to Meshuggah’s fearsome reputation as a live act. McMahon and his loyal comrades are at the precipice of something special. Thy Art Is Murder is a draw in its own right and was far more than an opening act. Watching them felt more like witnessing the next to last band on a festival’s main stage, given the response of the punters and the general atmosphere around the band’s performance. Their next release should be a colossus if the band can keep it together.
Next, the main event! Fredrik Thordendal. The guitarist credited with creating a genre is the man I was looking forward to watching and listening to this evening. Having only recently witnessed Animals As Leaders‘ virtuosic pairing of Tosin Abasi and Javier Reyes put on a djent masterclass at the cavernous Triffid venue (not to mention the genre’s other leading light, Misha Mansoor from Periphery offer something similar earlier in February), this was a rare opportunity to sample djent’s finest proponents in short order. One after the other, a brutal barrage of stop-on-a-dime riffage rebounded off the Tivoli’s ye-olde architecture. Having witnessed many heavy metal shows hosted at the venue over the years, it is only after tonight that structural engineers may need to assess the building’s foundations.
The volume and breadth of Meshuggah’s sound are genuinely awe-inspiring. If Thordendal’s distinctive palm-muted guitar playing is the nucleus of the band’s songs, it is drummer Tomas Haake that affords it a footing. For many, Haake truly gives Meshuggah their unique sound, and I can certainly understand that perspective given the performance this evening; flawless is a word that comes to mind. How he carries Thordendal and Mårten Hagström’s rhythm is a wonder. Lanky frontman Jens Kidman prefers to let his song lyrics occupy the punters’ attention. His obligatory salutation to the crowd comes before the brutal “Bleed”, and we wouldn’t hear much more from him until the encore. Nevertheless, I can’t image what vocal exercises he must endure to produce the full-throated roar his voice emits.
I find The Violent Sleep of Reason to reinforce Meshuggah’s legacy rather than build on it. The album may not offer a raft of new ideas; however, the songs in tonight’s set (I thought I heard “Clockworks”, “Born In Dissonance”, and the album’s title track get an airing) did not sound out of place among classics such as “Bleed”, “Perpetual Black Second”, and the humungous final song of the evening, “Future Breed Machine”.
One final thought I’ll leave the reader with is that Thordendal is one of the biz’s most thoroughly entertaining guitar soloists. As an avid jazz saxophone maestro John Coltrane fan, one of my all-time favourite albums is Blue Train. I kept hearing the genius of Coltrane in the passages contained within Thordendal’s soloing. I don’t know if the man is a jazz fan; however, I’d implore him to dive into the genre and release something approaching a solo album. Based on the ideas in so many of his solos, lead passages, and performances this evening, that would be a special treat.