By Avinash Mittur
May 5th 2012, House Of Blues, Hollywood CA: It’s been three long years since Meshuggah have toured the United States. In those three years, the band’s massive influence on modern metal has truly become apparent. The so-called “djent” bands have taken Meshuggah’s heavily downtuned riffs and ludicrous time signatures in whole new directions in the last couple of years, but the original article has yet to be topped. Last night, Meshuggah proved this notion with a stellar set, and gave the House of Blues a fun Saturday night with more than able support from Decapitated and Baroness.
Unfortunately due to issues out of Metal Assault’s control, I was held up at the entrance of the House of Blues for the first hour of the show and was forced to miss Decapitated’s set. However, I feel that they were well chosen for the tour given their technical and progressive death metal sound and will give them the benefit of the doubt by assuming that they successfully entertained the audience.
The first band I managed to catch was Savannah, GA’s own Baroness. The last time I saw them was two years ago at the Missing Link festival in Oakland, CA. Despite having to play alongside a huge number of talented groups like High on Fire, Mastodon, and Between the Buried and Me, Baroness proved to be the highlight of the whole festival. This time around they were placed on a bill that, in my opinion, was just not fit for them. Having their southern sludge sound placed between the extreme technical aggression of Decapitated and Meshuggah was just a bad idea; while the band had a fair number of fans in the crowd, the vast majority of the sold out audience was there to see only Meshuggah. As a result, I feel as if much of the audience didn’t enjoy Baroness’ set in comparison to Decapitated, whose sound would more readily appeal to Meshuggah fans.
Despite this lineup complaint, I still feel that Baroness gave a phenomenal performance. Instrumentally the band was still as perfect as they were two years ago- Pete Adams and John Baizley remain one of modern metal’s most talented and tight guitar teams and drummer Allen Blickle is still the only percussionist I’ve seen that would throw in a dance beat into a sludge metal song. The band kicked off their set with the song that perhaps defines the Baroness sound best, A Horse Called Golgotha. The band’s fans in the audience immediately went crazy for this song, and the band reciprocated this energy. Pete headbanged like there was tomorrow while John even went down on knees near the end of the track. There were many moments throughout their set where John and Pete would face each other for guitar harmonies and solos and would headbang in unison. This was pretty impressive given that they had hardly any room to move onstage. The entire set was very heavy on songs from Blue Record- for me this wasn’t a problem; Blue Record is one of my favorite albums of the last few years. However, I’m sure many longtime fans would have loved to hear more songs from Red Album- the set-closer, Isak, was the only representation from it this night.
One thing that immediately stood out to me was a change in John’s vocals. Last night he traded his original primal growl for a cleaner and more powerful bellow, and I feel that the songs were all better for it. His vocal harmonies with Pete were stronger than last time as well. This was perhaps most apparent in the band’s reinterpretation of Steel that Sleeps the Eye. Where the song was a beautiful acoustic piece on their second album, Blue Record, the band plugged in their instruments for this interpretation and Pete provided a Planet Caravan-esque guitar line throughout. John’s singing throughout the entire song was absolutely wonderful, and I would not complain in the slightest if the band’s upcoming third album, Yellow & Green features this new approach entirely. The set featured two new tracks from the upcoming record. One of the new tracks, Take My Bones Away, came off as a consolidation of Baroness’ styles that they have touched upon over the years. While it might have come off as less adventurous than tracks like Swollen and Halo or The Gnashing, I am confident that the band will provide plenty of left-turns and new sounds on Yellow & Green given that it will be a double record.
Right on schedule at 10:30, Obsidian began to play over the P.A. and Meshuggah began their set with a track from their new album Koloss, Demiurge. Even though it’s placed near the end of the record, it worked well as the opening track. Even better were the following tracks, Pravus and Combustion. The two songs from 2008’s obZen sent the crowd on the main floor into an absolute frenzy of moving bodies and violence. Nearly everyone at the sold out House of Blues was there for Meshuggah, and seeing over a thousand fans go absolutely crazy for this band was truly something else. Instrumentally, the band was shockingly perfect. Guitarists Fredrik Thordendal and Mårten Hagström had zero trouble nailing their massively heavy riffs, even if the two didn’t really move much on stage. Meshuggah’s monster drummer, Tomas Haake, was an absolute machine. Even though his body remained still and upright, his arms and legs flew about with deadly precision. Vocalist Jens Kidman and bassist Dick Lövgren were the most animated band members of the night- Jens frequently had one leg on a monitor while headbanging along with the band’s crazy rhythms. The band as a whole had a monolithic stage presence that accentuated with a very dynamic light show. Even if Meshuggah wasn’t the most energetic band I’ve seen, they were still a visual treat.
The entire set was extremely tightly executed; Jens only briefly addressed the crowd a couple of times and there were hardly any breaks between songs. The setlist featured a solid amount of tracks from their new record, Koloss. Much to my surprise, Meshuggah pulled out five tracks from obZen. In my opinion, obZen remains Meshuggah’s most diverse and entertaining album, so getting to hear many tracks from it was a pleasure. Bleed easily drew the warmest reception of the night. The band played it to perfection, and nearly everyone in the crowd sung along with the first verse.
Even though the thrash fan in me wanted to hear more songs from Destroy Erase Improve and any song from Contradictions Collapse, this was still a solid career spanning set that covered nearly every one of their records. Even the album piece Catch-33 found representation with the In Death suite being played in the middle of the set. Out of the new tracks played, Do Not Look Down and the absolutely epic I Am Colossus were the highlights. After closing the main set with their classic Rational Gaze, Meshuggah began their encore with the longtime fan-favorite Future Breed Machine. Ending their 100-minute set with a deep cut from obZen, Dancers to a Discordant System, the band left the stage to a huge applause from the House of Blues audience.
All in all, this was a fantastic show for me and others who are fans of all the bands on the bill, and a still a great show for those there only to see Meshuggah. Baroness proved why they’re one of modern metal’s greatest upcoming acts and Meshuggah helped remind everyone who the true masters of “djent” really are. Even if the bill should have been more focused in the types of music presented, there was still a fun time to be had at the House of Blues on this Cinco de Mayo.