May 23, 2012
New York City
Where engines of the sane and insanity merge
The clarity, the unity
— “Rational Gaze”
There is only Science and Art, and the intersection of these disparate disciplines.
The place where theory and practice meet, the imperceptible spaces between the folds, the mind regions of convergence and metamorphosis.
Math as Science, Music as Art.
Math: The abstract science of number, quantity, and space.
Science: The intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.
Music: The art or science of combining vocal or instrumental sounds (or both) to produce beauty of form, harmony, and expression of emotion.
Art: The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.
This is where we find Meshuggah, at the interchange of thesis and expression, the fusion of scientific analysis and creative human endeavour, the crossing of the infinite breach.
The perpetual black second.
Meshuggah is most certainly a heavy metal band, but in category and description only. The band merges many forms, sometimes all at once: extreme, avant-garde, mathematic, progressive, radical. All of these, or none of these. Post-everything. There is no precedent–they do not sound like the past or even the future. Meshuggah can only sound like itself at any given moment, all at once.
They are Nordic and have names like Haake, Hagström, Lövgren, Thordendal, Kidman. From a dark northern province in the Kingdom of Sweden–a land open and ablaze, grasping the Arctic Circle–Meshuggah commands the extreme side of the savage/beauty divide that defines their homeland. Untamed yet precise, finely tuned but expansive.
The purity and serenity of the silver birch.
Meshuggah brought its latest sound abstractions to New York City during the new spring when the city is reclaiming its inner self from the cold season’s blinding light. And what better place to perform the ritual than Terminal 5, the eternally cold and blank concrete hall which suits this music and embodies the long Swedish winter, filled with savage hills and the expanse of empty horizons.
The gathered crowd is well versed in the band’s formal language and the vibe inside is communal and harmonious. A fever-pitched anticipation lifts as a chant of “Me-shu-ggah” erupts and the house falls dark. The band takes the stage to the opening melodic strains of “Obsidian” and the past is rendered useless…
A sonic jet stream. A full-on attack.
The band tears into “Demiurge” from the new album, Koloss. Your body feels the rocket-fueled fission before the sound destroys everything contained within your skin. Minds are exploding at a relentless pace throughout the terminal as the crowd is a frenzied mass of chaotic movement. Chord patterns blow off metallic steam—they are vehemently fast, hard edged, triangular and uncompromising. You are inside the largest wind tunnel in the world and the force is draining your body of all known elements. The angle of attack is steep and the dynamic is wondrous.
“Pravus” is classic and essential Meshuggah: sound as confrontation.
A total assault on the senses. No breathing room or margin of error. The band is at the center of the tornado. They are detonating the last atomic weapon on Earth during the final war to ever be fought between continents of men.
The audience is steamrolled with “Combustion” as its circular riff is wielded with the intensity of the burning dawn. The pit is a flickering web of insanity in a constant state of flux, moving with its own sense of purpose and direction. “Lethargica” pushes and pulls at its internal rhythm and transitions formlessly into the new “Do Not Look Down.” The tempos of both songs are slower than the originals adding extra emphasis to the tight chemistry of the band.
The sound and execution of the songs is ultimate and decisive with nothing misplaced or mistaken. Every second of every note is accounted for. Songs interlock creating a sonic cut-and-paste that is pushed to illogical levels. The setlist acts as a geometric system of limitless edges constantly meeting and folding back upon one another. Stone ships cast across uncharted landscapes.
Methods inside madness.
“In Death – Is Life” and “In Death – Is Death” are set centerpieces. They are cold-controlled death marches through the old histories of the Scandinavian terrain and its dense and impenetrable forests. They are the core of medieval narratives, testimonies in black and white and cerulean blue, deathscapes of past centuries. They are the Viking raptors crossing the boundaries of antiquity, circulating arcane mythologies, completing the histories.
Then, a menacing and brutal take on “Bleed.” Meshuggah is now floating above the fray like wolves among sheep, longships in symmetrical harmony. This is music as chaos theory, a thousand years old.
How do you know you are close to the edge if your frame of reference is constantly being altered?
Meshuggah is now beyond control, operating outside of itself on a level only elite musicians dare go. And they are cooking.
This band is unbelievably tight–almost absurdly so, inhuman even–considering how intricate this music is. It’s nearly impossible to wrap your mind around the hyperkinetic, complex song structures; tempos change within verses, guitar figures stab at tones then break free, mutating as soon as they solidify. Instruments play alternating time signatures against each other creating polyrhythmic staccato riffs that snake at right angles. Jackhammers forging wrought iron beats, melodic jazz-fusion guitar solos, intricate cadence juxtapositions. Mathematical but never dogmatic or stationary. This music moves in radical directions and is undeniably beautiful, its luminous grooves supporting invisible and unspoken inner frameworks and structures.
These gentlemen from Sweden are astonishing musicians who perform with an awe-inspiring virtuosity and an utterly relentless form of execution that is rare, hard to fathom and almost impossible to imitate.
Tomas Haake is a percussion battlefield. His drum patterns are the impossibility of the space-time continuum set to music. Haake obliterates the internal logic of songs with excessive power, method and emphasis.
The guitarists, Thordendal and Hagström, and bassist, Lövgren, are precision-tuned alchemists fixed in time, weaving seamless intricacies of long division riffs, written in longhand on the eternal scrolls of the ancients.
The band blazes through a series of classics: “New Millennium Cyanide Christ” is torrential and brutal warfare; “Rational Gaze” is larger than you and me; and “Future Breed Machine” is mean and caustic.
In an age of short attention span theater, Meshuggah is militant in their traditionalism, asking for a level of community and concentration that is far above what contemporary audiences are willing to give.
There is no turning away from this band or the music they have forged and mastered. A concertgoer must be fully aware and present because the challenge is too great and the stakes are too high. The commitment must be total and attention undivided. Make no mistake, Meshuggah will wear you out and tear you apart.
Meshuggah studies the logic of the abstract. They measure the motion of sound in space, the invisible structures, the maps of the universe. The eternal cinema of Ingmar Bergman, the caged violence of Francis Bacon. They are the dark matter, the dark energy, the tell-tale heart of the modern Swedish soul.
song, stories, mathematics—
but with a difference.
The power lines stretched
across the kingdom of frost
north of all music.
Nobel Prize-winning Swedish poet
Do Not Look Down
The Hurt That Finds You First
In Death – Is Life
In Death – Is Death
New Millennium Cyanide Christ
I Am Colossus
Future Breed Machine
Dancers to a Discordant System
The Last Vigil
Photos and video by the Concert Club for the Rock File
Definitions from Oxford American Dictionary and wordreference.com.