Meshuggah @ Pop’s, St. Louis, 2/23/13

By now it’s safe to say that the metal community is well aware of the massive shadow cast by Meshuggah. The five Swedes’ signature brand of intense progressive math metal has inspired imitators the world over, but with their 2012 album Koloss they proved that they’re still the masters. Their live shows are equally fearsome – crushingly heavy, their grooves are executed with the mechanical precision their riffs evoke, all accompanied by an impressive and synchronized light show. A Meshuggah show is enough of an event to warrant travelling, which is exactly what I did – a four-hour drive to St. Louis to catch the Ophilian Trek tour. And I wasn’t disappointed.

If nothing else, the touring lineup assembled for the tour is impressive enough. Virtuoso eight-string protégés Animals as Leaders served as direct support, with post-sludgers Intronaut opening the show. Starting a half hour early ordinarily spells suicide for an opening act, but Pop’s was so packed from the moment the doors opened that they still played to a healthy crowd. Leading with a pair of new jams from upcoming album Habitual Levitations (Instilling Words With Tones), the four-piece brought a smoky, introspective mood to the stage. Led by Joe Lester and his fretless bass, the band offered calming, jazzy passages punctuated by fuzzy, earth-shaking riffage and the twin vocal stylings of guitarists Sacha Dunable and Dave Timnick. Though the band seemed to be taking it easy with a relatively laid-back stage presence, their execution demonstrated that there was no mistaking them for anything other than professionals.

Animals as Leaders, the instrumental three-piece djent outfit led by wunderkind guitarist Tosin Abasi, provided if nothing else a dazzling visual display to accompany their music. Though Abasi seemed slightly uncomfortable with having to address a crowd, he was playing to the choir, who seemed to be pacified from moshing by his effortless handling of his instrument. The band’s voiceless pieces, taken from their self-titled and Weightless albums, were accompanied by projected CG visual presentations that excellently complimented the music. AAL is enough of a presence at this point that the only real unknown going into their show was the capability of new drummer Matt Garstka, who more than proved his capabilities. At several points Abasi and co-guitarist Javier Reyes paused to allow Garstka to take extended solos, which were impressive in both their execution and cohesion, excellently segueing to the next portion of the song.

Photo by Annika Wooton
Photo by Annika Wooton

The real draw, though, was Meshuggah, and everyone knew it. The live reputation of the band is well-established at this point, but if you hadn’t seen them before, there was no way you’d be adequately prepared, now matter how many of their studio albums you’d heard. The booming hum of their eight-strings shook the venue with its intensity as they synchronized their slithering, polyrhythmic chugs with Tomas Haake’s kick drum and an impressive lighting rig (for such a small stage). Though there was concern for vocalist Jens Kidman, who was unable to perform from sickness for the first part of the tour, he demonstrated his returned ability by delivering his one-of-a-kind roar to the crowd nearly nonstop. The set drew mainly from Koloss, with “Do Not Look Down” and “Break Those Bones Whose Sinews Gave Them Motion” drawing particular enthusiasm from the crowd, but an excerpt from album-long experimental concept piece Catch Thirtythree was perhaps the highlight of the show. For the mosh pit, though, thrashers like “Combustion” and a surprise appearance of “Transfixion” from Destroy Erase Improve provided the best fodder for high impact motion.

All in all, Meshuggah demonstrated what they are, and what they represent. On the surface, they are literal and metaphorical giants, whose riffs crush like massive footsteps. Their performances leave all onlookers in awe at the cohesion, force and sheer terror put on display; they really are the dictionary definition of “shock and awe”. But perhaps more importantly, they demonstrate why they’re considered one of the most important and influential metal bands today – their sheer might and capability of execution is beyond reproach. See this band.