One of the best things about metalheads is that they pay to see bands like Meshuggah. In no other genre, except jazz, will you see a band with no conventional tunings, rhythms or choruses headline a 3,000-capacity venue. Meshuggah's compositionally-subversive non-metal peers probably don't whip their fans into the same kind of visible delirium, but that may have more to do with the band's intangible powers than the forces of death metal.
Meshuggah are death metal's Slayer. Entire subgenres--technical death metal, djent, deathcore, Gojira--have been founded on the idea of outplaying them, but no Summer Slaughter act has ever conjured up the ferocity amassed by the five guys that make up Meshuggah. Watching them wipe the floor with Terminal 5 last week under Godzilla-sized riffs was a reminder that Meshuggah are still at the top of the games that they founded.
Openers Decapitated, one of the better bands to stem from Meshuggah's shadow, drove the crowd into a floor-encompassing pit for the entirety of their set. Sticking to tracks from last year's Carnival is Forever, Poland's heaviest seemed to overcome the venue's stifling acoustics by sheer force. Guitarist Vogg has made a name on passing expectations, losing two members in a fatal bus crash and rebounding with their most consistent record yet, and drummer Krimh honored the mindwarping style of deceased drummer Vitek without imitating it.
Baroness, the evening's odd band out, are famous for classic rock-inspired beard metal. They'd be better suited for a bill with Mastodon or even Bonnaroo, but at Terminal 5 they were able to emphasize their stoner-prog melodies by offering the night's most drastic change of pace. Not once did they pander to the tech death audience, opening with a slow drone and and serving Kyuss-like riffage under often harmonized vocals. The crowd gave them their due, taking a 45-minute break from moshing to absorb the hypnotic progressions of "A Horse Called Golgotha" and "The Sweetest Curse." I'm not sure that I could enjoy a double album of it (as we'll find out when Yellow & Green drops July 17,) but I'd see them again and invite friends.
Impressive as they were, neither Baroness nor Decapitated could steal the show. From the bass-heavy first tones of "Do Not Look Down," Meshuggah unleashed a dizzying set, focused mainly on their two most recent albums, this year's Koloss and 2008's career-peak ObZen. The former's slowed tempos and the latter thrash touches melded into a cinder block-heavy show of horns-flashing music theory classes, graced with a congruent stained glass stage design and a nearly blinding light show. Who knows how much of Terminal 5 would've survived were the Meshuggah fans not relatively subdued by the flashes.
On record, Meshuggah's leaders are guitar wizards Fredrik Thordendal and Mårten Hagström and polyrhythmic master Thomas Haake, but onstage frontman Jens Kidman is the star. A good if not mind-blowing singer, his robotic movements and omnipresent samurai face are an unforgettable visual to the sci-fi nightmares behind songs like "The Demon's Name is Surveillance" and "Future Breed Machine." Under the frantic waves of "Combustion," he was the eye of the band's hurricane, moving just slowly enough to make the case that he was about to destroy the room. Compared with other death metal frontmen, his performances are like his band's music--not the fastest or most dynamic that you can find, but all the scarier for their guile.
Meshuggah will be no one's gateway metal band, but for those of us who like our jazz to come with blast beats, we couldn't have asked for more.