Meshuggah, Baroness, Decapitated House of Blues April 29, 2012
When I arrived at House of Blues for Sunday night's heaviness, a large crowd had already been lined up on the second floor of the Houston Pavilions before the doors opened. Hadn't seen that before. Evidently, this show had been circled on more than a few calendars.
Not hard to see why, really. It was the first night of Meshuggah's "Ophidian Trek" tour with Baroness and Decapitated, a pretty damn salty lineup starring some of the most original bands in modern metal. For the city's serious fans of extreme rock, this was not one to miss.
Poland's Decapitated opened the show with pulsing death metal punctuated by titanic blast beats and vocalist Rafał Piotrowski's throaty yowl. Sunday night was my live introduction to the group, but it was plenty noticeable that the band's newer-sounding material seemed heavily influenced by Meshuggah, full of polyrhythmic explorations, crushing breakdowns and acerbic soloing from the band's guitarist/mastermind, Wacław "Vogg" Kiełtyka.
Predictably, this went over rather well with the crowd. There are certainly worse groups from whom to take your cues in the extreme metal sphere, and Decapitated turned in an energetic set that got the crowd pumped up for what was to come. The set's closer, "Spheres of Madness," kick-started the first (and only) real mosh pit of the night.
"C'mon, it's Meshuggah Day!" cried Piotrowski. "How're you fucking feeling!"
The audience was feeling good, indeed, and it felt even better when Baroness took the stage. The Savannah, Georgia, group has risen to the top of the heap in progressive metal over the past five years behind a pair of color-coded records: The Red Album and the Blue Record. The group took a year off from touring in 2011 to write and record a new double-disc opus, Yellow & Green, due out later this year.
If Baroness debuted any of that new material on Sunday, they certainly didn't make a big deal about it. The majority of their set came from 2010's Blue Record. The rollicking "A Horse Called Golgotha" was the first tune out of the gate, greeted by much fist pumping. Guitarist Peter Adams showed off some dynamic fretwork while harmonizing with the howls of singer John Baizley.
Drummer Allen Blickle looked very pleased to be back out on the road playing music. He broke into a broad grin numerous times during the band's set, and even led the crowd in clapping along at one point.
The lengthy "Steel That Sleeps the Eye" was one of the set's highlights, delving a bit into stoney Floydian territory. "The Gnashing," on the other hand, was pure driving power, touching off some furious headbanging both onstage and in the crowd. The band finished up with the heavy, jammy "Isak." Judging by how much louder the roar of the crowd was at the end of their set than it was at the beginning, I'd wager they made a few new fans.
"Thanks very much," Baizley said. "Stick around for Meshuggah!"
That comment sounded pretty silly at the time -- who the hell was going to skip the headliner? As it turned out, though, Meshuggah's crew needed quite a bit of time to set up and test the band's impressive LED lighting rig.
While the crowd waited, some cruel fucker let a truly endless version of Rod Stewart's "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?" play for more than 20 minutes. It started out as a nice palate-cleanser between metal bands, but as we neared the half-hour mark, people were gritting their teeth. Fuck you, Rod.
When the five Swedes finally took the stage, though, all memory of the agonizing disco onslaught was immediately erased. Shit, a lot of memories were erased. The unbelievably percussive force of Meshuggah's eight-string guitars was absolutely nut-rattling as the band opened up with the explosive "Demiurge" from this year's Koloss.
This was my fourth Meshuggah concert, but Sunday's show definitely had the best sound mix out of the performances I've witnessed. The band sounded apocalyptically heavy. Just as bewilderingly extreme was the light show, which assaulted the audience with a battery of colored LEDs and strobes.
The lighting tech played those cans like an instrument, flashing intensely bright beams directly into the audience's faces with every bass-drum blast. It could be completely disorienting at times. Combined with the crushing guitar sound and Jens Kidman's vicious shrieking, it seemed that the band was bent on ruining as many of the crowd's senses as possible.
The schizoid blast of "Pravus" followed next and led right into the incendiary "Combustion." Some fans banged their heads and some pumped their fists, but a lot of people just stood and stared, completely dominated by the ferocity of sounds and lights that seemed to threaten them with irreparable harm.
The band blew through four tunes before Kidman offered a "good evening," and the respite didn't last long. Meshuggah didn't skimp on new material -- I saw a fan near me begin to twitch disconcertingly during "The Hurt That Finds You First," and the pulverizing groove of "Do Not Look Down" seems likely to become a new live staple.
Drummer Tomas Haake put in a full day's work behind the kit over the span of nearly two hours, and he was so deep in the pocket on "Do Not" that I was little afraid the banging heads in the crowd might begin to fly off.
Somewhere in the middle of "Bleed" from 2008's obZen, I began asking myself where the concert ranked amongst the best metal shows that I've attended. The roiling triplet pattern that forms the backbone of the song was performed with Meshuggah's trademark precision, sharper now than I remembered four years ago.
It was during "New Millennium Cyanide Christ," though, that I stopped taking notes and let the polyrhythms take over. In years past, this would have been the set's closer.
On Sunday, though, we also got "Rational Gaze," "Future Breed Machine" and "Dancers to a Discordant System." The onslaught simply wouldn't stop. By the time Kidman thanked the crowd for coming out, I was drained.
My ears are still ringing, my neck feels like spaghetti and I'm considering buying a pair of those gigantic, black therapeutic sunglasses. My retinas may need time to heal.
Guess it wouldn't be a Meshuggah show if it didn't leave a few scars.
Personal Bias: Meshuggah fan.
The Crowd: An army of black T-shirts.
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Overheard in the Crowd: "Goddamn, dude, my neck...!"
Random Notebook Dump: On sale at the merch table was an official Meshuggah Affliction T-shirt. That was...odd.