This post has been corrected. See note at the bottom for details.
A looming "super moon
" glowered down on West Hollywood's House of Blues on Saturday as Sweden's Meshuggah shone a dark light on alternate headbanging methodology.
Far from the act's goofy Yiddish
name (Jewish and crazy the band is not), Meshuggah has been reinventing metal as insurrection for a quarter of a century. Barfing oppression-themed lyrics and pitting thunderous thud against insidious riffs, the bearded five have waged uncivil war against political and musical convention.
And the L.A. mob grabbed the flag. What could seem like distant intellectuality on record became prole electricity when the volume cranked to cannonade level and the front four hunched shoulder to shoulder like a team of oxen. Vocalist Jens Kidman, in fighting trim form these days, leaned over and spewed a disgusted rage that connected hard with the fist-pumping crowd.
The inflammatory wordage and the deadly impetus sprang largely from drummer Thomas Haake, whose off-center accents, mutant tangos and sarcastic waltzes regrooved preconceptions. The reverberative low frequencies were felt almost subliminally, with Fredrik Thordendal and Mårten Hagström employing downtuned eight-string axes, their fret hands flicking mainly over the thickest wires in cycles foreign to standard logic.
Meshuggah doesn't necessarily disdain metal's de rigueur lead guitar -- but the act has reconceived that, too. Thordendal resorted to the high strings for the kind of spooky whines, irritational scales and "Psycho" stabs that have made him a hero to techphiles.
After its punishing main set, Meshuggah was screamed back for an extended encore. Revolution accomplished.
It was an intelligent risk to include Georgia's Baroness -- different style, label and continent -- on this tour. The gamble didn't quite pan out.
Not that the three hipster geeks
and one tattooed rocker didn't deliver passionate precision. The twin guitars of bush-bearded John Baizley and '70s-haired Peter Adams rang out in deft counterpoint; the rhythm slammed and sloshed behind drummer Allen Blickle; the songwriting had scope and imagination, ranging from stormy sea chanty to headlong abandon. Locate Baroness on the metal map slightly to the left of Queens of the Stone Age and to the right of Mastodon.
The quartet showed canny professionalism, too, tuning up frequently yet masking the brief downtime with pre-recorded loops of spacy texture. With their roughshod vocal harmonies and somewhat bookish attitude, though, Baroness just wasn't what the Meshuggah legions demanded. Despite their complementary progressive affinities, the Southerners received only limited Housepitality.
Openers Decapitated fit the brutality demographic. Plunging straight into a 7/8 double-kick blast, the Polish quartet established its technical-death credentials and never looked back.
Having lost two members in a 2007 car crash, Decapitated re-formed behind guitarist Waclaw Kieltyka and quickly revved back to the European front lines with demonic intensity. Kieltyka shredded difficult riffs and atonal wah solos, while charismatic drummer Kerim Lechner whipped through odd time signatures and wrenching tempo changes. Vocalist Rafal Piotrowski lurched, screamed and twirled his yardlong dreadlocks throughout.
Early moshing hit a peak when original bassist Marcin Rygiel stepped in at the end of Decapitated's set, and anyone with a taste for loud, proficient, radical music was already satisfied.
[FOR THE RECORD, 3:57 p.m. May 7: An earlier version of this post incorrectly identified the name of Decapitated's original bassist as Richard Gulczynski. It is Marcin Rygiel.]
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-- Greg Burk
Photo: Meshuggah. Credit: Anthony Dubois