Meshuggah // Zeal & Ardor // Live Review // The Royal Albert Hall // London
Meshuggah – Live at The Royal Albert Hall, London – An assault of sound and light.
I’ve never really listened toZeal and Ardorbefore. I got to the Royal Albert Hall and the PA was playing Brian Eno’s Music for Airports before Zeal took the stage. I thought that it was an interesting choice and was intrigued by what an opening act for Meshuggahwas going to serve up. Tonight’s openers were Zeal and Ardor, an avant-garde Swiss/ American metal band and the brainchild of the multi-talented, multi-instrumentalist Manuel Gagneux. They took the stage a little after 7.30 pm and in no time I was impressed by Gagneux and the band’s heavy sound and near-perfect vocal harmonies despite 3 vocalists.
They opened with ‘Church Burns’ amidst loud cheers from an enthusiastic crowd that seemed familiar with their music. It was a pleasant introduction to the band.
As the band moved into their second song Götterdämmerung also from the new album it was evident that Zeal was a band that wasn’t scared to experiment with their sound even within the confines of a song.
To say the band sounds different is an understatement. Zeal might be best described as acapella vocals meets a heavy black metal sound. The diversity in sound and the use of the tambourine, and piano amidst the heavy guitars was a pleasant surprise.
The setlist ebbed and flowed and frontman Gagneux and the band took us on a wild ride exploring various sonic soundscapes. The latter half of the set also saw the band lean on material from the new album, and they played “J-M-B” (Jazz, Metal and Blues) a playful melodic track that explored Jazz, Metal and Blues.
They closed out their set with another fun rock n roll track Baphomet.
The break between bands was about 30 mins, enough time for the venue to be packed by the time Meshuggah came on. The PA played George Michael’s Careless Whisper before the metal masters from Sweden took the stage. Tonight was their last UK stop in support of their latest album Immutable.
The lights dimmed amidst the baying of the crowd and Keerych Luminokaya’s album artwork of the new Meshuggah album Immutable served as the perfect backdrop for the madness that was to engulf us. Meshuggah’s music is a wall of complex sound, uncompromising, frantic, pounding and hardly a normal guitar solo to be heard. Definitely not for the weak-hearted.
The lights, as challenging as it was for the photographers in the pit, were a grand spectacle. Meshuggah’s light shows, created by lighting designer Edvard Hansson, are exhaustively synchronised to the rhythmic patterns of the guitars and drums. and help create an immersive, multi-sensory experience, almost like providing a visual analysis of the music as it unfolds.
The band launched into the set opener Broken Cog and then Light the Shortening Fuse both from the new album Immutable. The guitars, bass and drums counted in before the hulking Jens Kidman joined in with clean whispered vocals a departure from his earlier style and the band smashed into the song.
With the band sounding so massive it’s a wonder how Jens Kidman makes himself heard but the vocals were fabulously balanced.
The very foundation of the band’s sound is the drummer Thomas Haake and the underrated bass sound of Dick Lövgren that sets the foundation for the furious and dark riffing of Mårten Hagström and Fredrik Thordendal.
Going back in time the band then played Rational Gaze and Pravus from Obzen. It was hard to not be gobsmacked by the spectacular light show on display with different colours of beams cutting through the venue and backlighting the band.
The band then played more songs from Immutable, including the haunting and primal Ligature Marks. As we got to the midpoint of their set they played the trilogy from 2005’s Catch Thirty-Three. Minds Mirrors, In Death, is life and In Death is death. As In death is life closes and the crowd hears the explosive opening riff of In death is death the venue is transformed into a mass of headbangers.
Toward the end of their set, we heard the fantastic, riff-heavy The Abysmal eye from Immutable and Straws pulled at Random from 2002’s Nothing. Meshuggah’s machine-like precision was on full display.
They closed out their set with a rousing encore of Demiurge and Future Breed Machine. I’ve seen a lot of metal bands live and photographed a ton of them. While the dark lighting made the show a challenge to photograph, the band exceeded my expectations live and it was one of the most defining live shows I’ve seen. The musicianship on display left no doubt in anyone’s mind that Meshuggah are pioneers of the genre and true masters of their craft.