Review from 170 Russell, 14/03/17
Photos from Enmore Theatre, 12/03/17
A Meshuggah and Thy Art is Murder double-bill might seem like an odd match up. The Swedish tech-metal overlords and the Aussie deathcore bruisers share little in common other than a seemingly joint ambition to become the heaviest thing on the face of the earth. Thus, the show witnessed this Tuesday, March 14 of 2017, in Melbourne was surely one of the heaviest outings ever brought about. However, it was clear that out of the two acts, one was surely punching above their weight.
“There are enough lights up here to light up a thousand Mardi Gras,” Thy Art’s newly-returned frontman CJ McMahon points out early into their set, explaining why the band were cramped down the front of the stage. “We’ve got fuck all room up here,” he adds, asking if it’s OK if he can go out into the crowd to find a bit of space. It’s these moments when he goes out—either on top of or—into the crowd that really capitalise on the kinetic response his band inspires.
McMahon’s turmoil over the last twelve months has been well documented, and this marks his first official run of shows with the band, following his surprise return at the Unify Festival earlier this year. The brooding vocalist explains that he’s spent the last year getting “mostly” off drugs, and mentioned a number of times that he was glad to be back playing shows with his “best mates” again.
It’s hard to see the night as anything but a triumphant return for McMahon. However, it’s clear that he’s in a fairly dark place still. Along with the immediate backtracking regarding his sobriety, he mentions on numerous occasions that he “hates [his] job and [he] hates [his] life,” as well as mentioning that he “hate[s] living in Sydney” but can’t move because he’s got a “fucking $900,000 mortgage.” Yet—especially for someone so bleakly serious in his lyrical and vocal approach—McMahon genuinely seemed to be having a lot of fun, and his irreverent, DJ-style “Whoop! Whoop!” became the calling card of the night.
The rest of the band, it has to be said, however, were largely lacking in personality. Although this was easily the strongest musical performance I’ve ever seen Thy Art Is Murder put in, the remainder of the five piece looked largely stilted and uncomfortable on stage. Even conceding the compromised stage space, their performance came off as being particularly static, and I was left wondering (as I have with many similarly imposing acts, such as Aversions Crown) whether there might not be some merit to taking a page out of the Tool playbook and moving McMahon behind such an impenetrable barrier of aggression, allowing him to stalk about malevolently in the background.
Meshuggah, on the other hand, took perfect advantage of the limited stage space. Sure, they didn’t have to navigate around a drumkit, but—besides lead guitarist Fredrik Thordendal, who remained firmly rooted on stage-left—the band managed to shift positions and move around each other effortlessly, while playing material infinitely more complex and demanding than that of the openers. Every member’s performance was simply flawless. However, it was the band’s bassist, Dick Lövgren, who seemed to be getting the most into proceedings, and it was amusing to look around the room to see everyone there violently headbanging, although never to the same rhythm.
If Thy Art Is Murder’s music is the sonic equivalent of being beaten over the head repeatedly with a stonemason’s hammer, then Meshuggah’s is that of being trampled to death by a Kolossal, extra-terrestrial automaton from the future—probably while it eats its own arms. Such mechanical and alien comparisons have long been associated with the Swedish act, and perhaps they take away somewhat from the sheer human achievement inherent in their music. However, the band’s capabilities are simply that: unbelievable, and bordering on the inhuman. Yet, while their technical capabilities have never been in doubt, this most recent offering proves their theatrical ones are equally superlative.
With Tool having openly admitted Meshuggah’s influence on their more recent (read: now over ten years old) material, it seems like the Swede’s might have gotten one back—having nabbed their distinctive laser-light show. Their last trip down under, supporting Lamb Of God in 2013, saw the quintet beginning to experiment with a more theatrical stage show. Then they played a Catch 33-heavy set while backlit by an eerie green—a technique proved equally effective during their countrymen Refused’s recent Australian visit. However, those tendencies have come to complete fruition in their current set-up, with searchlights and laser-beams pulsating in time with the impossible soundscape, before culminating in a frantic, rainbow flash that steadily fades to a complete white, during the ungodly encore of ‘Demiurge’ and ‘Future Breed Machine.’
Meshuggah likewise kept things fresh, through replacing live staples, such as ‘Combustion,’ ‘Rational Gaze’ and ‘New Millennium Cyanide Christ,’ with more-obscure album cuts like ‘Lethargica,’ ‘Perpetual Black Second’ and ‘Sane.’ This more complete and obtuse approach added up to one of the most destructive and literally mind-blowing sets ever witnessed. In retrospect, it’s hard to think Thy Art Is Murder ever stood a chance. Although to compare them, or anyone else, to the Swedish masters is beyond unfair. Meshuggah are simply better than other bands. That’s just how it is.