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Following untold amounts of anticipation from their rabid fanbase, masters of mindbending metal Meshuggah finally released their live album – simply titled Alive – earlier this year which is also their first DVD in a 23-year career (that’s right, the band has been in formation since the year I was born).
Meshuggah retains an unusual status as an uncompromisingly original and innovative band which has pretty much forged a new form of extreme metal single-handedly; mechanical rather than organic, abstract rather than earthly, intellectual rather than emotional. It also renders them difficult to penetrate other than to the seasoned underground metal fan; a dense onslaught of inhuman intensity inaccessible to the casual listener. Their ferociously heavy songs characterised by 7- and 8-string guitars, Tomas Haake’s stellar precise polyrhythmic drumming, and Fredrik Thordendal’s distinct and cacophonous jazz-fusion inflected soloing, have brought them widespread critical acclaim and a small but dedicated fanbase, aswell as a perplexing number of copycats.
Alive consists of a balanced variety of songs from the band’s back catalogue recorded at number of concerts taking place in Tokyo, Toronto, Montreal and New York. In between songs are snippets of interviews and backstage footage, which while brief, give insight into the lives and workings of this enigmatic and highly influential band. These pieces of footage also serve as segues between colossal and often relentless pieces of music. Happily, this is a CD/DVD release which means you can enjoy the sonic triumph without interruption – although the recorded video is certainly impressively shot and edited.
In the interloping footage, the band gives the distinct impression of being an astute and down-to-earth group of dedicated individuals who have not passed up the opportunity to gain some perspective and insight from their experiences. My one complaint is because of the brevity of these segments, there isn’t much scope for detailed interviews or lengthy footage.
One thing that stands out besides the band’s stunning performances is the sound quality throughout, which is all the more impressive considering the bowel-rupturing heaviness and specialised nature of their sound. In fact, many songs sound even better than on the albums themselves. Drummer Tomas Haake in particular shines in all performances, his technicality and dizzying proficiency eclipsing almost any human attempt at percussion.
On Pravus – one of the better songs on their last album, obZen - the band gives an outstanding performance in which the thunderous riffs and otherworldy, almost psychedelic leads are delivered with unparalleled sound quality.
Fans will be moist with delight at the performance of Bleed – a song which has gained the band some fame due to its relentless pace and inhuman technicality. This is also delivered with remarkable precision and surprising clarity.
The songs from Chaosphere in particular sound great, and songs like New Millennium Cyanide Christ and The Mouth Licking What You’ve Bled definitely have more impact and presence than on the album, accompanied by kinetic grooves and powerful, crushing bass.
Another outstanding performance is that of Lethargica – a gargantuan heavy groove interspersed with spacey leads which give way to an earth-crushing middle riff and a hypnotic end section.
Besides the touring and interview footage, there are a few bonus features on the DVD – the music video for Bleed in all its existential terror, as well as the making thereof, and short features on the band’s guitar/bass tech and Tomas Haake’s monstrous customised drumkit. Maybe not the wealth of material the band could have included, but the main feature is such an achievement that one’s appetite is sated without much need for surplus features.
This release is definitely a worthwhile addition to an already extensive gamut of outstanding material from this band, and a great purchase for any existing fan aswell as newcomers looking for an entry point into the sometimes terrifying world of Meshuggah.
While I've been inundated with updates on Blabbermouth about Maynard Keenan releasing a DVD about his wine producing exploits, one of the other major players of cutting edge prog metal , Meshuggah, were putting together something that actually got me excited - a live DVD and CD, with footage taken from the bands first ever world tour supporting the sublime "Obzen" album.
Some fans may be puzzled at the omission of any "Destroy Erase Improve" tracks, but its refreshing to see a band not rest on its laurels and try and move on from past glories (anyone else think Metallica have rinsed playing Seek and Destroy live?). Meshuggah on-stage apperance is fitting for the music that they play - Fred and Mårten with their unreal 8-string guitars, Jens with his skull positively pulsating as he torturously unleashes his vocals, and the entire band dressed in an uncompromising monochromic black.
The music is faultlessly tight - not a single beat is missed and those insane stacatto polyrhythms retain all their wierdness perfectly. Although to be honest, you cant help thinking whilst listening to it that you'd rather be hearing the better-sounding studio versions of the songs, since Meshuggah are not the band to jam and alter stuff majorly live (with the exception of Fred, who does some amazing improvs for solos).
Highlights include the massive slab of lushness that is "Rational Gaze", Haakes extra-bewildering drumming on "The Mouth Licking What You've Bled", and Fred's solo on the outro to "Straws Pulled at Random", which still ranks as one of the most beautiful pieces of music that i've had the pleasure of hearing.If you're lacking in the funds you'd be better off buying the re-release of Nothing, since it has a bonus DVD with amazing footage from Download 2005 on it, and you get an unbelievable album included too obviously.
While Alive is not the first DVD that Meshuggah has released, having put out a small compilation DVD of the same consistancy for the 2006 reissue of the band's album Nothing, this is the first release to be packaged and prepared solely as a DVD specific release. While this DVD features live footage, it is set up almost like a documentary, having footage from various clips from the band's tour to support their ObZen release, littered with clips between the songs that give some insight into the band, their touring mentallity, and things that go on behind the scenes. Luckily, this DVD puts a more serious look at the band and is not just footage littered with Jackass brand hysterics and clips of band members on the toilet.
The main issue behind having a DVD that has clips from various concerts is that the consistence is not quite the same as just one solid show from start to finish. However, there is a perk to having it set up like this, which is that you can get a feel for how everything is within the band as the DVD goes along thanks to the little commentary sections that the band members give between tracks. Of course, both of these ring true on this DVD. There are some inconsistencies on the DVD thanks to this, but mostly noticable through the vocals. If you listen to the first clip, "Perpetual Black Second", it is clear that the vocals are not properly warmed up, and then on the next video, "Pravus", they clearly are. If you ever pulled vocal duties, this will sometimes happen and is often expected on DVD releases, but it seems like there are other tracks here and there where either the vocalist seems to not be properly warmed up, or out of breath, and then the next video he's fine. This causes some issues as to the live experience of the program and makes you wonder if he, or the band as a whole, could pull the song off live or not when they can pull the next song off without a problem. Also, some of the clips, though often insightful into the daily workings of the band, can sometimes just be there, such as "Dissemenation" and "Ritual", the latter being footage of the band talking in their native tongue, then of the venue from the outside.
Each performance on this DVD, as well as the additional clips between, are clearly shot with High Definition cameras, as the quality of the footage itself is amazing and very professional. The audio is great too, being very clear with all the sound levels being just right that every instrument, including the vocalist, can be heard clearly. Aside the audio and video, the final product has some nice little touches such as a very nice black and white filter used on the smaller segments, as well as the usage of two different screens that sometimes appear during the live performances. While this isn't the moment during the guitar solo on "Lethargica".
So, on the DVD you get you have a semi-documentary with live footage, as well as a few other features. You get a guitar and drum tour, which just shows the instruments off, as well as the music video to "Bleed" and the making of it. Nothing special unless you have never seen the music video, which will blow your mind. The "Making Of Bleed" mini-documentary is actually very interesting to see though, as it shows a little bit more about the goings on behind the video then you would expect there to be, but won't serve much more then one play.
There are a few issues that really bog this DVD down though. The fact that you cannot set it up to play only the live videos would have been a huge plus, regardless of the pushing of one button to skip to the next video. That, and the fact that the videos are not in order. One minute you're in Tokyo, the next New York, U.S.A., and then in Canada and back to Tokyo, then all over Canada. Things would have worked out better if the videos were clumped by the location as well, not so much to correspond to some of the backstage footage since none of it really goes into detail about the location, but for the sake of continuity. Sure you could argue they may be different dates but they are not according to the booklet, which is even more of a kicker.
But the bigger problem on this release is the simple fact that the DVD doesn't really come to a real climax. "Straws Pulled At Random" concludes the live videos on the DVD, and starts with the band thanking the fans for being there and the bands on the tour with them, but never really says anything about them being done. They just play the song and when it finishes it cuts to the next little clip, "End", which goes into the credits. Given how everything is set up, you'd think the music that starts for the credits meant that there was more to come, but there's not, and it's a big let down.
Along with the DVD, you get an audio CD of the live songs which is great because it lumps the venues together and the songs flow from one another as per the actual set list played. The audio is taken directly from the DVD itself too. This is a huge plus towards this release because this release comes in a readily available package and won't cost you an arm and a leg. This CD is also available as a seperate purchase item, but only through on-line retailers, and will average to just a little more for the DVD/CD combo then the CD in MP3 format.
So, even though Alive is a decent release, it has some complications that defy common sense, and is far from a definitive DVD release. If you are a fan of the band in any way, it is still worth checking out as there are some really insightful things spoken of during the breaks between the live videos, as well as some moments that may cause you to gain a little more respect for the band then what you have before.. Aside that you have some spectacular live footage that is very professional and gives an accurate representation of a Meshuggah concert. However, this is not a release that you should walk into expecting great things from, but is more of a casual ObZen companion piece for your collection.
Originally posted on Apoch's Metal Review