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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.