Meshuggah & Devin Townsend Project
O2 Academy Brixton
3rd May 2013
Do line-ups get much better than this? Not often. Once in a blue moon you'll see some great bands come together, but for the most part, this is one of the strongest you'll see all year. Tonight, two of the most influential, consistent and just plain best acts in metal go head-to-head at the legendary Brixton Academy in a co-headline showdown that those in attendance will tell their children about one day.
Serving as the warm-up for this momentous ocassion are Maryland youngsters Periphery, one of the key bands in the 'djent' movement of the last few years - a movement of young bands who basically all wish they were Meshuggah - who are visibly delighted to be opening for their heroes. Other than perhaps the time they opened for Dream Theater on their arena tour last year this is easily the gig of their career so far. They know this and they perform like it.
Spencer Sotelo has improved as a frontman greatly over the last year or two and his vocals are great tonight, while the rest of the band are tight and well-rehearsed, but their choice of setlist isn't the strongest. Their six-song performance leans mostly towards material from their latest, but numbers like Scarlet and Luck as a Constant could easily have been replaced by Facepalm Mute and The Walk, some of the stronger songs in their arsenal. Nevertheless, they are brimming with confidence and enthusiasm and ending with Icarus Lives! is always a good idea.
Nothing beats the real thing, though. Meshuggah, the Swedish metal wizards launch headfirst into Swarm from last year's Koloss. They sound massive. Following are an onslaught of songs heavy enough to destroy planets; Combustion, Rational Gaze, Lethargica and Do Not Look Down to name a few - all delivered with near-telepathic levels of musicianship that will leave you gobsmacked at how human beings, just like any of us, are capable of creating such an intricate, almost architectural cacophony; a concentrated tsunami of riffs, polyrhythms and crazy time signatures so spot-on you'd think the band were actually machines.
Throughout the hour and a half in which they possess the stage, Meshuggah are both bludgeoningly violent and eerily hypnotic almost simultaneously. It's almost impossible to resist playing air guitar to New Millenium Cyanide Christ just like in the video. No other band could pull off a song like Bleed or the epic, nearly ten-minute Dancers to a Discordant System. Under the right circumstances, a Meshuggah live performance transcends beyond a mere metal show: there's something otherworldy about witnessing them on a large stage in complete darkness with an extremely talented light guy (Youtube him) - their ability to create music that is so crushingly heavy yet hauntingly atmospheric and unlike anything before it is borderline paranormal. Meshuggah are truly masters of their craft; after all, their practically invented it. Their set comes to a close with a monolithic final one-two of In Death - Is Life and In Death - Is Death, leaving Brixton decimated six ways from Sunday. Imitated by many and bettered by none, they are indeed the undisputed kings.
How could anyone follow that? Well, in terms of sheer heaviness, technicality or near-superman musicianship, it is impossible to best Meshuggah. Devin Townsend does not intend to, though. To quote a certain Monty Python film, "and now for something completely different". Almost everything about Devin's set is the polar opposite to the great Swedes'. His 90 minutes are preceded by a montage of silly Youtube videos on the screen at the back of the stage. The lights aren't dimmed as the band walk on and any kind of seriousness and intensity of the previous two hours has been dropped. Devin and his band look overjoyed to be here. Who can blame them? The following 90 minutes are all about singing along, dancing, swaying arms in the air, raised lighters for the ballads and just plain fun.
That's not to say Devin isn't capable of bringing the weight, though - his wall-of-sound approach has served him well all these years, and few songs embody that like the opening Angel. It's loud - really loud. He's joined by the lovely Anneke van Giersbergen tonight, who provides additional vocals on many songs (including those she didn't record on) and a four-person choir. While this is nowhere near as extravagant as last year's Retinal Circus, it's probably the next best thing. They've got all areas covered tonight; there's Juular for those wanting some heavy, Where We Belong for the sing-alongs and Bad Devil to satisfy anyone feeling the need to throw some shapes. It just goes to show how versatile and talented this man really is. It must be said, though, that they missed a major opportunity in not getting Fredrik Thordendal to play his part in the epic 10-minute Planet of the Apes - the song even directly mentions Meshuggah! It's a dissapointment, but it doesn't do much to detriment this euphoric experience.
To crown one of tonight's main acts a clear victor wouldn't really be fair. You could argue who was better all night, but let's face it - this was a masterclass in metal brilliance and we're not going to see anything this good in a long time. Let's call it a draw and have a rematch in a couple of years, yeah?