Meshuggah + Zeal & Ardor @ The Royal Albert Hall – 3rd June 2022

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Still led by the irrepressible Manuel Gagneux, Zeal & Ardor are a far darker beast than the chamber pop of his previous band, Birdmask. Born from the question “what if American slaves had embraced Satan instead of Jesus?”, Zeal & Ardor have a sound that could raise the devil and their mixing African-American spirituals with black metal is refreshingly original. With two backing vocalists (Denis Wagner and Marc Obrist) supplementing Manuel’s versatile voice Zeal & Ardor create a wall of sound which threatens to topple over the crowd. Often Denis and Marc seem superfluous, but when they step up to the mic, they make themselves count. Those unfamiliar with Zeal & Ardor’s seem a little confused with their modus operandi but by the time the band reach ‘Trust No One’ they’ve won over any doubters. A pleasing tension of opposites is ‘Death To The Holy’ and warms the crowd up nicely while ‘Devil Is Fire’, with its call-and-response vocals, sets things to boiling point. Zeal & Ardor waste not a single second on between song banter or suchlike and their compact 40 minute sets wins them many new admirers.

Using George Michael’s ‘Careless Whisper’ as an introduction tape was certainly an unexpected surprise but it was one that had the whole venue singing along, and it provided the perfect foil for the crushing opener that is ‘Broken Cog’. As red and white spotlights pierce the darkness it grinds slowly in ever decreasing circles and ramps the tension up to almost unbearable levels. Like a succession of hammer blows to the cranium the opening to ‘Broken Cog’ is a punishing affair but in a move that’ll echo throughout tonight’s performance, it introduces ambient passages that add texture and mood and makes for a megalithic listen. With barely a pause for breath another track from latest album Immutable follows in the shape of ‘Light The Shortening Fuse’ and it ignites the crowd centre stage and I’m wondering if this the first mosh pit ever seen inside the genteel surroundings of The Albert Hall?

In Meshuggah I can trace a direct lineage to early Pink Floyd via bands such as Voivod and Celtic Frost but, of course, this Swedish quintet have taken things to a whole new level. Tracks such as ‘Rational Gaze’ are played with robotic precision as surgical guitars slice through the air like steely knives. The band employ tonality to great effect and the sounds they create vibrate at some primordial level and makes the air inside The Albert Hall hang heavy as if the remnant of a mushroom cloud. Aside from drummer Thomas Haake (who constantly hypnotises the crowd with poly-rhythms) the band are largely statuesque; they don’t run around and throw shapes like most bands, yet their performance is nonetheless spellbinding and it holds the crowd’s full attention.

There’s a few surprises in tonight’s set, most notably the absence of ‘Bleed’ (that’d be like Iron Maiden not playing ‘Iron Maiden’) but there’s plenty here to keep the faithful satisfied and three cuts from the Catch Thirtythree follow with ‘Mind’s Mirrors’, In Death – Is Life’ and ‘In Death – Is Death’ placed together to create a lengthy suite. However, each song that Meshuggah unleash is a towering monolith built towards the heavens in the worship of some strange deity. Vocalist Jens Kidman’s words are robotic and precise and he effortlessly flits between hardcore shouts and clean singing and his pipes are a vital component in the Meshuggah, another voice that adds an extra layer to an already thick and treacly sound. A wounded giant dragging itself along, ‘Straws Pulled At Random’ makes for an oppressive closer as the band depart behind an impenetrable wall of feedback. The band return for two encores, the second of which ‘Future Breed Machine’, finds the band hanging around to milk some well-deserved applause.

 

Meshuggah Set List:

  1. Broken Cog
  2. Light The Shortening Fuse
  3. Rational Gaze
  4. Pravus
  5. The Hurt That Finds You
  6. Ligature Marks
  7. Born In Dissonance
  8. Mind’s Mirrors
  9. In Death – Is Life
  10. In Death – Is Death
  11. The Abysmal Eye
  12. Straws Pulled At Random

Encores:

  1. Demiurge
  2. Future Breed Machine