Written by Agah Bahari
Even though I suppose to review Meshuggah set on Feb.19 at Toronto’s infamous Sound Academy, I would need to also quickly review one of the opening acts, Animals As Leaders, as both bands share certain musical and mathematical elements that have and are shaping the contemporary metal music since the mid 90’s.
I arrived at Sound Academy around 7pm. It was one of those cold nights turned into freezing because of the wind. Fortunately everything seemed to be right on time and I got inside with a middle-sized group of people without waiting for longer than 5 minutes. The first opening act was Intronaut from LA, which I just got to know earlier that day through their “Valley of Smoke” album. Starting right at 7:30, as planned, Intronaut performed for exactly 30 minutes.
The second act, was Animals As Leaders. The brainchild of the guitarist Tosin Abasi, AAL was formed in 2007 in Washington DC. With two albums, AAL defined a new wave of instrumental progressive metal music which, to me, is the 21st century combined-understanding of the 70’s jazz/fusion, 80’s metal and 90’s progressive metal movements. After a quick 30-minutes setup by the band members themselves, thanks to the in-ear monitoring and modeling technologies, the second act was begun. Performing as a trio with two 8-string guitars and a drums, the usual addition of bass guitar was not only lacking but also made me wonder, how and why the lower frequency would even work or be needed in such an ensemble. Starting with Earth Departure from their latest album Weightless, AAL took their excited and passionate Torontonian fans through a journey of sound and music that only AAL can manage to produce. Wave of Babies, Cylindrical Sea, New Eden, and self-titled Weightless were all the songs that the fans were familiar with and excited to hear live. The combination of odd-time signatures, poly-rhythms, technical ability and the practical knowledge of music theory, the elements that AAL heavily shares with Meshuggah, have already made AAL into a cult-like band with devoted fans all around the world, from the US to Canada to Japan to Iran. Before playing the last song of their 45-minutes set, CAFO, Tosin Abasi thanked the fans and mentioned that they missed their previous Toronto show because the guitarist Javier Reyes was “in jail”, and even though they “almost couldn’t get into Canada” this time, they’re looking forward to come back. So the moral of this part of the story is, that AAL is, without a doubt, one of number of bands in today’s music industry to look for, support and follow. There isn’t any other like them.
A little more than 15 minutes of waiting and watching the technicians setting up the stage, and all the way from Sweden, Meshuggah, Abasi’s “absolutely favorite band of all time”, was on the stage. Starting with Swarm from their seventh and latest album Koloss, Meshuggah was back on the stage of the Sound Academy in less than a year from their previous performance on the very same stage. Judging by the reaction of the crowed, yours truly included, as well as the size and the energy of the mosh pit in the middle, Meshuggah were not only welcomed back but were expected to come back and perform perhaps the heaviest, darkest, most complex metal music in the world today. Goin’ through their absolute classics, including Combustion, obZen, Do Not Look Down, In Death – Is Life, In Death – Is Death, and Bleed, Meshuggah, with Fredrik Thordendal, Tomas Haake, Jens Kidman, Mårten Hagström and Dick Lövgren, performed and exercised the right to be very different and innovative in today’s music industry, while taking their hardcore fans through 18 years of unique catalog, from Destroy Erase Improve, to Nothing, my personal favorite Catch Thirtythree, obZen and Koloss. After finishing their one and half hour non-stop set with one of my favorite metal songs of all time, Straws Pulled at Random, Meshuggah were gone but, soon back on the stage to finish the night with Dancers to a Discordant System, the encore from their 2008 masterpiece, obZen. The show was ended around 11:15pm, and it was time to go home and think about what just happened.
On the way back home I ran into Kate, an attractive 20-something-year-old who’s also been at the show, and asked her about her favorite band of the night. “Animals As Leaders, because they’re instrumental and focus more on music rather than voice” was the answer. Whether you share the same interest and love for instrumental music with Kate and many others, or not, the live experience of Animals As Leaders and Meshuugah is something not to be missed. It is the uniqueness of the sound, music, atmosphere and the performance which have made those bands among the most loved and respected in today’s heavier and darker music scene. Indeed, there isn’t any other like them.