Meshuggah w/ Zeal & Ardor – Live Review From 02 Academy, Bristol, 29th May 2022

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Sunday was anything but a day of rest for the people of Bristol who descended on the O2 Academy in the city centre. Sold out months in advance, it was finally time to get put through the wringer once again by the mighty Meshuggah. Dragging behind them their reputation as a one of a kind live band and a whole host of new material off of their ninth album Immutable, it wasn’t long until the congregation had filled every inch of floor space available in anticipation of the return of one of heavy music’s most treasured and terrible (in the best kind of way) offerings.

With the crowd just waiting to be devastated by the headliners once they take to the stage, filling that support slot can be a tough balance to work out. It turns out the best way to get a crowd warmed up for a barrage of heavy is to simply put a really great band on before. Zeal & Ardor were a perfect choice to support this tour. Just like Meshuggah, they stand very much on their own due to their distinct style but none of that matters when you see how good they are at it. Their stage set-up of frontman Manuel Gagneux being flanked by the band’s two other vocalists is immediately captivating and all three of them deliver incredibly powerful vocal performances.

This is an audience that has shown up to the venue to get beaten over the head by the experience and Zeal & Ardor are happy to oblige some massive riffs and whiplash-inducing changes of pace of their own. Amongst that, there are the other sounds that make up Zeal & Ardor that keep the show flowing smoothly so that there’s no burnout before the real fire comes alive. The setlist was mostly made up of their February released self-titled album that is worth its weight in gold in the live environment. If the show had ended after their set, it still would have carried the makings of a great gig. 

Overall score: 9/10

When Immutable’s album opener Broken Cog first starts, similarly to the way it does on the record, it turns the screw of anticipation. Whilst it’s effective as an album opener, it leaves the O2 academy in Bristol collectively holding their breath waiting for that release. That first full chest pounding moment comes once Light the Shortening Fuse begins and from this point on, it’s full steam ahead. The full Meshuggah effect is finally underway and this ramps into another gear when the opening riff of Rational Gaze rings out and sends the front portion of the crowd into a frenzy. Such is the tiered nature of the venue that the small amount of stairs down to the stage quickly become a floodgate, with people pushing against the dam to try and get into the eye of the storm.

Whilst Immutable is the dominant part of the show, there are only four tracks that find their way into the set out of the 13 cuts in the setlist. Ligature Marks is a good if never great selection that will likely be fazed out over time whilst The Abysmal Eye is sure to stick around after being a real highlight of the record. In the way Born in Dissonance has outlived The Violent Sleep of Reason tours, that’s the one that feels like a newly born staple. Of course, as literally everyone in attendance is aware, there are no real breaks in the action so every single track is delivered with as much unrelenting momentum as the last. It’s Meshuggah and that’s what they do.

The rest of the setlist is a career spanning cherry pick of one or two tracks off of each record, excluding Chaosphere and their 1991 debut Contradictions Collapse. Straws Pulled at Random and the one-two punch of Catch Thirtythree’s In Death – Is Life and In Death – Is Death are incredible selections that make this setlist a real treat for long time fans. Whilst there is one colossal track in particular missing that will surely find its way back in soon, the encore made up of Demiurge and Future Breed Machine is as close to perfection as you can get in this genre.

Meshuggah’s identity as a band that has always done things by their book and no one else’s makes their shows feel so unique. Every ticket holder knows exactly what they’re in for, there are no surprises with this band and that allows them to just be the best they can at what they do and who they are. They’re an enigma that you never need to understand, a question that doesn’t need an answer. Once you experience them in the flesh you have no choice but to let it in and by that point, it’s too late, you’re in for the ride.

The living machine brushed through Bristol on Sunday night leaving only a wave of destruction and plenty of devoted admirers who will patiently await the next time they can feel that explosion once more.

Overall score: 9/10

Photos taken by Em Coulter at the Nottingham show.

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