LIVE: Devin Townsend Project, Meshuggah, Periphery at Brixton Academy [03/05/2013]

By Chris Marshman

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 what was to come are Maryland’s Periphery, one of the key bands in the ‘djent’ movement of the last few years. The band are visibly delighted to be opening for their heroes and although they did open for Dream Theatre not so long ago, this ranks as one of their biggest shows to date, they know this and they played as if every moment was their last on stage. Frontman Spencer Sotelo has improved greatly over the last couple of years and his vocals sound great, the band sound incredibly tight too. Their six song setlist isn’t the strongest and leans more towards material from their latest album. Nevertheless, they are brimming with confidence and enthusiasm and ending with ‘Icarus Lives!’ is always a good idea.

Up next were Meshuggah, The Swedish metal wizards launch headfirst into ‘Swarm’ from their latest album ‘Koloss’. They sound massive and what follows is a setlist heavy enough to destroy planets. The likes of ‘Combustion’, ‘Rational Gaze’, and ‘Lethargica name a few’ are all delivered with near-telepathic levels of musicianship that will leave you gobsmacked at how human beings, 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 stupendously violent and eerily hypnotic almost simultaneously. You’d be hard pushed to find a band who could pull off a song like ‘Bleed or the epic, nearly ten-minute long ‘Dancers to a Discordant System’. Under the right circumstances, a Meshuggah live performance transcends beyond a mere metal show: there’s something almost otherworldly about witnessing them on a big stage in complete darkness which contrasts with their incredible light show brilliantly. Their ability to create music so crushingly heavy yet hauntingly atmospheric and unlike anything before is second to none, Meshuggah truly are masters of their craft.

How could anyone follow that? step up Devin Townsend. Devin doesn’t intend to try and best Meshuggah, it’d be almost impossible to do so. Almost everything about Devin’s set is the polar opposite to what Meshuggah offered up. The lights don’t even dim as the band walk on and the intense atmosphere of the previous two hours is immediately dropped simply because Devin and his band look overjoyed to be here. Who can blame them? The following 90 minutes are all about singalongs and dancing.

That’s not to say Devin isn’t capable of bringing the weight, his wall-of-sound approach has served him well over the 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 band have all areas covered tonight with a varied and extensive setlist; there’s ‘Juular’ for those wanting to mosh, ‘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. There is a slight sense of a missed opportunity that the epic ‘Planet Of The Apes’ doesn’t get an airing, considering it features Meshuggah’s lead guitarist Frederik Thordendal but it doesn’t do much to take away from this euphoric experience.

Tonights show is all about celebrating Metal, to crown one of tonight’s co-headliners a clear victor wouldn’t really be fair. You could argue who was better all night. but let’s face it we’re not going to see a lineup that is this good in a long time. Let’s call it a draw and have a rematch in a couple of years, yeah?