Heavy metal in India is big. Heavy metal in Bangalore is big. Gone are the days when the washed-up classic rock act toured India to promote their new album that no one else would hear. Nowadays bands in their prime want to tour India. They see it as an opportunity to connect to a wider audience. They are surprised when they see 3000 plus Indian fans singing along at a show. This familiarity is of course due to the Internet. Even the most obscure bands have ardent followers here and since listening to non-pop International music is still fairly niche in India, these bands get sufficient word-of-mouth publicity. This phenomenon especially rings true for heavy metal and all its sub-genres. India has seen many heavy metal bands in the last couple of years and these are bands that still have the ability to sell out stadiums anywhere in the world. Satyricon, Opeth, Amon Amarth etc have played to massive crowds in India and so it was no surprise when Meshuggah were announced as one of the headliners for the 14th edition of Great Indian Rock (GIR).
This years GIR, like the last, was a two day event with Swedish metal giants Meshuggah headlining. Local acts Bicycle Days, Slain, Kryptos and Bhayanak Maut were the opening acts, presumably lined in increasing order of loudness. Surprisingly the online buzz before the concert wasnt as much as I expected. The ticket prices were slightly steep and/or there arent as many Meshuggah fans in Bangalore as I expected. I reached the venue early as I had backstage access and it was a privilege to see the band do their sound check. Watching vocalist Jens Kidman in particular blew me away as he seamlessly shifted from a meek check check hey hey to a deafening guttural growl. Guitarists Thordendal and Hagstrom too toiled hard to ensure that they got their guitar tone perfect. Once they finished their sound check, I loitered around the venue and noticed it was considerably smaller than the previous concerts Id attended. There was also just the solitary food stall and one tiny stall selling overpriced Meshuggah tees.
The Bicycle Days played in the dreaded opening slot to a lackluster crowd. The band seemed disinterested in the proceedings, robotically going through the first half of their set. Ive always thought that TBD sound better in an indoor environment and that performance just proved it. They did find some energy when they played ‘27‘ and ‘Circles’ off their debut EP 42. Karthik Baskers processed vocals adding a dimension to their psychedelic music.
The next band up on stage was Slain who, in my opinion, are perfect for an outdoor stage or arena. Their progressive/power metal reaches out to most audiences and its hard to dislike a performance by Slain. They performed material from their new album Here and Beyond and were consistent as always. Brydens lightning-fast, complex solos were impressive and so were the vocal harmonies that they managed to pull off.
Kryptos, who gig extensively across India was the next band on stage. Sadly Kryptos maintain a small repository of their songs on their live playlist. I love ‘Spiral Ascent’ to death, but even the most devout fan would tire of listening to ‘Descension’ live for the 50th time. They played out a predictable setlist of ‘The Revanant’, ‘Mask of Anubis’, ‘Altered Destinies’, ‘Descension’ etc. Bizarrely enough the volume on the PA was turned down (apparently due to a wedding happening in the adjacent grounds!). The audience chants of Volume, Volume grew louder but unfortunately the PA levels didnt.
The same problem persisted with Bhayanak Maut too but the tragedy was that BM completely messed up their sound. This is a band that I love to see live because of their energy and stage presence but somehow they never got the audiences reception that usually greets them. Even the band was appalled by the lack of enthusiasm of the crowd as they tried their best to force moshes but to no avail. Also, their new avatar with two vocalists seems completely pointless as new vocalist Sunneith doesnt add anything to the bands sound. Twas definitely not one of BMs better performances.
Finally, to quote an old cliché, it was time to witness what everyone had come for. Meshuggah have this reputation for being an excellent live act and considering the technicality and experimental nature of their music, its quite an achievement. Now I can say for sure why they have this reputation. The band completely made up for the disappointing decibel levels in the opening acts with their monstrous sound. The twin 8-string detuned guitars have this low frequency tone that perfectly captures the abrasiveness of their music. Thordendals off-scale solos were mind-blowing as he, with his guitar almost touching the ground, played every note exactly like the album versions. Vocalist Kidman too maintained the same level of ferocity with his menacing growls throughout the gig. They performed their obZen tour playlist as they displayed their prodigious talents with songs like ‘Rational Gaze’, ‘Bleed’, ‘Sane’ etc. Thomas Haake should be contender for Best metal drummer as his machine-like drumming in odd time signatures seemed impossible. They also, to my great joy, played ‘Straws Pulled at Random’ which is my favourite Meshuggah song. The signature bass line was sufficient to get the small but high crowd going. After pounding the crowd with their discordant metal for little more than an hour, they ended their gig with the popular ‘Future Breed Machine’. The audience was left a little disappointed as they didnt play out an encore as they usually do but seemed satisfied with the whole concert experience. I heard the common my neck hurts from headbangin refrain from excited teenagers as I exited the venue mentally ticking off yet another band from my list of bands-to-see-before-I-die.