Bristol has to be one of my favourite places in the UK — a bastion of civilisation in the otherwise barren South West of England. So while you may need to keep an eye on your keys and your kidneys in certain parts of the city, most importantly it’s normally the home of any worthwhile metal gig that dares to venture beyond the standard English tour circuit of London, Manchester and Nottingham. The O2 Academy, for instance, has recently played host to a whole selection of great gigs including Mastodon, Opeth, Cannibal Corpse and now even everybody’s favourite tech-chug merchants Meshuggah. And for good reason. The entire venue is a Tardis style surprise, tucked neatly away into the back streets of the city center — complete with all the mod-cons that seem to have eluded some larger venues including a fully functioning air condition system(!?). Good to know those ridiculous drink prices are being put to good use!
However, you don’t need to drink to enjoy this line up and while I was little late and cut dramatically into their set time, I was pleasantly surprised by the noisy math-y rock of We Are Knuckledragger. After I’d initially written them off as simply bad placement on a great bill, their combination of the more tangible moments of Harvey Milk with the jagged rhythms of the headliner filtered through Helmet made for an interesting start to the night. The reception was positive and the general mood was pretty much summed up by a guy stood nearby who turned directly to his girlfriend and said:
‘Hey, that was pretty good. What were they called again? Wiener Knuckledragon?’
Next up, Animals As Leaders —including new drummer Matt Garstka — took to the stage, and I think it’s fair to say the audience were excited. Cheers and even scattered shouts of ‘Freeeeeeebird‘ were present even during the soundcheck so by the time the distinctive intro of ‘Tempting Time‘ cut in, everyone was enthralled. The sheer grandness of Tosin Abasi’s fret acrobatics were matched only by the size of the shit-eating grin plastered across his face and, needless to say, every note was precise and deliberate even with the insane speeds they were being played at. New boy Garstka, whether he’s a temporary replacement or not, showed that he could easily pull off a performance to rival Koperwies and sat perfectly in sync with the rhythmic backing of Javier Reyes. Unfortunately, the mix was a little more suited to the heavy sections with the more subdued and clean parts becoming muddy and unintelligible — a minor complaint, however.
The wait for Meshuggah became somewhat of a test of endurance. Whilst members of a ZZ Top cover band set the stage, erecting huge renditions of the Koloss artwork and adjusting all dials to eleven, the house speakers blared out a looped version of Rod Stewart‘s ‘Do You Think I’m Sexy‘ for fourty minutes straight. Yes, fourty fucking minutes. Now I don’t like Rod Stewart at the best of times, but I’m pretty sure even POWs are treated with more respect than that. Suddenly, the house lights dimmed and a churning, droning dirge seeped into the room. Just as I was about to give up hope of them ever starting, 5 dark figures took to the stage and immediately lept into a pummeling rendition of ‘Demiurge‘. The mix was terrifyingly tight, with each and every rhythmic hit acting like a direct jab to the gut and each member of the band seamlessly bounced off each other in a way could only be achieved by over 20 years of loyal service to metal. In between choice cuts from ObZen, Nothing and even Catch 33, Koloss took up a large chunk of the set list, with the future classic ‘Do Not Look Down‘ getting a particularly good reception and the frantic ‘The Hurt That Finds You First‘ causing all hell to break loose. However, it’s the live renditions of both ‘Bleed‘ and ‘Future Breed Machine‘ that have taken on bucketlist status for any discerning metalhead, tried and tested monoliths of groove that have cemented the band firmly into the history of metal.
As the last notes ring away in a haze of feedback, an hour and a half has flown by and I’m left wanting more. Just a couple more tracks, one encore wasn’t enough. I’d even sit through Rod Stewart again…