Random fact: for a while last year after Swedish technical death metallers Meshuggah came out with their latest album, ObZen, I used the opening track, “Combustion,” to get myself out of bed every morning. It was perfect: a few seconds of quiet, rhythmic guitar as an initial alarm, before the full band kicks in for the real wake-up call. About a minute in, Jens Kidman enters with his harsh vocals, and I would always make sure I was up to turn it off before that. Loud crunching guitars I can handle in the morning, I guess, but not screaming Swedes. Anyway, the point is, I like Meshuggah. And if they’re enough to wake me up in less than 60 seconds, they must be pretty damn brutal.

And indeed they were brutal last Friday at the Recher Theatre in Towson… this is a band that must be experienced live. On record, Meshuggah’s mathy, polyrhythmic tendencies and dry, raspy vocals make for a somewhat academic experience. I like their music but can rarely sit through an entire album without getting fatigued. But live, their sheer power combined with the ridiculousness of their musicianship (they were constantly headbanging and I still had no idea what they were counting for most of the songs) is pretty much transfixing. Jens Kidman is not exactly the most dynamic vocalist around, but he’s certainly an engaging frontman. My only complaint was that drummer Tomas Haake was placed so far back on the stage that no one could see him, and if there’s a drummer who’d be fun to watch, it’s this guy.

Of course, this wasn’t just about Meshuggah. Cynic (below) was not just any support act, as it was the classic Florida death metal band’s first tour since their initial disbanding in 1994. I sure never expected to ever get to see these guys live, and as a prog fan their album Focus—a classic of nerdy heavy music—is one of the first records that got me into extreme metal. Unfortunately, their show disappointed a bit, largely because they were hampered by a very muddy mix. This is a band that needs a clear mix to come across well, as every instrument is key to their sound. I could hear very little but bass and drums where I was, and while getting to hear that rhythm section alone is a treat, some guitars and vocals would have been nice too, thanks very much.

Luckily, word has it that Cynic will continue to play live, and this won’t just be a one-off reunion tour. Hopefully next time around they’ll not only sound better, they’ll also come closer to D.C. than Towson.

First opening band was The Faceless – unfortunately, when I showed up at the venue a little before 9, they were already well into their set, so I have no photos and few impressions of them, other than that they sounded pretty good and looked to be musicians on par with the other two insanely proficient bands on the bill.

Full photoset of Meshuggah and Cynic here, mostly in black & white thanks to some pretty atrocious lighting schemes at the Recher.