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Anders Björler, guitarist of The Haunted and At the Gates, is becoming one of metal's more idiosyncratic filmmakers. Admittedly, the list of heavy metal filmmakers (who are not just music video directors) is short. So far it is basically just Sam Dunn and Scot McFadyen, whose style is as straightforward as can be.

Björler, by contrast, brings an art house sensibility to his At the Gates Production moniker. His style is moody and atmospheric, based on music and painterly editing. In his documentaries on At the Gates and The Haunted, his hand was constantly visible. The latter film, in particular, transformed a prosaic band into weary road warrior anti-heroes.

This vibe permeates his two mini-documentaries for Meshuggah on the bonus DVD for the deluxe edition of their album Koloss. They are each about 25 minutes long.

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Excerpts from Konstrukting the Koloss

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The first is Konstrukting the Koloss, a making-of about the album. Instead of the typical studio hijinks interrupted by gear fetishizing, this making-of resembles a business case study. The band members grimly sit around a table, debating track order. Their beards have much gray, and their faces are lined. They worry about not having enough time.

Like offices, this recording runs on coffee. Glowing computer screens haunt the background. Outsiders are absent. The mood is all business. The band members reveal that they mostly work individually, convening only in the studio to combine and edit ideas. Meshuggah fans are obsessed with the band's process (see endless online discussions of gear and recording practices), and process rules the day here.

Curiously, Meshuggah in India isn't that different. In another director's hands, it could have been a vibrant live document. For all the technical talk Meshuggah attracts, live they are visceral and earth-shaking. However, this film has maybe two minutes of live footage. Most of the film shows the band shuttling between cities. (The 2010 India mini-tour spanned three cities.) The band is horrifically sleep-deprived, to the point that at soundcheck, the members simply lie down on stage. One soundcheck scene is amazing: rumpled, wearing hoodies, with blue sky behind and blazing sun in front, the band sleepwalks through "Rational Gaze". One almost feels sorry for them, until Jens Kidman comes back from the dead and uncorks his mighty yowl. It's a rare juxtaposition of weakness and strength for a band usually presented as steel.

Meshuggah are often called otherworldly, but even the other has an other. Here it is India; no Meshuggah in Germany documentaries will come anytime soon. Björler fixates on footage involving dogs and dirt, and puts it against the five-star hotels that Meshuggah seemingly under-utilized. Maybe this contrast was indeed what the band experienced. But it's interesting that Björler chose this angle. He could have made perky promotional filler, which is what bonus DVDs often are. Instead, he relocated Lost in Translation to India, cast Meshuggah as the characters, and sprinkled in the smoky ambience of Let the Right One In (the Swedish version). Hopefully Björler will keep taking metal outside the box visually.

— Alan Smith

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MESHUGGAH - KOLOSS (DELUXE EDITION W/DVD)

Amazon

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