By Jillian Locke
In space, no one can hear you unless you scream.
Thus begins your journey through Ian McFarland’s latest venture into metal documentary, Alive, a look into the mystique that Swedish tech/progressive metal trailblazers Meshuggah have unwittingly spun.
Debuting at #8 on the Nielsen SoundScan Top Music DVD Video chart, Alive exists in its own realm, set apart by the cinematographic stylings of Ian McFarland. No stranger to the underbelly of the Boston hardcore and metal scene, McFarland began his career touring with Hatebreed, move onto hardcore icon Blood for Blood, and then turned to expanding his artistic horizons towards filmmaking, forming Killswitch Productions.
The DVD includes performances from Meshuggah’s 2008 ObZen tour in Montreal and Toronto, CN, and NYC, and their 2009 performance at Loudpark Festival in Tokyo, Japan. McFarland virtually acted as a one-man production team, filming the band over the course of a week. “The budget didn’t allow me to take my film crew on tour, so the financial side came into play, and I essentially put this whole thing together myself.”
And perhaps that was for the better, because it allowed McFarland to impart his vision and “humanize” the enigmatic band. “I told them I wanted to capture Meshuggah in a voyeuristic way that allows the fan to feel like the sixth member of the band…Meshuggah has created this mystique that a lot of bands don’t have. I made it very clear that I was not about filming a party band DVD,” McFarland explains. “I told them, ‘I want to capture you as the people you are and humanize Meshuggah.’”
That’s exactly what he did. And not only that, but McFarland is the only person in the history of Meshuggah who has ever traveled with and filmed them. He earned their trust when he and his partner in creative crime, co-director Mike Pecci, filmed the video for “Bleed,” in which they were given “100% creative freedom” by the band. “That’s never happened to us before,” adds McFarland. After spending two days in a 20 x 20 room in Waltham, MA filming the video, McFarland presented the finished product, and the relationship began.
Alive is a true testament to trust, and McFarland did not disappoint. The performances are all done in color, while the behind-the-scenes footage that is interlaid between most of the songs is all done in black and white. But it’s the content and the way in which the content is presented that makes this DVD stand out.
Take, for example, the way in which the viewer is completely and utterly hypnotized by the culmination of the voyeuristic venture. Maybe it’s the constant, pounding, off-tempo double-kicks that methodically beat their way simultaneously through the chest cavity and brain, or maybe it’s the questions McFarland posed to drummer Tomas Haake and rhythm guitarist Marten Hagstrom that prompted such thought-provoking answers.
“As a fan, I want to hear what’s going to better me, as a human being, from my idols. I was trying to find the core of what it takes to humanize those guys, and I thought that’s what would resonate with the fans the most.”
Then there were the other backstage cuts that simply captured the band conversing, overdubbed by music, not to show the literal goings-on, but rather to capture a moment of the mystery these five musicians have conjured. The back and forth between the shows and the backstage footage has such a flow as to sweep the viewer up into the collective wave that entrances the mind and synchronizes the heart-beat with every push of the pedal.
“I wanted this to be called a ‘concert film.’ It’s the ‘Meshuggah Experience,’” McFarland attests. What sets Alive apart from other metal DVDs out there is the band themselves ~ the maturity and dedication it takes to keep the machine well-oiled and rolling for 20+ years. There is complete and total focus, and it’s the brazen intensity of this focus, from both the band and the director, that is pushing Meshuggah’s only live DVD in 20 years to the billboards and to the masses.
Complete with the a 12 track live CD, and bonus features including the video “Bleed,” complete with interviews with McFarland and Pecci and behind-the-scenes footage of the making of the video, this offering (packaged in art work which pays homage to the first Alien movie) is a sophisticated and entrancing take on Sweden’s pioneering juggernauts.
It is not only a must-have for Meshuggah fans, but for anyone seeking a deeper glimpse into the underpinnings of what makes a band a legend.