#21: Jens Kidman (Meshuggah)
MetalSucks recently polled its staff to determine who are The Top 25 Modern Metal Frontmen, and after an incredible amount of arguing, name calling, and physical violence, we have finalized that list! Writers were asked to consider vocal ability, lyrics, and live presence when casting their votes; the only requirements to be eligible for the list were that the musician in question had to a) play metal (duh), b) be a frontman or woman (double-duh), and c) have recorded something AND performed live in the past five years. Today we continue our countdown with Meshuggah’s Jens Kidman…
As a guitarist, vocals are often the element of a band to which I pay the least attention, and in my previous live experience with Meshuggah, I’d spent most of my time gawking at Thordendal and Hagstrom. But I saw the band again on their latest tour for Koloss, and walked into the House of Blues intending to pay particular attention to Jens Kidman’s vocal delivery. The towering vocalist showed no signs of his recent illness, and from the first rolling bellows of “Swarm,” I was rapt. I was hearing Meshuggah as a whole, and I heard the power of Kidman’s voice. I understood Kidman’s role in the band more than ever, and I finally recognized the distinctiveness of his delivery, defined by its incomparable percussiveness.
Kidman disregards pitch. Textured contours and rhythmic variance communicate more in his music than transitioning from alto to guttural ever could. His delivery is staggeringly diverse: the drawn-out sprawl of his voice on tracks like “Behind the Sun” starkly contrasts with the juddering intervals of tracks like “Shed.” And of course, Jens can howl – there’s unbridled vitriol bubbling on every track. He may resemble a demonic automaton on much of the band’s material, but that’s the perfect complement to the mechanical grooves, and it makes him one of the most recognizable vocalists in the genre. His sound slots between syncopated 8-string guitars and frenetic blasts of drumming, enabling even the least musically inclined of listeners to interpret Meshuggah’s organized chaos.
Like each member of Meshuggah, Kidman possesses an uncanny awareness of the music. Onstage, his bald head bobs perfectly in time, on beat even when you think he’s off for a split second. His precision likely stems from the immersive role he plays in the band’s songwriting process – the members of Meshuggah each compose song ideas using multiple instruments rather than exclusively writing parts for their live instruments. Kidman’s position in the band appears deceptively simple, but he’s a rhythmic anchor, shaping the vocal delivery so it flows and ripples like molten lead over the riffs. Jens will even go so far as to rewrite lyrics with drummer Tomas Haake to better fit the dynamics of the songs.
Haake may be behind much of Meshuggah’s organization, but Kidman is the executor. His control over the music is comprehensive; he knows exactly which offbeats could use a roar for greater impact and which sections are better left to thunder on their own. And live, his figure looms over the crowd, gearing the audience into action with every scream. When Jens Kidman tells us, “do not look down,” we can’t; we won’t; we’re petrified, because that command issued out of Jens’s mouth. He is the focal point of all of Meshuggah’s intensity, a serene force of abrasion in a maelstrom of atonal radiance.
In their 25 years of existence, Meshuggah have continually inspired the metal community with their unprecedented technicality and rhythmic proficiency. Led by Jens Kidman, the band has spearheaded a revolution that has forever altered the face of modern extreme metal, and it wouldn’t have been possible without the direction Kidman gives to the band. In Death – Is Life / In Death – Is Jens
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