It is twenty degrees below zero and on the wrong side of midnight as I drive home to my log cabin on the outskirts of Fairbanks, Alaska. Above me, sheets of absinthe-green aurora swirl around the sky, stirred by a cosmic spoon. They twist, arc, and shimmer to erratic and unknown rhythms that probably only aliens can understand. Aliens and Fredrik Thordendal, that is.
Fredrik is a borderline-extraterrestrial human being best known for being lead guitarist and founding member in groundbreaking Swedish metal band Meshuggah, who get uncomfortably cast into genres like “progressive”, “math”, and “technical” metal. All these descriptors have some slight shade of truth behind them but still fail miserably at giving anyone a clue what Meshuggah actually sounds like. The truth is that what Meshuggah does can only accurately be described as … Meshuggah.
What we have here is unfortunately/criminally Thordendal’s only solo offering, and it’s a brilliantly adventurous, wide-reaching and virtuosic concept album even more difficult to describe than the unique sound of Meshuggah. Let it be said that this is my favorite album of all time, and has been since I was 15 years old, so I can’t even attempt to review it without the reader getting a pungent whiff of bias. If you’re one of the freaks who are huge fans of this album, read on for what will feel like a good conversation with a close friend. If you have never heard it before, my condolences – prepare to be flummoxed and hopefully also intrigued.
The album begins with a pulse-like beat, just bass and drums for a few seconds – but of course it’s not a straight rhythm, it’s a little “off” like all of Meshuggah’s riffs. I believe that if you put a stethoscope up to Fredrik’s chest, this is what you would hear instead of a normal human heartbeat.
And then the rest comes crashing down, the 7-string guitars, the heavier drums and a newborn man-baby screaming his way into a spiraling red and black world. The riff changes and Fredrik heads out onto a moonscape with an open, twisted solo. A few words should be said about the way this man plays his guitar: his obvious influence is Allan Holdsworth, but he has taken that fluid, legato style and warped it into his own entity, at times indulging in wild string-skipping fretboard tapping, hitting every note that DOESN’T sound right and coming off like all his complicated pedals, breath-controllers and preamps are short-circuiting and someone is choking him while he’s trying to record a solo – in a good way!
Fredrik supplies the main vocals with a tight, percussive back-of-the-throat snake-skeleton-snarl, spitting out most of the lyrics like he can’t stand the taste. Tomas Haake, drummer of Meshuggah, lends a spoken croak to the album, reciting the words with the voice of an eyeless elderly alien. This is certainly a concept album, and from what I can tell it is about a self-discovering journey into the twisted psyche of a person’s mind, a psychedelic experience gone horribly awry, an unfiltered examination of time, space, god, reincarnation, and existence. All I know for sure is that it scared the hell out of me when I first heard it.
For drummers, this record is about as tasty as drumming gets. Morgan Agren provides the perfect complement to Fredrik’s riffs, locking in with him on the insane warped-cyclical grooves that permeate the record but being skilled enough to also throw in lots of his own amazing and unique touch while somehow still holding down those ridiculous beats – giving the drumming a much more organic feel than Haake’s necessarily mechanical performance in Meshuggah. When you’ve heard this record a few times and you start to memorize these grooves, you will never turn back – they will infect you. Just writing this review while listening to the album I found myself unconsciously typing along to the rhythm – which frightens me a little. The riffs are confusing at first, they make you feel like walking down a strange path and suddenly being back where you started without having taken enough steps to get back there. These riffs are secret codes – and attempting to play them can make your brain swell.
Throughout this one-song album we flow through many different moods, from ripping Meshuggah-rhythms to schizophrenic fusion-esque sax and guitar solos, to drum showcases overlaid with a track of Fredrik’s sister screaming her bleeding lungs out. Sometimes it sounds like we’re stranded on a strange planet with large insects screeching overhead. Sometimes it’s gorgeous and majestic, and sometimes it’s about as far out there as music has gotten.
It is incredible music, and has infected me for over 10 years now. I know it the way you know the path to your light switch in the dark – you’re pretty sure you know the way there, but as soon as you let your guard down you will stub your toe on something you had forgotten about. It is the same with this album – it is impossible to know it all. Even after years and years of listening to it I am still floored every time, still captivated, still amazed at the fact that one human being has come this far.
This album is so important to me that I left a vacation in Thailand & Laos without thinking twice to see Fredrik & Morgan play 15 minutes of this album live on a fucking boat on the Baltic Sea at 1 AM. It was well worth it. Talking the next day with Mikael Akerfeldt of Opeth about Fredrik Thordendal, he said, “As soon as you see him play one note, you know he’s a genius.”
Label: UAE Records
Avantgenre: Exceptional Music
Official site: http://www.myspace.com/fredrikthordendalsspecialdefects
Review online since: 20.05.2009 / 21:42:27
1. The Beginning Of The End Of Extraction (Evolutional Slow Down)
2. The Executive Furies Of The Robot Lord Of Death
3. Descent To The Netherworld
4. …Och Stjarnans Namn Var Malört
5. Dante’s Wild Inferno
6. I, Galactus
8. Sickness And Demoniacal Dreaming
10. Zeta 1 – Reticuli
11. Transmigration Of Souls
12. In Reality All Is Void
13. Krapp’s Last Tape
14. Through Fear We Are Unconscious
15. Death At Both Ends
16. Bouncing In A Bottomless Pit
17. The Sun Door
18. Painful Disruption
19. Vitamin K Experience (A Homage To The Scientist/John Lilly)
20. Cosmic Vagina Dentata Organ
21. Sensorium Dei
22. Zeta 2 – Reticuli
23. Magickal Theatre .33
24. De Profundis
25. Existence Out Of Joint
26. On A Crater’s Verge
28. The End Of The Beginning Of Contraction (Involutional Speed Up/Preparation For The Big Crunch)