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To those who aren't familiar, Fredrik Thordendal is the lead guitarist of extreme metal band Meshuggah, an act that has reached near legendary proportions for their highly complex polyrhythms, philosophical themes and experimentation with meter. With that being said, this solo effort takes alot of the sounds that defined Thordendal's flagship project and adds a new dimension of weirdness to the mix that breaks the sound out of convention. With 'Sol Niger Within,' Fredrik Thordendal appears to be at his experimental peak, traversing well into the realm of the avant-garde with some heavily jazz influenced chaos, dissonant soundscapes and a loosely assembled but flowing body of work. While I can't say that a great deal of the new experiments that Thordendal dabbles with here turn out all that well, Meshuggah and avant garde fans will undoubtedly find something interesting to dive into here, although the work here is not nearly as convincing as the music Meshuggah is known for.
At twentysix tracks (plus two bonus offerings), it seems clear that 'Sol Niger Within' is the Last FM scrobbler's dream album. With some tracks just barely meeting the 15 second mark, sections of the album will pass in the time between blinks of an eye. Luckily for the listener however, each of the songs flow together as a larger, 'epic suite' of sorts. The album doesn't sound like it's a Meshuggah release, but there is the sense here that Thordendal hasn't let go completely of the sound from which he built his legend on. The mathematically aware chugging of Meshuggah is here; but something else really makes the music a fiar bit different than a listener may be familiar with. First, the drummer of Meshuggah and Fredrik's bandmate Tomas Haake does the vocal work here; a raspy snarl that instantly brings to mind, the minor character of Salacious Crumb from 'Star Wars VI: Return Of The Jedi.' However, the almost inhuman sound of the vocal delivery meshes almost perfectly in with the experimental nature of the album, and works generally well. Unfortunate, Haake's growling work is not used here nearly a much as it could have, instead making way for large sections of noise and instrumental repetition.
What doesn't work well with 'Sol Niger Within' is primarily it's 'spoken dialogue' sections, and the overbearing concentration on keyboard soloing. Concerning the latter, a fair portion of the instrumental music here consists of a mixture of a meandering synth lead that sounds like Dream Theater's Jordan Rudess at his worst, along with the typical Meshuggah rhythmic chug. While the synth work here sounded interesting at first, the fact that the music constantly falls back on it gets really annoying after a while. Secondly, a few tracks here (unfortunately, some of the longer ones) fall into the category of listless dialogue, in which the narrator rambles about some metaphysical philosophy, which on first impression can be beautifully poetic, but gets incredibly bland after the second and third listens.
As a suite and album, 'Sol Niger Within' feels relatively loose as a composition, especially with the two useless bonus tracks padded onto the end. The musicianship here is great, but the obvious experimentation and avant attitude here doesn't work nearly as well as it could have, especially from a musician as gifted as Fredrik Thordendal.
Damn this is some weird shit!
Okay, a little back story first. I am a huge fan of Meshuggah. I have all of their releases, plus their EP's, and I enjoy all of it, especially their work from "Chaosphere" onwards. They are one of my favourite bands. As I was starting to get their work, I had heard of Fredrik Thordendal's Special Defects, but didn't really think too much of it, and subsequently forgot all about it.
It wasn't until a few months ago, when I've had all of Meshuggah's work for a while, that I remembered about Fredrik Thordendal's side project. I was suddenly interested, and looked it up on this site. I noticed it was just one song split into many short songs (similar to Meshuggah's "Catch 33"). I went onto MySpace, heard a few tracks from there, and I was instantly keen to get it. From what I heard, and from the reviews posted here, I knew it was going to be bizarre. So, a good friend of mine managed to get it for me off eBay, the original 1997 issue, which I found out was no longer in production, so I was very grateful that she managed to do this for me.
So, that's the story of how I obtained it. Now onto the music itself.
"Sol Niger Within" is one of the hardest albums to decipher you will ever have the opportunity to hear. Seeing as Fredrik Thordendal is the guitarist for Meshuggah, and Meshuggah's music is full of polyrhythms, you know this album isn't going to be conventional in any way. That's where the inaccessability lies...the music is so random, so all over the place, it really isn't one to headbang to. Yet the music fits into it's own unique pattern. You can definitely hear the Meshuggah and jazz influences throughout the album, which makes for one brain-warping journey. If you've ever heard music from a band called Spastic Ink, this is similar in technicality, but this is more jazzy.
Onto the vocals...hmmm. Well, Tomas Haake (Meshuggah drummer) does most of the vocals here...he sounds like an Englishman in severe chronic pain, by the sounds of his tormenting voice! According to the CD booklet, he is the "psychonaut's" voice. It's not regular in any form of metal, which gives the oddness of this music another strange dimension. Fortunately, it's not annoying in any way, otherwise the entire album would be shit. Fredrik does some vocals as well, which are mostly spoken word pieces scattered around the album.
As for the lyrics, they are very indistinguishable, and heavily thought-out. For almost all of the album, I have no clue as to what the lyrics are trying to mean. This is also Meshuggah's influence coming out here, except more extreme. For example, take the track "Solarization", with the lyrics: "I've become the nuclear image of eternity, I'm the original stuff, all the universes find their pattern in my being, for I'm the cosmic infinitesimal". What the fuck is he trying to say? Maybe some people can figure it out, I'm just too lazy/stupid to understand. The CD booklet is also filled with quotes from different people, which are an interesting read, but don't do anything for the "storyline" of the album.
Now for the BAD part: seeing as I own the original 1997 release, there are two tracks not listed here: Track 20 "Cosmic Vagina Dentata Organ" and track 22 "Magickal Theatre .33." In the re-releases, they have been omitted. Now I know why. They SUCK! They both mostly consist of some very annoying church organ, which follow absolutely no pattern or consistency whatsoever. They do not fit the flow of the album in any way, as it sounds as if they're just stuck in there randomly. I think the church organs are impromptu and ad-libbed, but they should've thought about it much more. Honestly, I'll go as far to say as they just don't make sense. The only good thing about it is that they realised and rectified the problem in the re-releases.
As usefulidiot42 stated in his review, this song-album is easily the most inaccessible piece of music you will ever hear. For people who like music with straight-forward time signatures, do not buy this. For people who like music with normal riffs, do not buy this. For people who like music with regular vocals, do not buy this. For people who like lyrics that are underatandable, do not buy this. For people who like normal songs with a definite beginning and ending, do not buy this. As you can tell, this album isn't for everybody. To be honest, it isn't really for anybody! Only those with an open mind and can accept different styles and variations of music and vocals can really appreciate the effort, technicality and hard work put into this piece of music.
So, in conclusion, this album isn't for anyone. While it isn't perfect, it's really an enjoyable piece of music. Seeing as tracks 20 and 22 (the shitfest church organ songs) from the original are omitted from the re-releases, I will try and get version 3.33. But, whichever version you are lucky enough to get your hands on, this musical journey is a bizarre and hypnotic experience.
Best tracks: Well, hard to say. Everything before track 20 (on the original issue) and after track 22 is great.
A mindbending solo effort from Fredrik Thordendal, the guitarist with the Swedish metal machine Meshuggah. Released under the project name Fredrik Thordendal's Special Defects, this slab of music takes the Meshuggah sound and mutates it into a sonic equivalent of a genetic laboratory project gone horribly wrong. The whole piece of work is divided into 29 short tracks that flow seamlessly into each other, resulting in a long and disjointed musical trip.
The music, written by Thordendal, ranges from Meshugganian polyrhythmic crunch to faux-jazzy fretboard excursions reminiscent of Allan Holdsworth, occasionally stumbling on cacophonic church organ improvisations, ambient hovering and saxophone interludes. On top of this add the slithering, rasping, reptilian vocals (courtesy of a Meshuggah bandmate, the human drum machine named Tomas Haake) spitting out a cryptic jumble of philosophical, theological, psychological and physical ponderings; some bloodcurdling screams and roars which seem to appear from nowhere and soon disappear back into the void again; and sonic effects and trickery evoking disturbing visions and thoughts in the mind of an unprepared listener, and you have an enormous musical puzzle not suitable for the faint of heart.
I once listened the disc through around 5 AM, before going to sleep. As a result I just couldn't sleep at all -- when I closed my tired eyes, my brain was still hyperactively trying to figure out what it had just experienced and would not shut down. The anecdote tells a lot about the nature of this record.
The album has its flaws and weaker points -- namely, some of the overlong and pointless free-improvisation and noise sections; the tormented English accent of Haake; and the occasional lack of direction and cohesion. But all in all, the album is a brave and wholly original body of work of an unbridled mind and thus deserves a fair share of praise. Certainly many listeners are going to hate this record with a passion; but just as certainly many others will accept and embrace it as a fresh breath of air in a stagnant musical scene.