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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.