Haunting, terrifying...and ultimately quite epic. These are some of the things that come to mind when listening to the new solo album from Sonor guitarist/composer Stephan Thelen, titled Fractal Guitar, which also happens to be his debut on the esteemed label MoonJune Records. Fractal Guitar came into being as Thelen had a desire to record a guitar centered album utilizing effects (he normally only uses reverb on the Sonar recordings), specifically 'fractal guitar', a rhythmic delay with a very high feedback level that creates cascading delay patters in various odd time signatures. Sounds like a plan right? Well, in addition to this, Thelen also wanted to invite many of his guitar friends to take part in the fun, so in comes Markus Reuter (Stick Men), who also co-produced the album, David Torn, Matt Tate, Jon Durant, Bill Walker, Henry Kaiser, and Barry Cleveland, along with drummers Andi Pupato, Benno Kaiser, and Manuel Pasquinelli.
The results of all these collaborations are five epic length tracks, each one an entity on its own, starting off with the near 19-minute "Briefing for a Descent into Hell", which is very appropriately titled, containing all sorts of savage soundscapes, loops, tones and textures from Torn, Thelen, Durant, Reuter, and Tate, with Pasquinelli holding down the fort with his steady drumming. Honestly, you'd be hard pressed to tell that there are five players on this track, the layers are so expertly welded together that despite the occasional burst of violent feedback and shards of metallic menace, the piece ebbs and flows quite seamlessly. Same goes for the more upbeat and groove laden "Road Movie", with almost funk/jazz rhythms allowing for tasty melodies and explosions of screaming, effects laden lead guitar, Tate's gloriously bubbly U8 touch guitar providing the groovy bass accompaniment. Fabulous stuff, and highly addicting. The title track is a dreamy, alluring, swirling miasma of delicious loops and orgasmic guitar majesty, Thelen, Reuter, Cleveland, and Tate all bobbing and weaving magically around each other over some locked in drum & percussion work courtesy of Benno Kaiser & Andi Pupato. The lead work on this one is also especially jaw dropping, and the soundscapes are just lovely. There's an almost ambient/space rock feel to the floating "Radiant Day", lush soundscapes created by Reuter & Cleveland allowing for some yearning explorations from Thelen that wouldn't sound out of place on an '80s King Crimson record. Closing out the show is the 17+ minute extravaganza "Urban Nightscape", and like the opener manages to create a feeling of dread and menace, nimble rhythms percolating under a wealth of ominous soundscapes, loops, and zig-zagging lead lines. Wild stuff.
While for some Fractal Guitar might be strict 'mood music', there's no denying the effective use of all the musicians here, as together they have created an album brimming with tension, colors, tones, textures, and above all explosive passages that impress at every level. Never has so much noise sounded so glorious. Job well done Stephan Thelen & Co.!
Briefing for a Descent into Hell 18:35
Road Movie 13:23
Fractal Guitar 09:20
Radiant Day 08:42
Urban Nightscape 17:34